Christian Lindner had a lucky day on Friday. The Federal Finance Minister has presented the budget for 2023. So that budget with which he wanted to achieve a return to the debt brake. He has succeeded.
But be careful: First of all, it only worked with a lot of pain. Secondly, Lindner took advantage of the fact that this important FDP concern was anchored in the coalition agreement. That made it difficult for the SPD and the Greens to overturn it now. And thirdly, the government draft is not yet law; the Bundestag will only decide that at the end of November. What happens until then remains to be seen.
But further consequences of Putin’s war, the gas crisis, massive inflation, the threatening downturn with a simultaneous interest rate turnaround, a flare-up of a pandemic – all of this is looming. Or as the SPD budget keeper Dennis Rohde puts it: “many unknown variables” still await the traffic light coalition until the fall. For now, Lindner is the hero for a day.
His draft budget, which his cabinet colleagues have now approved, is a bet on the future. To be more precise: a bet on a future that will not be quite as bleak as those in government themselves are currently portraying it.
Lindner really wanted the Treasury. But it should not be an extension of the Chancellery (that was his accusation to the Union during the 2017 election campaign, with Wolfgang Schäuble as Angela Merkel’s subordinate minister). In recent weeks, Lindner has cheerfully given the impression that he is the master of the budget. But without the backing of Olaf Scholz, this draft would probably not have existed. SPD and Greens have now left Lindner his small triumph. Knowing that the last word has not yet been spoken.
They may now allow themselves a summer break without a long debate on budgetary policy. But by October at the latest, the coalition peace will give way to arguments about changes. If it gets thick, the growth forecast for this year and next will have to be lowered significantly. Then the traffic light will probably not come without an additional budget, i.e. a significant correction of the government draft in November.
Then what we experienced in the many-voiced dispute over the draft will apply all the more: budgetary policy in a double crisis mode. On the one hand, the traffic light has to constantly adapt its budget policy to the ongoing economic crisis.
On the other hand, the SPD, Greens and FDP are in a latent coalition crisis for precisely this reason. The friction can quickly lead to a tough coalition conflict. Therefore, after the summer break, one thing is needed above all, which Lindner – he is right – repeatedly demands: prioritization. So a debate about what is really important in this situation and what is not.
All three parties would have to make compromises. Not only with a view to the coming year, but also beyond. Basically, a renegotiation of the coalition agreement would then be necessary. Not in the basic lines, but in some not insignificant points. There would then be question marks behind basic child security, citizen income, share pensions, for example. And the FDP may have to accept that the debt brake cannot be fully effective in 2023.