The German coalition government, comprising three political parties, has encountered significant challenges in finalizing the budget for 2024 before the end of this year.
Despite days of intense negotiations and late-night meetings, the parties have been unable to reach a consensus on where to make budget cuts. As a result, it is unlikely that the parliamentary process required for budget approval will be completed by the end of December.
A Challenging Political and Budgetary Crisis
The difficulties faced by the social democrats, greens, and liberals in the coalition government highlight the ongoing political and budgetary crisis triggered by a recent ruling from the Constitutional Court.
This ruling declared unconstitutional a financial maneuver that aimed to reallocate €60 billion from a special fund created during the pandemic to another extrabudgetary fund for climate and industrial transformation projects.
Consequently, the government of Germany, as the largest economy in Europe, has had to suspend the “debt brake” established in the constitution retroactively to balance the accounts for 2023.
This situation becomes even more complex when considering the budgetary shortfall of €17 billion for 2024 caused by the court ruling. The funds that have disappeared as a result of the ruling have left projects related to energy transition, economic modernization, and social welfare in limbo.
Negotiations have been so intense that Germany’s influential Green Party politician, Robert Habeck, had to cancel his trip to the climate summit in Dubai as requested by the Chancellor to ensure uninterrupted three-way discussions.
Budget for 2024 Delayed
In a leaked message to her colleagues in the Bundestag, Katja Mast, a leader of the social democratic parliamentary group headed by Chancellor Olaf Scholz, acknowledged the impossibility of passing the budget for 2024 this year despite their best efforts.
Ongoing discussions between Scholz, Habeck, and Christian Lindner, the leader of the Free Democratic Party (FDP) and Finance Minister, will continue on Friday. The social democrats express hope that an agreement will be reached before the Christmas break.
The failure to approve the budget means that the year will begin with a temporary budget that allows for the provision of essential services such as pensions and social benefits. However, it will freeze other critical areas such as ecological transition and the promised subsidies to chip manufacturers like Intel and TSMC to establish their factories in Germany.
Constitutional Court’s ruling has thrown the entire framework supporting public spending into chaos. This framework relied heavily on extrabudgetary funds designed to circumvent Germany’s strict public deficit limitation, which was enshrined in its constitution in 2009 following the sovereign debt crisis.
Concerns for Industry and the European Union
Budget disputes for 2024 have raised concerns in the industry, which is worried about maintaining the competitiveness of its companies and preventing relocation abroad.
Brussels also watches with unease as Germany, the largest economy in the European Union, risks falling behind in much-needed ecological and digital transitions and failing to meet emissions reduction targets, which would have repercussions for the entire Union. Some consequences are already evident, such as Germany’s limited room for financing the budget increases desired by the EU.
Discussions between the three government parties not only revolve around budget cuts but also involve considering the possibility of suspending the debt brake again in 2024. This would mean freezing the borrowing limit for the fifth consecutive year.
The debt brake was previously suspended between 2020 and 2022 due to the pandemic and the Ukraine conflict. However, it has not yet been voted on by the Bundestag, and the Federal Court of Auditors warned on Monday that the supplementary budget for 2023 is “extremely problematic according to constitutional law.” In the medium term, it could become problematic again if any party files a complaint, as the Christian Democrats did with the reallocation of pandemic funds.
Urgent Task: Tackling the €17 Billion Budget Cut
Most pressing task for the coalition government is to address the €17 billion budget cut for 2024 due to the unavailability of funds from special accounts. However, the three parties have conflicting priorities, as has been evident during their almost two years in power.
The liberal FDP leader, Christian Lindner, refuses to suspend the debt brake, categorically rejects tax increases, and is unwilling to give up certain business subsidies. His party suggests cutting social benefits, which is an absolute red line for the social democrats. The Greens, who have already made significant compromises since entering the government, are unwilling to consider cuts in investments aimed at accelerating the transition to clean energy.
Lindner assured in Brussels that “this is not a crisis” and that the state is fully capable of acting without closing any offices, delaying salary payments, or leaving anyone in need without assistance. He expressed confidence that an agreement would be reached in a matter of days.
Kevin Kühnert, the General Secretary of the Social Democratic Party (SPD), also insisted that there would be no problem in approving the budgets in January. He stated, “We strive to reach an agreement before Christmas, but we will not compromise at the expense of millions of employees, pensioners, and the poorest in society.”
Ongoing budget crisis in Germany not only affects the stability of the government but also has far-reaching implications for the country’s economy, climate goals, and its standing within the European Union. The coming days and weeks will be critical in determining whether the coalition parties can bridge their differences and find a way forward that ensures the financial well-being and progress of the nation.