From Covid to climate: key challenges for new German govt

The centre-left-led alliance that was sworn in as Germany’s new government from Wednesday faces some huge immediate challenges, from the coronavirus pandemic and climate change to tensions with Moscow and Beijing.

Here are the main issues on the agenda for the Social Democrats (SPD), the Greens and the liberal FDP.

- Pandemic -

With infections raging and Germany facing its worse pandemic wave yet over the past few weeks, the new goverment was forced to take action even before it took office.

New SPD Chancellor Olaf Scholz and his team have agreed new restrictions on the unvaccinated and have already set the wheels in motion for a vote on compulsory vaccination that could take place as soon as this week.

At the swearing-in of the new cabinet on Wednesday, President Frank-Walter Steinmeier urged Scholz to ‘ensure that the pandemic does not keep us firmly in its grip for another year and that public life can return to normal once again’.

- No new debt -

The new coalition is planning big investments in tackling climate change, with a view to building up renewable energies and phasing out coal by 2030.

The expansion of sustainable energy will be ‘drastically accelerated and all hurdles and obstacles will be removed’, according to a coalition agreement signed by the three parties.

With an eye on Germany’s powerful automotive industry, the parties have also agreed to put 15 million purely electric cars on the road by 2030, up from just over 500,000 currently.

But the coalition parties have also promised no tax increases and a return to Germany’s no-new-debt rule by 2023, leading many to ask where the money will come from.

The debt rule enshrined in the German constitution was suspended during the coronavirus pandemic, allowing the government to borrow billions to finance its way out of the crisis.

But returning to budget discipline was a key demand of the FDP, and Scholz has also long been an advocate of the no-new-debt rule.

- Sovereign Europe -

The parties emphatically say they ‘want to increase Europe’s strategic sovereignty’ — likely to please the continent’s second biggest power France, which has made this a priority of its EU presidency beginning in 2022.

Scholz will head to Paris for his first international trip and told journalists in Berlin on Tuesday that he wants to continue Germany’s efforts to create a ‘strong, sovereign and open European Union’.

The world of the future will be shaped by ‘quite a few very influential countries… not just two’, he said, adding that in this world, it is important ‘that Europe can act strongly and sovereignly’.

But the transatlantic relationship will remain a ‘central pillar’ for Germany, and NATO is an ‘indispensable element’ for the country’s security, the coalition pact says.

And potentially grating to Poland or Hungary, the parties want ‘an EU which protects its values and rule of law internally and externally’.

Presenting the coalition deal, Annalena Baerbock, the co-leader of the Greens who will take on the role of foreign minister, promised to put human rights back at the centre of German diplomacy and advocated more firmness towards Russia and China.

- Social pledges -

The parties intend to honour the Social Democrats’ electoral promise of raising the minimum wage to 12 euros ($14) from the current 9.60 euros.

To keep housing affordable, the coalition has also agreed to build 400,000 new homes a year, including 100,000 using public funds. A cap will be introduced on rental hikes, limiting any increases to a maximum 11 percent in three years.

The three-party combo also agreed to lower the voting age to 16 — something likely to favour the Greens and FDP which have younger supporters than Angela Merkel’s conservatives, who are largely backed by Germany’s army of pensioners.

- Migration -

The coalition also aims to liberalise migration and citizenship rules, moves long resisted by Merkel’s conservatives.

Migrants who currently are merely ‘tolerated’ in Germany — allowed to stay but without the right to work — would be given a procedure to gain formal residence permits.

Moreover, the right to dual citizenship would be expanded and foreign citizens would have a quicker path to become German, in the case of ‘particular achievements in integration’ in as few as three years of residency.

- Legalise it -

Germany will legalise recreational use of cannabis, making it one of only a handful of countries worldwide to do so.

‘We will introduce the controlled distribution to adults for consumption purposes in licensed stores,’ the parties say in the document.

‘This will control the quality, prevent the circulation of contaminated substances and ensure the protection of minors.’

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