Christian Lindner is a master of the cleverly chosen tactical quote. In his speeches and appearances, the head of the business-friendly and market-oriented Free Democratic Party (FDP) frequently cites authors, philosophers and other intellectuals to buttress his positions and appear cultivated – and, of course, to grandstand just a bit. Recently, Linder has even discovered a fondness for quoting Social Democrats.
It’s late on Wednesday afternoon and Linder is sitting in his corner office with a view of the German parliament building, the Reichstag – and he seems happier with himself and the world than he has been for quite some time. He has just presented the new governing coalition deal together with the Social Democrats (SPD) and the Greens, and he is now sitting down with DER SPIEGEL to discuss just how satisfied his party is with the 177-page agreement.
"A child falls in the Wupper River in winter," Lindner holds forth, and is at risk of drowning. "A man jumps into the icy waters, swims to the child, brings the little boy back to shore and lays him in his mother’s arms."
Lindner makes a brief dramatic pause before getting to the punchline.
"The mother says to the child: And where is your hat?"
His message: Don’t look at the little things that might be missing from the agreement. Instead, embrace the huge achievement that was attained.
Who is Lindner quoting with the story? Johannes Rau, the former German president and a highly regarded Social Democrat from the Wuppertal valley. Lindner says it was Rau who originally told him the joke. Earlier, at the press conference where the three parties presented their coalition deal, he quoted Egon Bahr, the former SPD thought leader who was the architect of Chancellor Willy Brandt’s Ostpolitik.
Lindner, it would seem, has developed a new appreciation for the center-left. Strange times indeed.
And it doesn’t stop there. The political constellation that will soon be taking over power in Germany is unprecedented at the federal level in the country. If you ignore the fact that German conservatives are divided into two parties -- the Christian Democrats (CDU) and the Christian Social Union (CSU) in Bavaria -- this is the first real three-party alliance to lead the federal government since 1957. It will likely produce the first female foreign minister ever in postwar Germany. And the size of the challenges facing this government are also rather novel.
"Dare More Progress"
The climate crisis, a threat to the entire planet and humanity, must be slowed. Beyond that, this complacent, self-satisfied country must be dragged into the digital age, where others have long since become established.
"Dare More Progress": Such is the title of the coalition agreement chosen by the three parties. And that, too, is a quote from a Social Democrat, this time from Willy Brandt himself, whose message back in the 1960s was "dare more democracy” to finally rid the country of the fusty remnants of its infatuation with authority. Olaf Scholz of the SPD, Robert Habeck of the Greens and Christian Lindner of the FDP want to both put the brakes on global warming and rid the country of fax machines.
Both of those tasks seem vast.
The Greens and the SPD seemed perfect partners the last time the two parties governed together. Here, Foreign Minister Joschka Fischer and Chancellor Gerhard Schröder.Foto: Peer Grimm/ picture-alliance/ dpa/dpaweb
The secrecy and unity outwardly displayed by the three parties as they negotiated their alliance was also new. Normally in Germany, backbiting, indiscretions and anecdotes about the weaknesses displayed by the other parties are traditionally part of coalition negotiations in the country. This time, though, very little leaked to the outside, and if it did, it tended to be in the form of gushing portrayals of how wonderfully everybody was getting along and how constructively they were working together. It all seemed a bit too good to be true. And at the press conference on Wednesday, the first hairline cracks became apparent.
Lindner started off by singing the praises of his negotiating partners, making it sound to some Social Democrats and Greens a bit like the day report cards were handed out at school. Scholz, Lindner intoned, possesses "internal guardrails" and will be "a strong chancellor." The Greens, too, he insisted, negotiated well. That sounded like a B+ at least.
After that, SPD co-leader Saskia Esken wanted to take the floor, but Habeck, who is likely to become vice chancellor in the new government, cut her off: It’s Annalena Baerbock’s turn, he said, the Green co-chair and likely foreign minister.
A rather sheepish expression came across Esken’s face and Baerbock began to speak – but the alliance had just produced its first mini-embarrassment. It was, of course, nothing serious, but the fact that it involved the SPD and the Greens was telling. The two parties have joined forces before to govern Germany, forming the government that immediately preceded Angela Merkel. They were widely considered to be natural partners that agreed on pretty much everything except their approach to heavy industry.
Odd One Out?
As a result, many in the FDP were concerned that in a three-party coalition, they would be the odd one out. Now, though, as the coalition gets set to kick off, there are a number of indications that the situation is rather different, and that if any party is the odd one out, it may be the Greens.
This view isn’t just the product of the awkwardness on display at the press conference, nor is it derived from Lindner’s newfound appreciation for the words of past SPD greats. It is informed by accounts from the negotiations themselves – an astounding number of which follow the same pattern. On a number of points, according to these accounts, the SPD and FDP quickly found common ground, while the Greens frequently clashed with the FDP or got in their own way. The talks, apparently, were quite difficult – but they were difficult in unexpected ways.
Everyone thought Germany would be getting an SPD-Green government with a bit of free-market liberalism from the FDP thrown in for good measure.
What Germany appears to have received instead is an SPD-FDP alliance with a hue of Green. Almost four decades after the last SPD-FDP federal alliance collapsed.
That isn’t ideal for the stability of the incoming government. The Greens have always been the most restive of the three parties, and discomfort with its own success is deeply rooted in its political DNA.
Christian Lindner, head of the Free Democrats and soon to be sworn in as Germany's next finance minister.Foto: Andreas Chudowski / DER SPIEGEL
The SPD will likely be satisfied – for a time, at least – with the fact that they have unexpectedly managed to retake the Chancellery. Large parts of the FDP will simply be happy if taxes aren’t raised. The Green Party base, meanwhile, is impatient, desperate to see rapid progress on the climate crisis. Their thinking is that of the mother in Lindner’s joke: What happened to the hat?
How Stable Will This Coalition Be?
Green voters are certain to loudly voice their displeasure as soon as they believe Habeck and Baerbock are making too many compromises and concessions. Indeed, it already started on Wednesday, when it was revealed that the FDP had been given the Transport Ministry, which many had thought would go to the Greens for its key role in climate protection measures. Immediately, displeasure began swirling in the party, particularly on the left wing.
And the next conflicts are already lying in wait. Hardly anyone – neither with the Greens or with the FDP – believe that Habeck and Lindner, both of whom have a nose for power, will be able to peaceably coexist for the next four years, despite the show they have been putting on recently. Most assume that they will frequently cross paths, if not swords.
So what happens next? How stable will this coalition be? And will it be able to accomplish everything on its list?
When the Grand Coalition between Merkel’s conservatives and the SPD kicked off four years ago, few thought it would survive an entire legislative period. After coalition negotiations between the conservatives, the Greens and the FDP collapsed, the SPD-conservative pairing was an emergency solution, a partnership on the basis of the lowest common denominator. This time, though, things are different. The expectations are huge, and this coalition’s success or failure will have ramifications for at least the next decade.
One of the main questions is: Will this government be able to catch up on all things – technical and political – that have been left largely untouched in recent years? It is, of course, far too early for such prognoses, but the way in which this coalition has been assembled offers initial clues as to possible conflicts and fracture points.
Because it all began with a big bluff.
Campaigning on the Beach
It’s back in summer, at the end of July, and the campaign is still in full swing. It’s a sunny day on the Baltic Sea island of Fehmarn, but the surroundings aren’t quite to the liking of Christian Lindner.
The lead candidate for the FDP has just finished his beachfront campaign appearance and he is now sitting in front of a fries stand drinking water out of a plastic cup. It’s not exactly his natural habitat, but there aren’t many alternatives. Lindner has just half an hour for a quick interview, and at least its relatively quiet here.
Previously, on the boardwalk, Lindner had confidently said that Armin Laschet, the CDU lead candidate, would end up as chancellor. It was a time when nobody was talking much yet about a "Traffic Light” coalition between the SPD, Greens and FDP (so named because of the colors associated with the parties, with the SPD being red and the FDP yellow). Lindner, at this time, still believes the election will most likely produce a conservative-FDP-Green alliance (known as "Jamaica" in German political parlance), and for him, the decisive question is who, in such a constellation, will end up with the Finance Ministry, the FDP or the Greens.
Lindner knows that Robert Habeck would love to become finance minister because it is a powerful portfolio and because any steps taken to confront the climate crisis will also involve a fair amount of money. But Lindner has an idea for how he might be able to wrest the Finance Ministry from the Greens. As he begins sketching out his plan there on Fehmarn island, he begins to look quite a bit more comfortable, despite his surroundings.
Robert Habeck, the co-leader of the Greens who will be vice chancellor in the new coalitionFoto: Dominik Butzmann / DER SPIEGEL
If the Greens really want to have the Finance Ministry, says Lindner, go right ahead – but then he plans to demand that the FDP be given the Environment Ministry. We’ll see, he says, what they have to say to that.
Lindner knows that the Greens could never allow such a thing – handing away their core issue, and to the FDP of all parties. And ultimately, say people who took part in the just-concluded Traffic Light negotiations, Lindner actually deployed this plan. As soon as the Greens indicated even the slightest interest in the Finance Ministry, Lindner sprung his trap. Habeck and Baerbock were fully aware that if the Greens didn’t end up with the Environment Ministry, they would have a party revolt on their hands. And they couldn’t take that risk.
It was, of course, a bit of a bluff. Why should the FDP saddle themselves with a portfolio that is far down the priority list for their supporters – behind tax cuts, support for mid-sized companies and the continuation of private health insurance alongside the public healthcare regime? Ultimately, though, the move worked, and Lindner is now set to become finance minister, making him the winner of the first significant power struggle – to the detriment of the Greens.
In the general election at the end of September, the FDP only ended up in fourth place, making it the weakest party in this coalition. But right at the beginning of the negotiations, the FDP laid out a number of demands from which the party refused to budge: no speed limits on the German autobahn, no weakening of the debt brake (the law requiring German governments to maintain a balanced budget), no new taxes on assets and no increases to core taxes. All those things made an appearance in the paper produced by the exploratory talks between the parties.
And the FDP proved inflexible, despite repeated attempts from the SPD and Greens throughout the four weeks of coalition negotiations to squeeze out at least a couple of small concessions on tax policy in order to leverage just a bit more financial flexibility.
Annalena Baerbock, Robert Habeck, Olaf Scholz and Christian Lindner arriving at the press conference on Wednesday to present their coalition agreement.Foto: Michael Kappeler / dpa
Could one not, according to an idea presented during the talks, increase the mineral oil tax, just a tiny bit?
Nope, was the FDP answer, according to participants in the talks. There will be no tax increases.
What about the inheritance tax?
Perhaps the introduction of a sugar tax?
What if the tax exemption for the care and education of children is eliminated, or perhaps just lowered a bit?
Even that, the FDP responded, would look like a tax hike, and is therefore not something they can be a part of. Every approach failed. It was almost as though Lindner had adopted the strategy of the CSU, which consistently claimed a far greater share of power in the federal government than it was entitled to based on vote totals.
The unity that the parties sought to portray outwardly was frequently non-existent when it came to these issues. Voices were raised and the parties fell back on their standard reflexes and political instincts. The Greens would refer to resolutions the party had adopted at its conference while the FDP would spit back that the Greens hadn’t won an absolute majority.
Many say, though, that there was one person who never raised his voice: Olaf Scholz.
The chancellor in waiting, according to numerous accounts, was particularly circumspect in his treatment of the FDP. On those occasions when the party dug in its heels, Scholz would say that he found their position regrettable, but understandable. The result, say participants, was the development of a trusting relationship throughout the talks between Scholz and Lindner.
The two of them have had high regard for each other for quite some time, and also have private ties. When Lindner not long ago moved into a top-floor apartment that had previously belonged to Health Minister Jens Spahn in the Schöneberg neighborhood of Berlin, he only invited around 30 people to his housewarming party – and Scholz was one of them. In recent weeks, the two seem to have developed an even closer relationship, a harmony that was put on public display for the first time at the constitutive session of the newly elected Bundestag, Germany’s parliament, at the end of October.
During a break, Scholz took a seat among the FDP lawmakers, chatting and joking. Such a thing is, of course, hardly unusual, but the relationship between the SPD and the FDP in recent years has been characterized by mutual disdain, despite the two parties being coalition partners in some state governments.
The FDP saw the Social Democrats as hopelessly old-fashioned arbiters of fairness while the SPD saw the FDP as a danger to the commonwealth. Even on the eve of the election, at a time when the Traffic Light coalition had begun looking like an extremely likely outcome, SPD co-head Norbert Walter-Bojans accused the FDP of "voodoo economics.”
In the negotiations, in which Walter-Bojans also participated, things looked radically different. Suddenly, the FDP were able to push through their retirement fund concept, which would allow funds to invest in the capital markets. During the campaign, the Social Democrats had rejected such concepts out of hand, saying they amounted to the selling out of the welfare state.
Now, when the subject turns to the FDP, Social Democrats are more likely to offer gushing praise. Lindner, says one senior Social Democrat, is "incredibly knowledgeable about the details," and is "a wonderful person." Only good things can be heard as well about Volker Wissing and Marco Buschmann, the designated ministers for transport and justice, respectively. They are, says on SPD member, "smart, well-read, good people." Another Social Democrat says of the two: "They’re the kind of people you’d like to go out for a beer with." Comparable declarations of affection for the Greens don’t currently seem to be a part of the SPD lexicon.
The FDP, for their part, discovered a bit of affection for the rather course SPD co-chair Saskia Esken. One senior FDP member even said that she was the surprise of the negotiations, and that a "very good working relationship" with her had developed.
The new red-yellow bond was especially on display within the working group focused on mobility. It didn’t take long for the SPD and FDP negotiators to begin complaining of the preachy tone of the Greens. They found Tarek Al-Wazir, the economics minister for the state of Hesse and a Green Party negotiator, to be especially grating with his long-winded lectures.
Shortly before the end of the talks, the situation even threatened to spin out of control. In the final meeting, the Greens were responsible for the minutes, and apparently deleted two sentences that had been the product of hours of negotiations. The SPD and FDP representatives didn’t think it was done in error and confronted the Greens. Their answer: They simply have a different position. Both the SPD and FDP were furious – resulting in even closer ties. Again, they had a common opponent: the Greens.
The FDP, of course, also had to make some concessions. The Greens made their mark on climate protection and agriculture, and the Social Democrats largely prevailed with their plans for the minimum wage and pensions. But Lindner achieved so much overall that his supporters should be able to stomach the compromises. And that might help explain his patronizing praise of the negotiating skills of the SPD and the Greens.
Still, it was the FDP that nearly derailed the entire schedule during the home stretch of the talks. And it wasn’t out of political stubbornness. Rather, it was an act of God.
Last Sunday at midday, the main negotiating group was once again meeting at SPD headquarters when FDP politician Bettina Stark-Watzinger received a message from her party colleague Alexander Graf Lambsdorff. The foreign policy expert had just received his coronavirus test result: positive.
The news was alarming. Less than 24 hours earlier, the 21 negotiators had sat in a room with Lambsdorff for a considerable amount time at the SPD’s headquarters as the last details of the foreign policy chapter were discussed. For the final negotiations of the new government, it was clear to most, it would have been disastrous if several negotiators had caught the virus – not only because of the timetable, but also because of the symbolism. The very politicians who are urging the rest of the country to be cautious could ill afford to produce their own super spreader event.
What to do?
The group decided to halt the negotiations immediately and ask the Robert Koch Institute, Germany’s center for disease control, for help. Staff at the institute went to the site of the negotiations and took swabs for PCR tests from Scholz, Lindner, Habeck and the others present. Later that night, everyone could breathe a sigh of relief. No one had been infected. On Monday, Lambsdorff also gave the all-clear: a second test came back negative. It had been a false alarm and talks could continue.
The pandemic, with all its consequences, will be the first major challenge for this coalition government. The second, even bigger task is the climate crises – and on this front, all eyes are on the Greens and Habeck, the future vice chancellor who will take leadership of the economics portfolio, which, as part of the new coalition agreement, will also have responsibility for climate protection. The pressure will be on to deliver.
On paper, his chances for success aren’t so bad – even some climate activists are praising the targets agreed to in the coalition agreement: A special electricity surcharge for consumers and businesses under the German Renewable Energy Sources Act will be eliminated in 2023, buildings are to be renovated and a supply of hydrogen is to be established. The future government also wants to subsidize the construction and operation of climate-neutral manufacturing facilities. The only problem is that all these things will cost billions of euros, and where is that money supposed to come from?
Habeck is doing his best to exude confidence, but Lindner, as finance minister, will be holding the purse strings and could end up favoring Volker Wissing, the fellow FDP member who will be taking on the transport portfolio, when it comes to handing out funds.
Most Greens have accepted that Habeck had little choice but to cede the Finance Ministry to the FDP. Their hopes hadn’t been particularly high anyway. The fact that the FDP also managed to secure the Transport Ministry, however, has upset many in the Green parliamentary group.
When that group met on Wednesday morning, they demanded an explanation from their party leadership. Habeck answered evasively and referred the fact that they had finally secured the agriculture and environment ministries. But that was hardly enough for him to quell the discontent.
The nightmare of many Greens is that Transport Minister Wissing will demand billions in subsidies for cars with synthetic fuels in the coming years and the coffers will then be empty for projects the Greens want to pursue.
There is also deep frustration among the Greens that a subject as important as mobility was negotiated weakly from the perspective of many in the party. A chief Green negotiator contends that more could have been achieved in the chapter on climate-damaging subsidies. The state will continue to forego around 8 billion euros a year in revenues because diesel will continue to be subsidized via tax rebates.
The FDP had a powerful ally in the fight for the Transport Ministry: According to the negotiators, the SPD wasn’t interested in handing this key ministry over to the Greens for reasons of industrial policy. Once again, it was two parties against one.
Habeck will likely have to fight on a number of fronts. Many passages in the coalition agreement leave room for interpretation, even on such important issues as the coal phase-out. The Greens proved unable to secure a binding statement rather than the vague formulation "ideally by 2030,” because the SPD was against it. Together with the FDP, the Social Democrats have also denied the future vice chancellor the right to a "climate” veto.
The Greens had demanded that the climate minister should be able to stop all laws. Instead, this has become a "climate check” in the agreement, and the responsibility for it doesn’t lie with the future climate ministry, but rather with each individual ministry. Climate protection, it is true, is an issue for all of humanity and isn’t some niche concern for the Greens, but ultimately, missed climate targets will hurt the Greens far more than any of the other coalition parties.
The Coalition's Central Duel
There will be plenty of wrangling, and already, the central conflict is emerging: Habeck vs. Lindner, climate vs. money, Green Party vanity vs. FDP vanity. The ability or inability of these two men to work together will shape the climate of the next government and whether it is successful.
Still, the Greens aren’t without weapons going into this duel. They believe they have power over most of the key ministries that can be used to steer the environmental transformation of society. They want to see a change in people’s purchasing behavior, supply chains, the use of resources and the direction in which agriculture moves. They are pinning their hopes on a very technical-sounding passage in the coalition agreement: Generation of renewable energies and the development of the necessary infrastructure are in the "public interest” and serve "public safety,” it states. The Greens believe this will enable them to achieve a great deal in terms of regulatory policy. And more importantly: much more quickly than in the past.
At the same time, Habeck will have to balance different interests in his mega ministry. As economics minister, companies and lobby groups will view him as an ally, but as climate change minister, he is more beholden to the people. And he won’t always be able to reconcile those disparities.
Things won’t be easy for Lindner, either. He may be a consummate political professional, but he has never been a minister and has not yet distinguished himself as a financial expert. He will soon be confronted with the everyday realities of governing.
The standoff between the two will be of equals, even if they come into this from different starting positions. On the one side, you have the business-friendly FDP, a party that in recent years didn’t always seem as if it would manage to leap the 5 percent hurdle necessary for parliamentary representation. On the other, the Greens, who actually had realistic-seeming aspirations of winning the Chancellery. That expectation is helpful in explaining the current level of disappointment prevailing among the Greens. For his part, Habeck himself thinks the agreement is not only pretty good, but also pretty green, but he senses many others in the party hold a different view.
Soon after the talks began, the Green negotiators realized that the SPD would by no means be their natural ally and that it was in part fighting with the FDP against the Greens’ interests. That proved to be the case in the working group on the economy, where the FDP and the Social Democrats wanted to finally ratify the CETA free trade agreement between the EU and Canada. The Greens reject the agreement’s provision on arbitration courts. Now, the Federal Constitutional Court is to decide, meaning the conflict has been postponed.
The talks were tough, though, and the Greens soon got fed up, and frustration and fatigue grew. At one point during an internal Green Party conference call, someone could even be heard snoring.
At the same time, the Greens have chalked up some other successes that go beyond climate policy. Germany’s citizenship laws are to be reformed, "advertising” for abortions will no longer be prohibited and a moratorium has been placed on sanctions that can currently be slapped on people who receive Germany’s long-term "Hartz IV” welfare payments. However, the FDP also wanted a lot of these things and the Greens are lacking the big trophies to give their party a higher profile. Habeck himself, for example, is even wondering himself whether he gave up too quickly on the Greens’ call for a firm speed limit of 120 kilometers per hour to be imposed on all German highways.
The disappointment in the party can’t be ignored, and the negotiators were apparently already reckoning with this – at least this is suggested by an email sent out to Green Party members of the European Parliament on Wednesday morning. Michael Kellner, a high-level official in the national party and party co-head Annalena Baerbock asked them in a letter to express their "pleasure publicly” that the Greens would be allowed to nominate the next German European Commissioner. But the success they are supposed to be cheering might not even happen. If Ursula von der Leyen remains the European Commission president after the European elections in two and a half years, then there will be no German post to fill. A Green Party source in Brussels says: "The party leadership probably wants, most of all, to dampen the discontent over the fact that we didn’t get the Transport Ministry.”
The Greens’ Successes Are Primarily Declarations of Intent
Just how difficult the Greens had it in the negotiations is also visible in another chapter of the coalition agreement: foreign policy. Here, too, they had to relent on some essential points.
For years, the environmentalist party has been fighting against the official NATO target that member states should spend 2 percent of their gross domestic product on defense. Under the contract, the coalition partners do not explicitly commit themselves to that target, but they do so in a de facto way. The agreement states that Germany wants to "fulfil the obligations it has entered into with NATO.”
Under the agreement, the partners also commit themselves to German participation in nuclear deterrence, known in NATO parlance as nuclear sharing. As before, it remains possible that in a worst-case scenario, German fighter jets could be forced to drop American nuclear bombs.
One section that does have the Greens’ handwriting on it, though, is the one on EU policy. It speaks of a "federal European state,” an amendment to the EU treaties, a new European constitution and a "genuine EU foreign minister.” There’s just one hitch: How is this all going to be implemented in a deeply divided Europe?
In fact, the Greens’ successes are primarily declarations of intent. Foreign Minister-designate Baerbock is likely to repeat them like mantras over the next four years. But the most contentious point of European policy, which both the Greens and the SPD repeatedly demanded during the election campaign, doesn’t even appear in the coalition agreement: the issuance of EU bonds, with joint liability for them across the bloc.
Baerbock didn’t fare nearly as well as hoped in the national election and she was forced to cede the role of vice chancellor to Habeck. For election winner Scholz, on the other hand, the coalition negotiations were also a success, at least to a large extent.
Scholz was able to push through the minimum wage, a change to the social safety net that would allow the pension system to invest part of its money in capital markets and significant changes to the country’s long-term welfare program. In addition to the Chancellery, the SPD will also be in charge of key ministries like labor, interior and defense. There is little criticism within the SPD. The party has spent years quarreling internally, but that is barely visible now.
Scholz also managed to win the respect of his future coalition partners. People inside the FDP, in particular, were impressed by the depth of his knowledge of the issues involved in the negotiations. Scholz had been the first to read the draft agreement from cover to cover and to be able to quote from memory what had been written at the bottom of page 80. The future chancellor, at times, seemed like the class nerd.
But Scholz, as serious as he may appear, isn’t much less vain than Habeck and Lindner. The only thing he cares less about than the other two is his hairstyle, because he doesn’t have much of it.
Overall, Scholz’s leadership style is more reminiscent of Angela Merkel than her predecessor Gerhard Schröder. "Scholz played the role of moderator, taking in what others were saying,” says one negotiator, Adding that he hadn’t been too dominant and left room for the others. He wasn’t like, "this is it, period!” says on FDP source.
The chancellor-designate treated all participants equally, says one source who was present. He says that Scholz listened to all the arguments and then sought a solution, although some couldn’t shake off the impression that he was someone more sympathetic to the red lines drawn by the market-oriented FDP than those of the Greens.
The source says Scholz occasionally deliberately let the two partners argue, perhaps to see where the lines of conflict between them ran, especially on climate and budget policy. Scholz only got involved in such debates with compromise proposals after some time, and sometimes he just stayed out of it altogether.
But this management style won’t work in the future. If Habeck and Lindner tangle, Scholz will have to put his foot down. He can’t allow them to risk the success of the coalition government. Because if this government coalition delivers on what they are promising, they have the potential to change the country for the better. But if it falls into the traps set by competition, resentment and vanities that have already been set, it could become the biggest political disappointment of recent decades. The expectations for this government are a lot higher than they were for the grand coalition between Merkel’s CDU and the SPD.
Is there anything that could still prevent the coalition from being sworn in? For the SPD, the road to the chancellor’s election looks like smooth sailing. The youth wing and others on the left of the party may be grumbling about the FDP’s successes, but desire to see Scholz become chancellor outweighs everything else.
When Scholz Is Away, Vice Chancellor Habeck Will Represent Him
The Social Democrats are planning two online conferences and a digital party conference on Dec. 4, where the coalition agreement will be voted on. Only then will Scholz present the lineup of SPD ministers. But will he be able to keep the roster quiet for that long?
It’s likely that the pressure will be ratcheted up so high next week that some of the names will find their way into the public eye. Considerable attention is likely to be paid to the question of who with the SPD will take the helm of the Health Ministry at the height of the coronavirus pandemic. Scholz would have to come up with a very good justification for not tapping Karl Lauterbach, a health policy expert in his party who has been one of the most prominent voices in the German media when it comes to addressing the pandemic.
Despite their disappointment, it is also considered very unlikely that the Green Party will reject the coalition agreement. However, only days after the presentation of the coalition agreement, the party had already become entangled in internal battles over ministerial posts. Suddenly, the old fight between the wings of the party have reemerged, one that Habeck and Baerbock had insisted was a thing of the past: the left wing versus the realos, with plenty of unsettled scores.
Things have been much quieter for the FDP, which presented its list of ministers on Wednesday. The FDP still needs to approve the agreement at a special digital party conference on Dec. 5, but there is little doubt it will go through. Then, on Dec. 8, Olaf Scholz could be elected in parliament as Germany’s next chancellor.
But who actually fills in for him when he’s not around? Who will chair the cabinet them? It’s not really one of the big questions, it’s more of a formality. Still, it is one that could have a formative influence on the atmosphere, especially in the early stages of the term.
What is clear is that if Scholz is absent, Vice Chancellor Habeck will stand in for him – so far, the Greens and FDP are still in agreement here. Everything after that gets more complicated.
Does being in the role of vice chancellor make Habeck Lindner’s boss? Does he hold any sway over the FDP leader? FDP doesn’t see it that way at all. Lindner, members of the FDP say, sees himself "on equal footing” with the Green Party leader. On this line, he has the backing of the coalition agreement, which names the FDP leader as a kind of informal second vice chancellor, according to the rules of procedure of the federal government.
How Lindner interprets that role is likely to become clear in the first real showdown with Habeck.