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The Social Democrats, the Greens and the Free Democrats have offered up several progressive steps in their new coalition contract. But many climate activists have concerns, saying the deal comes up short.
Many of the polices put forward in the coalition deal represent a departure from those of the Merkel era
The three parties set to form the next German government presented their plans in Berlin on Wednesday under the title "Dare more progress," aiming to set themselves off from the Merkel era by serving as an "alliance for freedom, justice, and sustainability," as the parties taglined their cooperation deal.
The key deal appeared to be between the two junior partners in the coalition: the Greens and neoliberal Free Democrats (FDP). While the environmentalists were able to secure the target of ending Germany's coal industry "ideally" by 2030, eight years ahead of the German government's current target, the FDP got their hands on the second most powerful office in the land: their party leader, Christian Lindner, is now poised to take over the Finance Ministry. Green co-leader Robert Habeck is set to take over the Economy and Energy Ministry, whose portfolio is to be expanded into climate as well.
Other Green demands were also present: The new government is aiming to ensure that by 2030, some 80% of the country's power comes from renewable sources (doubling the current proportion) and that 15 million fully electric cars are on German roads. Habeck promised at Wednesday's presentation that this contract would put Germany "on the path to 1.5 degrees" — meaning to cap the current rise in global warming at 1.5 degrees Celsius (2.7 Fahrenheit) over pre-industrial levels, a goal many climate scientists already see as out of reach.
But environmental groups have been critical of the incoming government, railing at the absence of concrete measures for reducing CO2 emissions in the short term. There was no mention of a speed limit on the Autobahn (a win for the FDP) and no absolute date for phasing out gas- or diesel-fueled cars.
The FDP, meanwhile, can point to plenty of wins: Germany's "debt brake" (a mechanism meant to stop the country from taking on new debt) is to be reapplied in 2023, having been lifted to cope with the economic fallout of COVID-19. And there is no mention of any tax increases in the new contract. But on the other hand, there was also no pledge to rule out tax increases, something that had been in the initial negotiation paper presented a few weeks ago when the parties first came together.
Elsewhere, there was plenty of evidence that the conservative impulses of Chancellor Angela Merkel's Christian Democratic Union (CDU), which has run the country for the last 16 years, have been banished.
The new government contract promises several progressive measures that would have been unthinkable under a CDU government: the sale of cannabis for recreational use from licensed stores is to be legalized, the voting age will be lowered to 16 and the notorious Nazi-era Paragraph 219a (which largely bans any advertising or publicized information about abortion care) is to be scrapped.
In addition, a new citizenship law is to be introduced, which will make two crucial things easier for millions of immigrants in Germany. Residents will be allowed to gain citizenship after as little as three years in the country, and they will be allowed to keep their prior nationalities upon naturalization.
Two of those measures — lowering the voting age and allowing dual or multiple citizenship — may have had strategic considerations behind them, because they will effectively enfranchise demographics that are more likely to vote for the governing parties than for the center-right CDU or the far-right Alternative for Germany (AfD).
Other progressive NGOs have offered some cautious approval of the plans. Anti-arms trade campaigners welcomed the fact that the government is planning a new export control law, while reserving judgment to see what it would contain. And anti-lobbying groups were pleased to see some small but crucial steps to better transparency about who has access to parliamentarians.
The winner of September's election, the Social Democratic Party (SPD), can of course point to their overall power in the new government. Apart from having Olaf Scholz in the chancellery, Social Democrats will take over six Cabinet ministries, including Interior, Defense and Health — the latter being both crucial during the pandemic and an interesting development, as rumors had emerged last weekend that the FDP would gain this post.
Altogether, the distribution of Cabinet posts suggests the SPD appears to have been given the role of managing the basics of maintaining social cohesion. The center-left party has also taken over the Labor Ministry, which next year will raise the minimum wage to €12 ($13.50) an hour from the current €9.60, and an all-new Construction Ministry, which is promising to build 400,000 new apartments per year to ease the rent crises in several major German cities.
But the housing plans have attracted criticism from renters' associations, because there was precious little scope in the contract for expanding the current rental controls already in place.
Edited by: Kyra Levine
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