In a partner look: Habeck, Baerbock, Wissing and Lindner arrive together at the Berlin exhibition center
Photo: Kay Nietfeld / dpa
Monday morning, the exhibition center in Berlin, the »Hub27«, SPD, Greens and FDP want to deepen their traffic light explorations here - ten hours are scheduled for the meeting.
Camera teams have positioned themselves in front of the entrance, but no politician will stop at the microphones that have been set up this morning. Activists from Greenpeace and Campact raise their banners, three of them have oversized heads put on each other, they show the faces of FDP leader Christian Lindner, SPD chancellor candidate Olaf Scholz and Green leader Annalena Baerbock.
Scholz is already there, as is SPD General Secretary Lars Klingbeil and the party leaders Saskia Esken and Norbert Walter-Borjans when a big black bus stops away from the photographers. In the next moment, Robert Habeck, Annalena Baerbock, Volker Wissing and Christian Lindner come around the corner with a swing, even the outfits seem to be coordinated. The photographers run towards them, the cameras click. When asked about the mood, Baerbock replied that it was “fresh and cool”.
The staging sits, once again.
After the selfie of the week before last, the four green and yellow top politicians are again producing pictures that they should show as a trusted team.
The Greens and the FDP want to show that they stick together.
As the largest party, the SPD will not be able to dictate what happens during these explorations.
The demonstrative fraternization is above all a symbol to the public.
But the beautiful pictures are one thing.
In the end, they do not determine the success or failure of the exploratory talks.
It's about whether the parties can imagine governing together for the next four years.
Whether they can tell a common story, whether they can identify projects that can keep their promise of new beginnings and progress.
Head director Habeck knows that too.
At the weekend, he told Deutschlandfunk that there were "a lot of conflicts in terms of content."
"That is why the trusting atmosphere and the effort to shape a different style should not hide the fact that it is far from over and that the differences between the parties are sometimes considerable," said Habeck.
It becomes particularly difficult with finances
The most significant differences are likely to become apparent during the explorations in financial policy.
This is where ideological differences collide, along with the various claims of the parties to serve their own clientele.
The FDP wants to relieve companies, is strictly against higher taxes and still wants a digital modernization program for the state, economy and society.
"No tax increases and no loosening of the debt brake of the Basic Law", this red line has drawn FDP boss Lindner.
The SPD promises stable pensions and relief for lower incomes, but wants to cup the top earners more.
And the Greens must financially support an ambitious climate program for their electorate that could cost two trillion euros in the coming years alone.
That's 2000 billion.
Bringing these interests together seems downright impossible at first glance. Especially since the public budgets are empty because of the corona pandemic. This year, Finance Minister Olaf Scholz is taking on 240 billion euros in new debt, and next year it should be another 100 billion euros. Habeck agreed the republic to lengthy negotiations, up to and including failure. "That thing," he said, "is far from being dry."
So where will all the money for the modernization and transformation of the country come from?
The Greens favor the formation of public investment companies with which the infrastructure is to be converted to digital and climate-neutral.
Money, for example from the state KfW bank, could flow from these funds - and would not be counted towards the state budget.
But the FDP considers this to be a trickery of the balance sheet, and the SPD is also skeptical or even negative.
Fuest makes a compromise proposal
Just in time for the exploratory talks this week, the head of the rather conservative economic research institute Ifo, Clemens Fuest, has now introduced a compromise proposal into the debate: “An alternative to switching to secondary budgets would be in 2022, when the debt brake is suspended again due to the crisis should remain to create a reserve with which these tasks can be financed, ”he wrote in a guest article for the“ Frankfurter Allgemeine Sonntagszeitung ”.
In fact, the debt brake will only take effect again in the usual way in 2023. Similar to the refugee crisis, when the then Federal Finance Minister Wolfgang Schäuble had set aside billions, money should also be set aside for digitization and climate neutrality, so Fuest's proposal.
"The whole package would be something like a business plan for a digital and green transformation that the new coalition is presenting to the citizens," the Ifo President advertises for his idea.
According to Fuest, the Federal Court of Auditors and Parliament should ensure that the money is not misappropriated.
Fuest cites as examples "accelerated depreciation for the green and digital transformation of production facilities or subsidies for building insulation and new heating systems".
Greens are cautious - FDP has certain sympathies
The Greens are cautious about this plan - but not rejected either.
Anja Hajduk, currently still the party's budgetary spokeswoman, told SPIEGEL: "Mr. Fuest's attempt to find a compromise shows the urgency of the financing issue, and that is good for the further development of the debate."
Hajduk, however, doubts whether the volume of this one-off provision would be sufficient to cover the total costs of the transformation.
"However, I am skeptical whether his ideas can secure the financing of the necessary transformation," she said.
A Green party colleague from Hajduk speaks to SPIEGEL of an “ultra-pragmatic advance” by the Ifo boss. On the one hand, he doubts that the Federal Audit Office could be won over to a control function. On the other hand, he also doubts that the volume of this special fund, as proposed by Fuest, would be sufficient for the economy. "More state firepower" is needed so that companies can be sure that they can receive years of government support for their own investments.
The ball is now with the FDP.
Nobody wants to speak publicly there.
However, the liberals cannot easily avoid the Munich economist.
Because his word counts in the business community, whose supporters the Free Democrats like to see themselves as.
According to SPIEGEL information, there is therefore a certain sympathy for Fuest's initiative.
This shows a way how the constraints of the debt brake can be circumvented in the case of really important public investments, but at the same time it is ensured that the money is directed into the right, investment areas.
A look that is worth it
At first nothing concrete emerges from the talks. The round consists of six probers per party. The SPD remains with the team from Klingbeil, Scholz, Esken, Walter-Borjans, the Rhineland-Palatinate Prime Minister Malu Dreyer and parliamentary group leader Rolf Mützenich. The Greens have a core team consisting of Habeck, Baerbock and the political director Michael Kellner, depending on the topic, other politicians are added, according to exploratory circles. The FDP is proceeding in a similar way.
It is therefore worthwhile to watch who joins the talks in the exhibition center.
Among other things, this Monday is the FDP budget politician Otto Fricke, who is actually not part of the exploratory team.
His personal motto can be found on Fricke's website: »Politics also needs figures.
For a policy that can count. "
No question about it, this Monday was also about the money.
To the really big hurdles.