You have to give Friedrich Merz one thing: since his election as Union faction leader, the struggle between the opposition and the government in the Bundestag has again become a very lively, exciting and entertaining process. Promotional events for democracy can now be observed more frequently in the plenum of the Reichstag.
In the budget debate on Wednesday, the CDU leader attacked Olaf Scholz’s alleged failure in the face of the historic challenge of strengthening Ukraine militarily against the Russian attacker. In doing so, he provoked the traffic light fractions into outraged heckling and roused his own ranks to storms of enthusiasm. There’s something going on in the Bundestag!
One thing, however, must be handed to the chancellor: he countered the opposition leader’s allegations in a largely convincing manner. You could put it casually: He let the air out of the sometimes very inflated attacks by Merz.
After his appearance, there wasn’t much left of plausible allegations against his coalition and recognizable mistakes by his government in times of war. Scholz, who is not a born rhetorician, became surprisingly emotional and also attacked Merz personally.
The head of government listed the weapon systems that Germany has already delivered and will deliver to Ukraine more precisely and comprehensively than in a long time – including without a doubt modern and “heavy weapons”, the absence of which Merz had expressly complained about, such as cheetah tanks Anti-aircraft system and multiple rocket launchers. That was overdue and urgently needed in view of allegations from Ukraine and Eastern Europe and a German debate that was at times heated up.
Not only the opposition representatives, but also politicians from the governing parties had presented the SPD chancellor as a brakeman who was loading historical guilt on Germany, which Merz was of course happy to use as a template. The communication from the Chancellery, which was not very convincing until Wednesday morning, had only prepared the ground for these allegations to flourish.
It was significant that the SPD politician, apart from a few improvised answers to Merz, first addressed the suffering of Germans from inflation, ever more expensive food and exploding energy prices. The message was: During the war, the traffic light does not forget its other important tasks, above all it does not burden the governed with any new taxes.
It is a real surprise that 55 years after the first “Concerted Action”, Scholz is launching a major political and social alliance to combat inflation. However, the traffic light still has to finance its promise not to curtail the energy transition, the welfare state, digitization or the start of education because of the war – and that will be a very tricky ride because of the debt brake.
The chancellor expressly did not define his own war goals for aid to Ukraine – because this remains the decision of Kiev alone. However, based on US President Joe Biden’s policy article in the “New York Times”, he has defined clear limits on military support for Ukraine. You get “heavy weapons”, including a highly modern air defense system. However, the attacked country may not use them against Russian territory. This is intended to limit the risk of a war between NATO and Russia.
At one point Scholz did not have an answer: his references to the close coordination within NATO sound plausible. However, he has not made it clear whether there is an informal agreement between important NATO countries not to supply Western-style main battle tanks. Conclusion: Scholz has finally explained his actions to the Germans well, but there is still room for improvement. The head of government should make the clarity of this speech a permanent task.