German Chancellor Olaf Scholz (C), German Minister of Economics and Climate Protection Robert Habeck (L) and German Finance Minister Christian Lindner (R) give a press statement in front of Meseberg Castle in Meseberg near Gransee, northeastern Germany, where members of the German federal cabinet met for a two-day closed conference, on May 4, 2022. (Photo by John MACDOUGALL / AFP)

It is worth reading the coalition agreement again. They want to promote a culture of respect, it says: respect for other opinions and for counter-arguments, in order to show the country in an exemplary manner that cohesion and progress can be achieved even with different perspectives. But less than nine months after the start, the concept has deep scars, SPD, Greens and FDP have wedged – and that in the middle of the war and energy crisis.

Ironically, SPD leader Lars Klingbeil, the architect of inner-party unity, broke with the principle of success from the initial phase, which was based on the fact that internal disputes are possible, but that external appearances are united.

The attacks of the SPD are directed against the poll king and Minister for Economic Affairs Robert Habeck. They are justified in naming criticism of technical deficiencies in the gas levy, for which the Chancellery is also responsible, but they also come across as orchestrated. This has to do with October 9th, the day of the state elections in Lower Saxony. If the SPD loses its homeland, that could have dramatic consequences, including for the unity of the party.

The messed up gas levy is nevertheless only a sideshow. So far, the coalition has been unable to come up with a sensible answer as to how working people are to be protected from the force of the energy price explosions. Families everywhere are aghast these days to find that instead of 100 euros, they are now being asked to pay 700 euros a month for gas. And the electricity price, which is linked to the gas price, is already threatening to follow suit with huge increases. The price jumps overwhelm lower and middle incomes in particular, but not only: the upper middle class is also noticeably affected.

In addition, far too little has been said so far about the consequences of energy costs for industry, the backbone of local prosperity. If the high prices hit the mark next year, even expanding short-time work, which saved some companies from Corona, would not help, then there would be mass insolvencies.

Government responses are also urgently needed here. And it needs – now really – a chancellor who leads. Olaf Scholz has to swear the coalition into a new spirit at their retreat from Tuesday in Schloss Meseberg. And some coalition partners also have to jump over their shadows. FDP boss and finance minister Christian Lindner, for example. Jumping over the shadow would mean for him: The debt brake must be suspended again, it takes tens of billions of euros to prevent an economic depression with loss of prosperity and a permanent political crisis in the economic war with Russia – which is what it is now.

In addition, the sometimes adventurous profits of some crisis profiteers would have to be skimmed off. It is a smart move that Scholz invited Spanish Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez to Meseberg. He has introduced an excess profit tax in his country, which finances free public transport and a gas price cap of 40 euros per megawatt hour. Especially with the FDP, Sánchez could do some convincing.

Instead of daring more pragmatism, this coalition has so far slowed itself down with ideological dogmas, including the Greens’ reservations about nuclear power plant lifetime extensions. So far, Scholz has been letting it run. For this he is now counted publicly and clearly from the camp of the Greens and FDP. This can further erode the population’s trust in their chancellor.

And nobody should forget: Union, Greens and FDP would also have a majority without a new election in the German Bundestag. If things continue like this, at some point the first coalition partner will threaten the Jamaica option and a constructive vote of no confidence. Scholz’ strength is to keep a cool head in crisis situations and to forge compromises.

Like the entire coalition, he is under pressure to deliver. Nobody can want a coalition crisis like this in a crisis. Now would be the time to pull yourself together, stop attacks and surprise with a relief package that hardly anyone trusts this coalition anymore.