The German governing coalition is facing a series of challenges that leave it with no chance of maintaining its unity as inter-party disagreements have already led to major public discontent.
After Germany witnessed the creation of a coalition between the Social Democrats (SPD), the Free Democrats (FDP) and the Greens last year, the trio tried to label it as a "coalition of progress," but the past year has shown that the triumvirate has been only pretending to make progress.
The government can barely function as internal disagreements on key issues are affecting its decision-making, shredding the ruling cabinet's reputation apart.
The most recent example of the polarisation of the country's leadership was related to the phasing out of nuclear power, which was outlined by Angela Merkel's government. The former chancellor — a physicist by training — was such a staunch supporter of the accelerated shutdown of German nuclear power plants that the deadline for the plan had been set to the end of 2022. But now, Finance Minister Christian Lindner has made the point that the situation around EU energy security requires, at the very least, a return to a discussion about the role of nuclear power plants in Germany.
According to a survey conducted by the analytical company Insa at the request of the newspaper Bild, half of the German population recognises the feasibility of reviving nuclear power generation. But the opinion of its citizens is something that can be neglected in the Federal Republic of Germany. As "green" Vice-Chancellor and Minister of Economic Affairs and Climate Protection Robert Habeck said, the "nuclear" topic is closed in the country. "This is not the way Germany will go forward," he said.
If the government does not resolve the issue, the country’s three national nuclear power plants will have to be closed down by the end of this year.
Another point of disagreement is inflation and the most effective ways to fight it. The situation is so dire that many analysts are comparing it to the economic slump of 1973 and 1974 that was triggered by the oil crisis.
According to official statistics based on the consumer price index, inflation reached 7.9 percent in Germany in May this year – the highest level the country has seen since its reunification. Consumer prices are now up 7.9 percent year-on-year by national standards and 8.7 percent, according to harmonised EU standards.
In addition, the European continent's energy security crisis is forcing the republic to prepare for the loss of 500,000 jobs, which only increases scepticism about the work of the coalition government. "We have to become independent of gas imports gradually, but an immediate embargo would not only complicate the situation with rising prices but also lead to a reduction in employment," Labour and Social Affairs Minister Hubertus Heil recently acknowledged.
According to one forecast, the annual inflation rate in Germany will only rise during the year, with consumers showing dismay over petrol prices remaining high.
There is no agreement on a way out of this crisis between the FDP and the Greens.
Without a "brake"
The consequences of poor policymaking can already be observed in the 2022 federal budget: its expenditures of around $527 billion imply a new debt of almost $147 billion. This has forced the Bundestag MPs to once again ignore the "debt brake" enshrined in the constitution — the principle of a substantial limitation of the national debt.
Lindner has promised to return to this rule next year, but there is an opinion that an additional burden on the budget could arise if the coronavirus pandemic once again asserted itself in full force.
In order to alleviate the symptoms in the economy, the Greens and the SPD proposed an excess profits tax, meaning the surplus profits the energy giants have managed to rack up over the past few years could be allocated to the growing needs of the state. The idea was, however, flatly rejected by the FDP.
The Free Democrats party has also taken a different approach in fighting the coronavirus than its coalition partners. Lindner's party insisted on easing quarantine measures early on. It was also the party that influenced the rejection of the bill on compulsory vaccination in the country, despite Chancellor Olaf Scholz's insistence on it.
A disappointing government
A loss of public support for the coalition government became apparent at the beginning of this year when the level of dissatisfaction with its work exceeded 50 percent.
In recent weeks, this figure, according to the INSA poll for Bild, remains at 55 percent. A record number of respondents are disappointed in Scholz’s performance in representing the SPD: 49 percent, compared to 38 percent who are satisfied.
As Werner Patzelt, a political science professor from Dresden, notes, before February, the easiest answer to the question about the viability of the German governing coalition was either ‘two years’ or ‘two terms.’ This meant, the expert explains, that either the government alliance would, after an initial period, disintegrate with relatively good media coverage due to natural internal contradictions, or its members would be able to pull themselves together to the point where the SPD Chancellor could win the next election campaign.
But the crisis in international relations, combined with negative developments in the energy market, required the government to make an unplanned, force majeure-type course change, which only increased the political risks for it, according to Patzelt, the Dresden analyst.
"The chancellor and vice-chancellor should be more concerned about how long the SPD and the Greens will maintain policies that have been changed in such a short time," Patzelt warns.
According to him, rising energy prices will now steadily harm the welfare of the population, and the investments needed for the energy transition and the adjustment of security policies will enter into fierce competition with rising state expenditures.
THUMBNAIL IMAGE: A nuclear power plant of RWE AG is seen in Lingen, Germany, March 18, 2022. Despite the energy transition to renewables to fight climate change, Germany still relies heavily on imports of oil, gas and coal. (AP Photo/Martin Meissner)
HEADLINE IMAGE: German Chancellor Olaf Scholz, second from right, talks with Finance Minister Christian Lindner, right, as German Interior Minister Nancy Faeser, second from left, and German Transportation Minister Volker Wissing, left, stand nearby during the weekly cabinet meeting at the chancellery in Berlin, Germany, June 22, 2022. (AP Photo/Markus Schreiber)