European Waves

The Stoplight is More Yellow than Green

The new coalition between the SPD (Sozialdemokratische Partei Deutschlands), Greens (Die Grünen) and FDP (Freie Demokratische Partei) is already seeing a shift in who is the strongest junior partner.

        On the 24th of November, the new governing parties in Germany presented their coalition agreement – a quick, 177 page-long read about what the new Ampel-coalition (stoplight coalition, named so for the colours of the participating parties) of SPD, Greens and FDP want to achieve. (I am by the way not the only one who thinks that the slogan Mehr Fortschritt wagen (Dare to make more progress) sounds like a lame FDP election poster, but of course slogans are not what matter here, it’s the content.)

What became clear not only during the presentation of the coalition agreement, but also in the weeks leading up to it, is that within the coalition the relations have shifted significantly. Robert Habeck may be nominally Vice-Chancellor, but for Heribert Prantel, writer for the Süddeutsche Zeitung, the real Vice-Chancellor is Christian Lindner from the Liberals. 

Not only have the Greens lost the finance Ministry to the Liberals, they have also lost the transport ministry – a very important ministry for climate adaptation. They seem to have failed to include several of their key election demands in the agreement: no speed limit on the highways, no specific mention of the exit from fossil-fuel-cars, the exit from coal will ‘ideally’ only be achieved in 2030 and the state will keep subsidizing diesel cars. Not to mention the rather awkward relegation of Annalena Baerbock, the chancellor candidate of the Greens. The former number two of the Greens, Robert Habeck, has subtly become the number one – as the Vice-Chancellor and leader of the most important Green ministry. The presentation of the coalition agreement showed the awkward relations: after SPD-leader Scholz, Habeck spoke, with Baerbock standing next to him, followed by Christian Lindner. Then Baerbock wanted to take the stage, but was overtaken by Saskia Esken, head of the SPD. Habeck proceeded to defend Baerbock – all in all, rather uncomfortable to watch. 

Additionally, the Green party is currently engaged in a heated discussion about the distribution of ministries. The Greens have always been very strong on only letting specialised party members run ministries. Anton Hofreiter, a ‘leftie’ in the Greens, was pretty sure of receiving a ministry – if not the Ministry for Transport – which went to the FDP – then at least the Ministry for Agriculture. However, because the Greens did not receive the ministry for development, the envisioned candidate Agnieszka Brugger – the only one with a migration background – did not receive a ministerial post. It is likely that the Green’s identity as a diverse party has influenced their decision to appoint, the ‘realo’ Cem Özdemir as Minister for Agriculture, despite his limited competences in this area, and much to the dismay of the party’s left wing members, especially Hofreiter himself. 

Cem Özdemir will be the first minister from a Turkish background, something long overdue. However, he would have been much more equipped and experienced as a foreign minister, a position that Annalena Baerbock has claimed for herself. Since the Greens wanted gender parity for their five ministerial posts with Özdemir and Habeck, the current minister for economy and climate, there was no remaining space for Hofreiter – the leader of the left-wing of the party. 

In opposition to that, the line of ministries the FDP received during the coalition agreements reads like their election campaign: Finance, Justice, Transport and Digital Affairs, Education and Research. The ministers proposed by the FDP – Christian Lindner, Marco Buschmann, Volker Wissing and Bettina Stark-Watzinger – have proven to be very specialised politicians. It is then not surprising that Lindner has acted very patronisingly during the presentation,  attesting to the Greens that they have negotiated very well. This was seen by some as a slight, given that the Greens have had to defend their results in the media and to their party members. He also used the word humility several times – not a word that Lindner is known to use very often. 

Despite these changing relations, there is much in the coalition agreement that can be considered a success, even a Green success. The decriminalisation of abortion, the reform of the migration and asylum system, lowering the voting age to 16 (a proposal likely to be stopped by the CDU/CSU as it would need a 2/3rd majority given that it would require a change in the constitution), much needed digitalisation and legalising cannabis – all of this points to the acknowledgement that Germany is a liberal, future-looking society and one that is willing to give young people more of a voice. And all of these are demands that would have been difficult – if not impossible – to realise with the CDU/CSU in government.  Let’s hope for the Greens that they will be able to profile their successes as Green successes and not let the initial difficulties undermine their position in a coalition where a voice for the climate is much needed. 


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