25.07.2022, Berlin: Christian Lindner (FDP), Bundesfinanzminister, nimmt an der Verleihung des Großen Verdienstkreuzes mit Stern und Schulterband an seinen französischen Amtskollegen Bruno Le Maire teil. Foto: Britta Pedersen/dpa +++ dpa-Bildfunk +++

Maybe Christian Lindner just likes the provocation. In any case, the Federal Minister of Finance is currently managing to trigger a wave of outrage in the left and Green camps with every statement or action. Be it the rejection of an excess profit tax or even his wedding on Sylt.

The latest trigger is the sentence with which the FDP politician justified his rejection of the 9-euro ticket in the “Augsburger Allgemeine”. He is not convinced of the “free mentality à la unconditional basic income” in local public transport either. If you don’t have a train station nearby, you would subsidize cheap local transport. “I don’t think that’s fair.” He also pointed out that every euro cut had to be mobilized elsewhere.

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For many, he is the perfect enemy. A rich politician who wants to take cheap public transport away from others. In fact, he is quite right about this. And what Lindner proposes is often enough pure populism.

Counter-arguments that could weaken one’s own position are studiously overlooked. It is overlooked that not only car traffic is subsidized, but also that the railways – even without the 9-euro ticket – are massively supported by the state. It is overlooked that the railways, as most of the time highly loss-making state-owned companies, do not manage to build up an attractive network, or at least to maintain it, despite subsidies from the federal government.

And it is overlooked that the road infrastructure in Germany is crumbling – and that it is more than a leisure setting for Porsche drivers, but the backbone of the German economy. At least as long as rail transport is no more attractive than road for transporting goods. Of course, a 9-euro ticket would not contribute to this. In general: The greatest need for investment is not in the ticket prices, but in the infrastructure.

The accusation that is often voiced that he, as the holder of a Bahn-Card, cannot refuse poor people a cheap train ticket for 100 people, can hardly be surpassed in terms of flatness. Luckily, the fact that the Federal Republic is providing its ministers with a rail flat rate does not prevent them from having an opinion on rail subsidies or acting accordingly. As a political opponent, you should still have that much respect for your office.

But what Lindner was probably also concerned with is a feeling that people in Germany have in fact become accustomed to for almost ten years: the state can regulate everything with money. As long as interest rates were low and the federal government could even earn money with new debts, that wasn’t wrong either. After all, as a result of the Corona pandemic, the world has come through an economic crisis of previously unimaginable proportions, and German companies and most of their employees have gotten off relatively unscathed thanks to extensive state aid.

But interest rates are rising. The debt becomes a problem for Lindner. From the point of view of intergenerational justice, it can be expected that Lindner will be skeptical about such expenses. If – as a study on Monday suggested – they don’t even have any benefit for the climate, the incentive from a sustainability perspective dwindles all the more.

It remains undisputed that the state must provide targeted relief to people who have been hit too hard by inflation. Lindner also sees it that way, as shown by his relief plans, which the “Spiegel” reports today. The 9-euro ticket, on the other hand, would be the famous watering can that everyone can enjoy. The Green Energy Minister Robert Habeck has also repeatedly emphasized that the state cannot compensate for everything in this crisis. But he doesn’t go so far as to use the green feel-good project of the 9-euro ticket as an example. He leaves this role to Lindner.

Nevertheless, Lindner was wrong in his choice of words. Because nothing is free with the 9-euro ticket. After all, it’s tax money that Lindner doesn’t want to spend here. So every train driver has paid for it himself – and doesn’t get anything for nothing here. The fact that Lindner speaks of a “free mentality” in this context at least makes you think.

Studies show that most additional journeys made with the €9 ticket are leisure activities. The conclusion is: if you need local transport, you will drive it anyway. Those who cannot pay it at normal prices should be relieved. And if you want to take a pleasure trip, you can usually pay a little more for it. The finance minister could probably live with that.