The Greens parliamentary group has accused the chancellor of showing poor performance, having lousy poll numbers and gaps in memory of the Warburg affair in Hamburg. Olaf Scholz is asked what he has to say about it. Before the Chancellor can speak, Robert Habeck, who is standing on his left at the final press conference for the cabinet meeting in Meseberg Castle, does so.
And as if there had been no previous attacks from the SPD against the poll favorite Habeck, the vice chancellor stands in front of the chancellor.
This exam showed once again, and he thinks he speaks for the entire cabinet, “how good it is that Olaf Scholz is leading this government”. And Habeck further emphasizes: “With his experience, with his prudence, with his calmness, he runs this country safely – and I’m glad it’s the same.”
He presents the above statement by the deputy leader of the Greens parliamentary group, Konstantin von Notz, as an individual opinion. Meseberg is set to make a fresh start after weeks of turbulence and discord.
But Habeck, who is wearing a black suit, is also the one who pauses for a moment and mourns. After the news of Mikhail Gorbachev’s death, the cabinet also received news of the death of Green original Hans-Christian Ströbele. Ströbele was a politician “who impressed many people – including me – because of his straightforwardness, his unwavering commitment to civil rights and social politics,” says Habeck.
But these days are days of constant pressure for the coalition, there is hardly any time for inner contemplation. After all, it should have gone a little longer at the barbecue in the evening, until after one. Scholz emphasizes “The government works very well together, as you could experience sensually here in Meseberg.” Whatever that means. What is striking is that it is Finance Minister and FDP leader Christian Lindner in particular who sent messages in the castle garden on this day that are to be seen as a concession to the SPD and the Greens. He, too, now wants to counter the war-related crisis with “bang”.
The sun is shining, the white baroque palace is gleaming – despite little use, it costs the federal government more than five million euros a year for maintenance and security. Again and again Scholz talks about the lower hook – between the lines some fog clears in the castle garden, above all a third relief package in the high double-digit billions is emerging. It could surpass the volume of the first two packages with a combined volume of 30 billion.
It is part of the Chancellor’s political style not to communicate any interim results, but only when everything has been firmly agreed. He therefore sees the negotiations that have been going on for weeks as a litmus test of whether the confidentiality that Ampel awarded in the initial phase is upheld. On Saturday or Sunday there should be a coalition committee in the chancellery where the overall package should be put together, Scholz compares it to building a house.
He absolutely wants to have it available for the general debate on the Chancellor’s budget for 2023 next Wednesday in the Bundestag so as not to be presented by CDU parliamentary group leader Friedrich Merz. A significant expansion of the housing benefit with far more recipients is a set pillar, for Hartz IV recipients the new citizen benefit is to come, with higher rates than before.
Habeck emphasizes that the proposal is also being examined that a certain energy consumption in households is subsidized by the state, for example 80 percent of the previous consumption and only the consumption above that is then subject to the currently enormously high prices – that would also provide an additional incentive to save energy. But how can this be designed in a socially just way? After all, energy suppliers don’t know what a household’s financial situation is like. “And how bureaucratic is this measure,” Habeck suggests that this could be too complicated.
On the other hand, it is clear that the Finance Minister Christian Lindner (FDP) promised to compensate for the effects of the cold progression, a volume of around ten billion euros. In addition, similar to the Corona pandemic, aid and loan programs for companies suffering from high gas and electricity prices are to be launched again.
The day before, BDI President Siegfried Russwurm had sounded the alarm in the castle, emphasizing: “The substance of the industry is under threat.”
Electricity prices for 2023 have currently risen to more than 700 euros per megawatt hour – more than 15 times the price level of previous years,” says Russwurm. The gas price has increased by a thousand percent to more than 300 euros per megawatt hour. The situation for many companies is toxic, “not only because of the lack of gas, but above all because of the crazy price increases.”
Industry gas consumption in July was 21 percent below that of the same month last year. “The reason for this is often not efficiency gains, but a dramatic drop in production.” Vice Chancellor Habeck also warned of the danger that major upheavals could occur in certain sectors.
The long-restrained Lindner now says: “We need a massive package for relief across society.” This year, a single-digit billion amount would be available in the budget, next year a double-digit figure – but you can still comply with the debt brake as planned.
Lindner leaves it open whether the FDP could open up to generate additional funds for Habeck’s proposal to skim off the enormously high additional profits in the electricity market driven by the gas price. “We have to ensure that this yield autopilot is switched off,” Lindner makes clear.
What the FDP Finance Minister is aiming for: Most recently, more than 1,000 euros per megawatt hour of electricity had to be paid – because all producers get the price that is paid for the most expensive power plants, which are currently gas power plants that have to run harder than desired to avoid fluctuations in the To compensate for green energy production, but also to supply France with sufficient electricity because of the problems there with the nuclear power plants. However, owners of lignite-fired power plants, solar and wind energy plants in particular make enormous additional profits as a result.
Habeck wants to go there, Lindner emphasizes that it cannot be that rising gas prices automatically lead to extra profits in electricity prices overall. Scholz takes the floor and emphasizes that he is also in talks with the EU heads of state and government that an EU-wide reform will come much faster than many would think.
And he makes it clear that the consequences of the Russian war of aggression will mean that some things will come much faster than planned, from liquid gas terminals to the expansion of renewable energies and the switch to a stronger hydrogen supply.
Here, Lindner set a new tone in Meseberg via Twitter. So far he has been against follow-up regulations. Now he posts a selfie with him and Transport Minister Volker Wissing in the morning, with the castle in the background. “Volker Wissing convinced me: he can realize a digitally bookable ticket that can be used nationwide with a fraction of the financial resources of the 9-EuroTicket,” tweeted Lindner. “Now it’s the turn of the countries. When the financing question is clear, the price can be set.”
The previous 9-euro ticket would cost 14 billion euros a year – that’s far too much for Lindner. Wissing has stated that he is a “fan” of the ticket and emphasizes in particular that overcoming the complicated tariff structures has turned out to be a success. A nationwide valid ticket for local public transport had previously not existed – but Lindner, Habeck and Scholz still leave open when and at what price a nationwide local and regional transport ticket should come. But it’s becoming more likely.
When it comes to digitization, the government has become modest. “We want to be among the top 10 in Europe. That is our claim,” said Transport and Digital Minister Volker Wissing (FDP).
To this end, the cabinet in Meseberg has decided on an extensive digital strategy. Lindner emphasizes that it is about nationwide digitization, from applying for a passport to simpler tax returns.
Wissing emphasizes that one does not want to make the mistake of previous governments, who raved about “that we use air taxis on a daily basis, but have forgotten to expand the infrastructure”. This is where we need to catch up. They want to expand a better network, help to enforce the use of digital identity and enable better use of data through standardization, says Wissing.
It is, so to speak, a signal intended by the traffic light in Meseberg not only to deal with the crisis, but also to deal with the future. “We have to get through this winter as a country, as a society and as an economy, in order to then shape the future,” says Habeck as a common motto. Efforts are being made to appear more as a progressive coalition after difficult days.