Did Christian Lindner choose the wrong job? The head of the FDP vehemently claimed the post of finance minister for himself in the run-up to the federal elections last year. He wanted in there, absolutely. In this position he saw his FDP best represented in a new government, whether Ampel or Jamaica (which was an option). And now the CDU, which is fighting with the FDP for part of the electorate, has appeared in two state elections with the slogan “debt-Lindner”.

Obviously not without success. The FDP has broken into Schleswig-Holstein and North Rhine-Westphalia. In the current political barometer, it is nationwide at seven percent. In the federal election it was four and a half percentage points more. A finance minister knows that numbers don’t lie. The Greens, on the other hand, are on the upswing, especially Robert Habeck, who has established himself quite successfully in the Ministry of Economic Affairs. The office spurned Lindner. Would he be better off now?

The Budget Committee of the Bundestag finalized the 2022 budget on Friday morning. The traffic light coalition has thus left the preliminary budget management phase and can now work with a regular budget. She’s not in such a bad shape right now. Spending could be increased again – from 484 billion euros in the first draft from March to 496 billion now. This was possible without new loans because Lindner had set the planning provision for lower tax revenues quite high.

For the time being, the coalition can draw on unlimited resources, also because of the debt cushion that it has created. It is 139 billion euros, a lavish sum. Although it is not yet clear whether it will really need this money or whether – like the grand coalition before the pandemic – it will end up under the approach. Pandemic, war in Ukraine, economic development in the USA, ongoing global supply chain problems – the traffic light certainly did not have an easy start.

And the challenge can become even greater if the downturn that Lindner feared materializes in the second half of the year. In the worst case, Lindner then has to work with a credit-financed supplementary budget. But for the time being, he is counting on the fact that the traffic light’s high level of debt can be limited to 2022 – in addition to the loans in the normal budget, there will also be 60 billion euros in the climate fund and soon the 100 billion in the Bundeswehr special fund. That adds up to 300 billion. No government has gone so deep into the chalk before.

Lindner took that into account. From 2023, according to his well-known plan, normality should prevail again, as presented to the FDP leader. Then the debt brake should be observed and solid work should be done. Then “debt Lindner” should be forgotten. Referring to his own willingness to make losses this year, he wants to commit the SPD and the Greens to his course of a debt-free budgetary policy.

But he’s making a risky bet. Because the imponderables are not going away. The reserve inherited from Groko amounting to almost 50 billion euros, built up in the surplus years, Lindner had to use to cover the financial planning. So he no longer has this network under him. He categorically rules out tax increases. He does not want to touch the debt brake. The coalition says that according to the current status, around 80 billion euros will be missing by 2026. This is not an emergency. But the money has to come from somewhere.

If Lindner doesn’t manage this – through creative budgetary policy, through savings, by taking his cabinet colleagues with him on his course – then the takeover of the Ministry of Finance could possibly turn out to be a miscalculation.