What is actually left of the traffic light coalition’s original program after Russia’s war of aggression against Ukraine, not just one major crisis but multiple crises, completely dominated the government’s actions by the alliance of SPD, Greens and FDP? Among other things, this question was discussed on Monday at the Bertelsmann Foundation in Berlin at the presentation of the book published by Knut Bergmann “dare more progress? Parties, people, milieus and modernization. Governing in times of the traffic light coalition”.
The question mark after the main title of the compilation is important. Because the three very different parties had chosen the bracket of the idea of progress in order to find a common goal that unites everyone, and based on the well-known dictum from Willy Brandt’s first government declaration (“dare more democracy”), the guideline of their new alliance close. Back then, at the beginning of December, of course without a question mark, but with an all the higher standard of our own actions.
“If we want to be sure about the content, goal and feasibility of progress, we need dialogue between the disciplines; also between theory and practice. As in this collection,” said Bundestag President Bärbel Bas (SPD) when she presented the volume. The SPD politician assured her that she was optimistic: “It’s worth daring to do what our society needs, especially in view of the many crises: progress!” The anthology makes an important contribution to this. One thesis of the social democrat was: “For more progress, we must also strengthen our democracy.”
As far as the book’s performance is concerned, the publicist (and former deputy editor-in-chief and today’s Tagesspiegel columnist) Ursula Weidenfeld and the political scientist Wolfgang Merkel also agreed. But most of the time their judgments differed in the debate moderated by Anke Plaettner with regard to the traffic light coalition, which was not a disadvantage for the audience.
The traffic light let its original “agenda be knocked out of hand by the crisis,” judged Weidenfeld. Now she no longer relies on the programmatic promise of progress, but has arrived at a more Merkelian motto that reads: “Elect us, then you will be governed well.”
Merkel, formerly director of the Democracy Department at the Berlin Social Science Center (WZB), also traced the consequences of overcoming the crisis: The traffic light had “not yet turned into the processing of the important transformation tasks,” he said. Nevertheless, he identified “an innovation” with the takeover of the government: the three parties no longer intend to come to a common denominator in every policy area, but negotiate in an “exchange relationship”.
This in turn makes it possible for each of the three partners to come to “clearer policies” in their special field, one no longer has to “quarrel like tinkers”. If the coalition is successful in different policy areas, it could “make something common out of it”.
“The voters want a government that acts together in the crisis,” countered the trained economist Weidenfeld. At the same time, she described the state of emergency of the crisis as “the only way to make progress in highly complex societies”.
As for the chancellor, Weidenfeld confessed her shock that Olaf Scholz, in her opinion, arrogantly dismissed the statements made by economic experts on the consequences of the throttling of Russian energy supplies. She took that as a sign of insecurity. On the other hand, Merkel expressly confirmed that the current government is far more open and receptive to scientific expertise than the grand coalition under Angela Merkel.
Incidentally, both panellists saw weaknesses in representative democracy in the 21st century. In this context, Weidenfeld identified the parliaments as the “main problem”. Even in the crisis triggered by Russia’s war, in which the executive is taking the reins of action, the following applies: “Ultimately, parliament must be able to assert its own position.” If it does not do this, it is feeding “the core of the evil”.
This thesis in turn threw a significant light on the previous speech by the President of the Bundestag. She had delivered a well-sounding social-democratic presentation on the complicated situation, in which even the serious word “impositions” came across like a polished pebble.
But she renounced something very important for a parliament, something her predecessors Wolfgang Schäuble and Norbert Lammert had done again and again: loudly and clearly emphasizing and demanding the independence and decision-making power of the Bundestag vis-à-vis the executive – especially in the crisis. Especially when it comes to progress.
That was the big topic at the reception after the event. Because even if Russian shells rain down on the defenders of Ukraine on the front in the east of the country, tried and tested principles must continue to be upheld in Berlin, according to an often-heard argument.
Even if the government had to act quickly, presenting a 100 billion package for upgrading the Bundeswehr overnight: the Bundestag should never give the impression that it is some kind of nodding club. And people were reminded of the sentence: It is not the government that holds a parliament, but the parliament that holds a government. But even in the position of President of the Bundestag, a politician can still develop further. Maybe that’s called progress.