The FDP boss does not have a quiet summer. Christian Lindner is on all channels, he never misses a debate. On the other hand, the omnipresence of the Federal Minister of Finance is also an indicator that not everything is going smoothly for the FDP at the moment. But how did he bravely say to the “world”: “Liberal politics is not for the faint-hearted.” Alone against the others – that should remain Lindner’s motto for the next few weeks.
And its challenge. Because for the FDP it is about nothing less than self-assertion in an unfavorable environment – unfavorable because in view of the dangers of the gas crisis and recession there is a lot at stake, with which the FDP justified its entry into the traffic light coalition.
It’s not just about the dispute within the coalition about the course this winter. It is also about profiling against the Union, which, as the strongest opposition force, wants to use the displeasure with the traffic light. In the background is the Lower Saxony election on October 9th – an important date for all parties, but not least for the FDP.
Because what happens if she flies out of the state parliament? If it crashes as violently as it did recently in North Rhine-Westphalia and Schleswig-Holstein, that would be possible. It is important to prevent this, and Lindner is already starting to do so. The party friends in Lower Saxony demand a clear FDP line in Berlin.
Lindner’s announcement to the traffic light partners is therefore very clear: “The important role of the FDP results from ensuring that Germany is governed from the center and does not drift to the left.” That sounds like an increased willingness to fight, but that’s over growing from the perception that he and his party are on the defensive. “Every day a demand for tax increases and redistribution” – Lindner defends himself. “In the course of the green transformation, some want to transform the social market economy into a central administration economy” – but not with the FDP.
Not least behind this is the fear that the basic deal in the coalition could soon no longer hold. It reads: crisis policy including high new borrowing until the end of 2022, from 2023 onwards normality again and solid financial policy. In order to get the latter, Lindner went through and conceded a lot. Now, however, the coalition is increasingly questioning whether, in view of the relief policy, the debt brake can really be observed again from 2023. Lindner’s core promise is called into question. He can’t keep quiet about that.
The Minister of Finance points out that a new emergency would have to be declared for a further temporary suspension of the debt rule. With the pandemic, the emergency clause can no longer be activated. And the gas crisis? It is interesting what Lindner’s chief adviser, the former economist Lars Feld, said in the “Handelsblatt” – with a view to external shocks, an argument for the emergency rule: “Now we are in a situation in which the shock lasts indefinitely and always brings new consequences, which then reinforce each other.” But the question will only become really relevant in late autumn.
The fact that this summer it is not the FDP’s tank discount, but the Greens’ relief idea of the nine-euro ticket that is the media hit, should annoy Lindner. First he strictly rejected a continuation, then the financing of a successor solution from the federal budget, now he at least does not want to take on any new debt for it. But the debate is not in Lindner’s favour, he is probably already talking about a federal subsidy to the states for a cheaper ticket.
It almost seems like a counter-reaction when the leader of the FDP puts pressure on the Greens in the debate about extending the lifetime of nuclear power plants. But Lindner is under pressure there too – from the Union. It is now the fate of the Free Democrats to be in competition with both parties and thus to have found themselves in a sandwich position. Minister of Economics Robert Habeck (Greens) was able to parry Lindner’s initiative to demand an end to electricity production with gas relatively easily – with the reference that blackouts then threatened because some gas-fired power plants were systemically important. Again no point in the yellow corner.
Lindner recently brought several demands into the discharge debate. He will make proposals for a higher basic income tax allowance, for more child benefits, for adjusting the tax rate to inflation (avoiding “cold progression”), for a higher savings allowance. What seems like Lindner going it alone (he also acts as if) is actually either provided for by law or it is in the coalition agreement.
But that’s exactly why Lindner could score with these topics. In September, the government has to submit two reports, the subsistence level report and the progression report. Then it will be clear to what extent the current inflation and the inflation expectations would have to be compensated for by means of higher basic allowances and a tariff adjustment. Pushing around becomes difficult.
All taxpayers would then be relieved, including the top earners – but the effect would of course be greatest overall in the broad middle. Finance Minister Lindner would face a not insignificant loss of income, but the head of the FDP could make a profit if he opted for the most comprehensive possible compensation for inflation. Chief adviser Feld already pointed out that such a tax reform can also be designed in such a way that “especially lower and middle incomes are relatively better off”. Lindner had recently been accused of wanting to save on the long-term unemployed.
Lindner can also argue with the savings allowance that an adjustment is urgently needed because of inflation, the last one was in 2009. In addition, the traffic light has expressly agreed that the increase from 800 to 1000 euros will take place on January 1, 2023. As with the debt brake, Lindner acts as the guardian of the coalition agreement. He can count on that. The FDP boss may seem a bit lonely at the moment – he is not completely powerless.