Parliamentary Digest 2nd October: Budget week and 30 years of German unity

This week was the budget debate week, with 4 days of debate in the Bundestag. Saturday was also the 30th anniversary of German reunification. Finance Minister Olaf Scholz (SPD) introduced the budget for 2021 on Tuesday and there was a general debate. This was followed by debates by department over the next three days, as well as a debate about 30 years of reunification.

The budget: 96.2 billion euros of debt planned“a really, really, large amount”

Introducing the budget on Tuesday, Scholz emphasised the two principles which underlined it: social solidarity and economic sustainability. He said that, “In a crisis you have to show who you are. And we are a country that is united and a country that knows where we are headed.”

Germany’s ‘debt brake’ limits the federal government’s structural net borrowing to 0.35% of gross domestic product. Therefore, the borrowing required this year due to the corona crisis requires approval by the Bundestag to exceed the credit limits in accordance with Article 115, Paragraph 2 of the Grundgesetz (the constitution) . This states that, “In the event of natural disasters or exceptional emergency situations beyond the control of the state and significantly affect the state’s financial position, these credit limits can be exceeded on the basis of a resolution by the majority of the members of the Bundestag. ”

The government’s draft provides for expenditure of 413.4 billion euros for 2021. This is down 95.1 billion euros from this year’s exceptionally high €508.5 billion (the 2020 second supplementary budget provided for extra spending on rescue packages as a result of the corona crisis). In order to balance income and expenditure, a net borrowing of 96.2 billion euros is planned (compared to net borrowing for 2020 of around 218 billion euros). Scholz also expects a “considerable decline in economic output” of 5.8%.

So this amount for 2021 will be the second-highest sum of new debt ever, second only to this year’s additional borrowing to help deal with the corona crisis.

Not acting would be much more expensive than acting, said Scholz

Scholz defended the measures that had been decided – from the extension of short-time working benefits until the end of 2021 to the liquidity injections for companies that got into financial difficulties during the crisis, arguing that, “Not acting would be much more expensive than acting.” He also promised that public investment would not be scaled down in the coming years despite the “economic dent”.

The 96.2 billion euro debt next year is a “really, really large amount”, but is necessary to trigger investment chains and thus enable economic growth, which in turn reduces the need for government action.

In financial planning for the future, the Ministry of Finance is assuming a significantly lower level of expenditure by 2024. The target is 387.0 billion euros in 2022, 387.1 billion euros in 2023 and 393.3 billion euros in 2024.

For the CDU/CSU, the parliamentary group leader Ralph Brinkhaus described the new debt as necessary. The aim is not to leave anyone behind in this pandemic, he said. He argued that Germany can afford this debt due to the ‘black zero’ (balanced budget) budgetary policy of the past years: “We are looking forward to the future, that is evident in this budget.” However, Brinkhaus rejected tax increases for top earners (which Scholz has floated) and instead called for a “burden moratorium”. He also criticised Scholz’s view of the state, arguing that he is guided by an understanding according to which the state as protector can regulate everything. The Union trusts individuals, families, workers and entrepreneurs and wants to tackle the challenges of the future together with them, he argued.

For this speech, Brinkhaus was criticised by the FDP spokesperson Otto Fricke of having given an opposition speech, but ultimately supporting the criticised policy anyway: “It is your financial plan – and you have to stand by it.” Fricke criticised the fact that there were no cuts in subsidies and spending, even in an emergency situation. Instead, new multi-billion subsidies and social benefits would be launched. “You can’t make budgetary policy that way.”

For the Left Party, Gesine Lötzsch accused the government of withholding the answer to a central question: “Who should pay the bill?” Scholz had presented a “dishonest budget”, a “campaign budget”. No statements were made as to whether future budgets should be financed with “drastic cuts” in social spending or tax increases. Lötzsch demanded a wealth tax for billionaires and millionaires. “You protect the wealth of the rich, these are untenable conditions, that must finally change,” said the budgetary spokeswoman for the left group.

Sven-Christian Kindler for the Green Party said that they would support the budget, arguing that it would be completely wrong to save in the crisis. However, he also criticised the government’s financial planning. He argued that there would be a gap of 60 billion euros between 2022 to 2024, which would create “massive uncertainty and dangerous pressure to save”. He argued that Scholz had unpacked the bazooka during the crisis; now he must ensure “that the wrecking ball does not come after corona”.

For the AfD parliamentary group, Peter Boehringer accused the coalition of having submitted a constitutionally problematic budget. He questioned that the corona pandemic was a health emergency that justified the planned new debt. “We are not dealing with Ebola or the plague.” The “state overreaction” and “hysterical government action” had brought about the economic crisis, so this emergency situation was not beyond the control of the state, he said, and called for the “immediate exit from the corona lockdown measures.”

On Wednesday, Angela Merkel spoke about the budget, and took the opportunity to issue some warnings about the corona pandemic.

She argued that the government’s “quick and energetic” action over the budget helped to cushion the economic blow of the coronavirus pandemic and that it was the right thing to have done. However, she promised that, “we have to return to a normal and constitutional budget as quickly as possible.” 

During the debate, Merkel also warned people to stick to coronavirus measures to avoid a second lockdown.

She said that the country has come through the pandemic well, not least because of the responsible behaviour of its citizens. “I also miss spontaneous meetings the most. It is the same for many. But we still need distance as care. Follow the rules! This not only protects risk groups, but our open society as a whole,” she said.

Rolf Mützenich, SPD parliamentary group leader, defended the budget, saying, “This is a budget with strength and perseverance, because we have to oppose the pandemic and at the same time set the course for the future.” People need confidence in an existential crisis, he argued and said that the welfare state is a guarantor for confidence and security. he also called for further debt relief for local authorities.

The FDP leader Christian Lindner argued that new debts had become a “state philosophy” under Merkel’s coalition with the Social Democrats. “That has nothing to do with emergency help,” he said. “If we don’t return to fiscal solidity, that will be a signal for all of Europe.” He also criticised the fact that there was still no national test strategy (which health Minister Jens Spahn has promised by mid October).

For the Greens, Anton Hofreiter also criticised the lack of a national test strategy and the lack of planning on air filters for classrooms.

Left Party leader Dietmar Bartsch questioned again who wold pay for the debt: “But you don’t even say who pays the bill! You have no answer to that. ” This, he argued, will put enormous pressure on the public coffers to save and the bill for the rescue packages will end up being paid for by ordinary people, as they did after the financial crisis. He argued that Merkel was spending more on defence than on health and education put together. “We have an education crisis, but no country is threatening Germany,” he said. “Why raise the defense budget, even in the middle of a health crisis?”

Alice Weidel, co-leader of the AfD parliamentary group, said that Germany is facing the abyss. The federal budget is a “document of irresponsible carelessness” that will deeply shake the foundations of the country. She accused the federal government of total failure: “Your exaggerated measures are making the Corona crisis the worst recession in Germany’s history. Stop panicking. ”

The government measures, however are still receiving high approval: the ARD- Deutschland Trend survey found this week that an extension of the requirement to wear face masks (eg on the streets) would receive 63% approval and a restriction of private parties to less than 50 people would be approved of by 85%. Voting intentions also make happy reading for Merkel: the CDU/CSU’s revival since March continues, with 35% saying they will vote CDU/CSU. The SPD, which had risen slightly in the polls following the selection of Olaf Scholz as Chancellor candidate, fell two points to 15%. Merkel’s approval ratings remained steady at 70%, while Scholz’s fell by 7 points to 52%.

The Budget Act 2021 will be referred to the Budget Committee, which will deal with the budget mapproaches in detail in the following weeks. Last changes are to be decided on November 26th. The second and third readings of the budget law will then take place from December 8th to 11th. The Bundestag will vote on the budget for 2021 on Friday, December 11th.

Budget debates by department

Transport and digital infratsructure

Introducing the transport budget, Transport Minister Andreas Scheuer (CSU) said that his departments’s budget was the largest investment budget of any department. The department is planning to be able to spend 34.08 billion euros in 2021 (compared to 36.78 billion euros in 2020). More than half of the money (21.25 billion euros) is earmarked for investments. 7.48 billion euros revenue is planned to come from the truck toll (compared to 7.97 billion euros in 2020).

Expenditure for federal highways will 12.12 billion euros (2020: 11.46 billion euros) and 8.74 billion euros will be spent on on federal railways (2020: 12.88 billion euros). For digital infrastructure, the draft budget contains expenditure of 1.19 billion euros (2020: 1.18 billion euros).

The opposition parties strongly criticised Scheuer’s performance, evidencing the failed car toll (see below), slow broadband expansion, billions of investment backlog and failure as a partner in Berlin’s new airport BER (the project is 8 years delayed and in debt). A Green MP said that he had privatised motorways, blocked rail reform, broken public procurement law in the car toll disaster, lied to the Bundestag, and blocked reform of road traffic administration. The CDU/CSU rejected these criticisms, arguing that the draft budget provided for record investments in the railways “without endangering the necessary road expansion and construction.”

Environment, Nature Conservation and Nuclear Safety

The environment minister Svenja Schulze (SPD) is planning expenditure of 2.68 billion euros in 2021 (2020: 3.02 billion euros). Schulze said that climate protection is not the sole responsibility of the Environment Minister: “This draft budget shows that meanwhile all ministries are on the way to becoming climate ministries.” She argued that the government supports the development of green hydrogen and is also relying on innovative technologies such as artificial intelligence, and in addition supports the EU Commission’s “European Green Deal.”

The Green Party said that the budget may “possibly have been a good one” 15 years ago, but now, against the background of hot summers, drought and forest fires, it has “completely run out of time.” The Left Party accused the government of “standstill, agony, problem management and refusal to innovate,” and the FDP called for a “new start” for German environmental and climate policy, arguing that the government is standing in its own way with future technologies: “Guerrilla warfare” among ministries is blocking the government.

Food and Agriculture

The Department for Food and Agriculture has a planned record budget of 7.66 billion euros (2020: 7.02 billion euros). Minister Julia Klöckner (CDU) said that the 2021 budget was a clear commitment by the federal government to strong rural areas, innovation, reforestation and more animal welfare, including 300 million euros from the economic stimulus package for better animal welfare, 85 million euros for the special framework plan for insect protection and four billion euros for social policy to protect farmers.

The SPD argued that Germany is lagging behind in terms of regulatory policy, while the FDP on the other hand criticised the increasing bureaucratic burden for agricultural companies, which “hang like a sword of Damocles over the farmers.” The Green Party criticised “A lot of money without substance.”

Foreign Office

The budget for the Foreign Office in 2021 will be lower than in 2020. Expenditure of 6.04 billion euros is planned, which is around 582 million less than the 2020 supplementary budget adopted in June of this year, but a slight increase in 11 million euros compared to the originally approved 2020 budget. The opposition partiers told Foreign Minister Heiko Maas (SPD) that that this was too little in view of the international situation and the expectations of Germany.

Michael Roth (SPD), Minister of State in the Foreign Office, emphasized that Germany’s ability to act in foreign policy is closely intertwined with that of Europe. He argued for a European solution to a humanitarian migration policy: Germany is leading “by example” in accepting refugees and neither “national isolation” nor a “return to the national snail shell” would solve the problem.

The FDP argued that in view of the additional need for humanitarian aid, crisis prevention and equipment for the United Nations, the budget decrease is “absolutely not appropriate,” and criticised Maas as a “minister in transit” who does not fight for his department. The Left Party also criticised Maas for remaining inactive, with his budget, which he could really make a difference. Alone in the section “Securing Peace and Stability”, 300 million euros will be cut, including funds for the UN refugee agency. The Green Party described the government’s foreign policy as “unambitious, slow, contradictory. ”

Defence

The defence budget in 2021 is planned to rise to 46.81 billion euros, 1.16 billion euros more than in 2020. Defence Minister Annegret Kramp-Karrenbauer (CDU) said that the greatest increases in expenditure are in the area of ​​military procurement and accommodation for soldiers. She argued that that the Corona crisis has posed new challenges for procurement policy; the armaments industry needs a clear commitment to the procurement projects and also a faster implementation in order to remain liquid. She mentioned the procurement of an armed drone for the Bundeswehr, which is “indispensable”, and hoped that coalition partners, the SPD, will support this, referring to a dispute on the issue between the coalition partners.

Kramp-Karrenbauer admitted that original procurement projects could not be implemented for the time being due to the current budget situation (in particular, the decision to stop the procurement of a new heavy transport helicopter for the time being.)

The draft budget received different reactions from the opposition. The AfD and FDP demanded higher defence spending,while the Left Party argued that the budget is significantly too large. The AfD spokesman accused the government of “failure” in defence policy, arguing that the Bundeswehr could no longer fulfill the mandate formulated in the constitution because the Bundeswehr has been chronically underfunded for years. The Bundeswehr still lacks 15,000 soldiers, an entire division, and the joint armament project with France for a new joint fighter aircraft would become another “billion dollar grave”, since there was no agreement between the two countries on the requirements profile. The FDP complained that the defence minister had made no statement in her speech about NATO’s goal of spending two percent of gross domestic product on defence in the future: in the coming year, the federal government’s 1.5 percent target will only be achieved due to the corona-related shrinkage of GDP. The government’s medium-term financial planning also shows that the defense budget will stagnate in the coming years.

The Left Party argued that defence spending is too high compared to spending on education. The Greens argued that budgetary situations been changed by the corona pandemic and that there is a “hodgepodge of dream projects” in the draft budget for the procurement, for which funds are fictitiously set: This is a “lottery game” at the expense of the soldiers of the Bundeswehr.

The SPD pointed out that Germany will spend 1.5 percent of its gross domestic product on defence in the coming year. But this money must also reach the soldiers. The Bundeswehr has difficulties with procurement, operation and construction. The realisation of procurement projects takes too long, many vehicles are not ready for use and the accommodation of the soldiers in barracks in need of renovation is “unworthy.”

Economic Cooperation and Development

The budget for the Department of Economic Cooperation and Development for 2021 is planned to be 12.44 billion euros, as much as in the second supplementary budget of 2020 and more than the expenditure of 10.88 billion euros originally planned. The increase is to be able to better support developing countries and in particular international organisations such as the United Nations in coping with the corona pandemic worldwide. The department’s budget is planned to be the federal government’s second-largest investment budget in 2021 after the budget of the Federal Ministry of Transport and Digital Infrastructure.

Bilateral government development cooperation will continue to be the largest budget item in the budget with expenditure of 6.17 billion euros. In contrast, 2.57 billion euros (2020: 2.93 billion) are budgeted for “European development cooperation, contributions to the United Nations, its specialized agencies and other international institutions.”

Minister Gerd Müller (CSU) said that he was proud that his department’s budget has almost doubled since 2014. He also praised the fact that Germany was the only country in Europe to have launched a three billion euro emergency program for developing countries because of the corona pandemic. The pandemic leads to a “hunger and poverty crisis of dramatic proportions,” and more international engagement is necessary. He also argued that there is money for better crisis prevention, debt relief for the poorest countries in the world and the supply chain law introduced by his department (which provides a  legal framework to meet human rights standards and ensure basic environmental and social standards are met throughout the supply chain, and forest companies to take responsibility).

The AfD accused the government of “debt-financed additional spending abroad,” which is ‘constitutionally inadmissible.’ The FDP, Left Party, Green Party and also coalition partners, the SPD criticised the planned cuts in multilateral aid in favour of bilateral engagement.

Interior, Building and Home Affairs

The 2021 budget for Interior, Building and Home Affairs is planned to be 8.3 billion (2020: 15.67 billion euros). The government plans to spend 952.71 million euros on integration and migration, minorities and displaced persons (2020: 990.22 million euros). Of this, 880.75 million euros (2020: 918.64 million euros) are earmarked for integration and migration, including 692.6 million euros for integration courses alone (2020: 698.6 million euros). “Housing and Urban Development” will receive expenditure of 3.97 billion euros (2020: 3.36 billion euros), of which 3.01 billion (2020: 2.53 billion euros) will be invested. Housing benefit amounts to 735 million euros (2020: 600 million euros) and investment in social housing will be increased to 400 million euros (2020: 150 million euros).

Minister Horst Seehofer (CSU) argued in his speech that Germany was recording a drop in crime for the third year in a row and was one of the “safest countries on earth”. Nonetheless, there are challenges in relation to terrorism, extremism, anti-Semitism and racism. Right-wing extremism is “the greatest threat in our country,” even if Islamism and left-wing extremism are by no means underestimated. In the fight against right-wing extremism, the line of the federal government is clear: “Zero tolerance for right-wing extremists – no matter at which level and in which professional group.”

With regard to the construction sector, he said that the “largest housing construction program since reunification” had been agreed and billions had been invested in this area. Housing benefit has been dynamised, and is now automatically adjusted to the increased cost of living every two years.

As far as migration policy is concerned, Seehofer said that the number of asylum applications had decreased from 750,000 in 2016 to 165,000 last year, and 74,000 this year up to and including August. Since “control and order” have been created, this allows the. country to show humanity”as we did to Lesbos, as we did and still do with unaccompanied minors, and with sick children.” This is “not mass immigration.”

The SPD argued that social democracy relies on a strong state capable of acting and a “broad concept of security.” With 28,000 new positions in the security authorities and more than 2.6 billion euros in the past eight years, one can see “where investments are made in cohesion.” This is also the signature of the 2021 budget. Germany has strong security authorities; however we must not look the other way when right-wing extremism is being stoked and tipped into the middle of society.

The Left Party called for called for a “large-scale public housing program for permanently affordable housing,” and warned that the government must deal with racist incidents in the police force. It is a serious mistake on Seehofer’s behalf to prevent an investigation into these abuses. He is not protecting the police with this, but harming them. The Green Party also argued that one should not “turn a blind eye to anti-constitutional tendencies within our security authorities” and did not understand why Seehofer is blocking an investigation in this area.

The AfD criticised “fairytale social benefits and recognition of fantasy refugees” which were “luring masses of illegal migrants into the country from African and Islamic countries”. The “allegedly in need of protection” have already moved through safe third countries and are therefore “no longer on the run, if they ever were”.

Justice and Consumer Protection

The budget for the Department of Justice and Consumer Protection in 2021 provides for expenditure of 952.17 million euros (2020: 919.73 million euros) and an administrative income of 624.49 million euros (2020: 614.49 million euros).

Minister Christine Lambrecht (SPD) said that department policy is primarily about the protection of democracy, the safety of children, equality between women and men and social cohesion. In particular, the fight against hatred on the internet has begun and adjustments to the law against right-wing extremism and hate crime are being made very quickly. Crimes of sexual violence against children will be punished more severely.

The CDU argued that more can be done, for example in the fight against crime on the internet, where legislation is not up to date and needs to be adapted, and that organized crime must also be fought harder. The FDP said that although the judiciary. mostly functions well, a priority should be the digitisation of the judiciary.

The Left Party argued for more funds to protect citizens and that courts are chronically overloaded. Offences such as driving without a licence or using cannabis should be punished as administrative offences, otherwise, the courts will have no time for real crime such as tax evasion or money laundering.

Economic Affairs and Energy

The budget for the Department of Economic Affairs and Energy for 2021 provides for expenditure of 10.13 billion euros (2020: 10.57 billion euros). ​”Innovation, Technology and New Mobility” will receive 4.46 billion euros, the aerospace sector will receive 2.28 billion euros, and 1.31 billion euros (2019: 1.24 billion euros) will be spent to support SMEs. Significantly less money on coal subsidies will be spent: the draft budget provides for 1.38 billion euros (2020: 2.83 billion euros) for ​”energy and sustainability”.

Minister of Economics Peter Altmaier (CDU) said that Germany has got through the corona crisis “better than most around us” and that the economy will shrink less than feared. He argued that that the issue of how climate protection can succeed under these conditions was also at issue and pledged to keep to the previously agreed common climate goals.

The SPD pointed out the levels of investment in the budget draft, including the commitments in the aerospace sector, for the shipping industry and in the automotive industry. The automotive industry is facing huge transformations towards electric cars and the digitisation of processes and applications.

The AfD once again criticised the government’s measures during the corona pandemic, arguing that the government had caused a large part of the economic slump with its lockdown measures: “The measures were disproportionate.” The FDP feared “structural damage” from government action and argued that thousands of medium-sized companies and self-employed people were waiting for help.

The Left Party argued that money has not always gone where it is supposed to, and renewed its criticism of the planned compensation payments to power plant operators in the course of the coal phase-out. The party is concerned that the federal government is giving away billions of tax dollars to the previous profiteers in the industry. The Green Part agreed that a lot of time has been lost and that far too little of the aid is currently being used.

Family, Senior Citizens, Women and Youth

The budget for the Department for Family, Senior Citizens, Women and Youth provides for expenditure of 12.24 billion euros, 1.39 billion euros less available than in the current budget year. This is due to the increase in the family budget in 2020 during of the corona pandemic: in the second supplementary budget in 2020, the Bundestag increased the department’s resources from 12.26 billion euros to 13.63 billion euros. The budget for 2021 will therefore remain largely at the same level as in the original budget for the current year.

Almost 80 percent of the budget is earmarked for statutory family benefits, with € 7.34 billion for parental allowances. Another 1.19 billion euros are earmarked for child benefit and child allowance and 875 million euros for advance maintenance payments. 1.72 billion euros have been budgeted for child and youth policy (2020: 2.84 billion euros). As in the previous year, 500 million euros each are planned for the special fund “Childcare expansion” and for the special fund “Expansion of all-day education and care offers for children of primary school age”.

Family Minister Dr. Franziska Giffey (SPD) argued that the coalition had made the parental allowance and child allowance “crisis-proof” during the corona pandemic. The pandemic has also shown the importance of taking care of children, she said: therefore, the coalition will continue its policy at this point in the coming year with the legal right to all-day care for children of primary school age. The federal government has increased the budgeted funds from two to 3.5 billion euros.

There was a dispute about the planned increase in funds for the “Live Democracy” program (which aims to combat right-extremism and develop of democracy and diversity) from 35 to 150 million euros with a longer term increase of 200 million euros planned. The FDP said that Giffey sometimes distributes money “with a watering can” and the AfD that the “Live Democracy” program was directed unilaterally against right-wing extremism, but not against left-wing extremism and Islamism.

Health

The budget for the Department for Health in 2021 will be significantly higher than previously: expenditure of around 24.3 billion euros is planned, around 17 billion euros less than the record level in 2020, but around nine billion euros more than was planned for 2020 and 2021 before the crisis.

The budget debate focused on differences between the government and the opposition over the future financing of the health system. While Health Minister Jens Spahn (CDU) spoke of a “robust” health system and equally robust state finances, opposition politicians called for fundamental reforms and sustainable financing.

As far as the corona pandemic is concerned, Spahn appealed to people to continue to adhere to the regulations and not to ignore the real dangers. A majority of citizens support the regulations, but others are of the opinion that nothing has actually happened. Spahn called for people to respect the freedom of others and not think of themselves first.

On the digitisation of the health care system, Spahn said the crisis could also be an opportunity. Outdated fax messages would be replaced by modern data exchange. In 2021 electronic patient file (ePA) will be introduced as well as electronic prescriptions. In addition, the health professions would be further developed and new jobs created in nursing.

The SPD defended the decision to keep a rise in people’s health insurance payments to a minimum (the additional contribution will only increase “moderately” by 0.2 points to 1.3 percent in the coming year). Due to the economic downturn and rising spending as a result of the corona pandemic, the underfunding in statutory health insurance will be at least 16 billion euros in 2021. Eight billion euros will be paid from public coffers to make up for the deficit.

The Green Party argued that the expected deficit of 16 billion euros in the statutory health insurance system was the opposite of solidity and could not only be blamed on the corona crisis: in fact, there is a growing structural deficit caused and the massive underfunding in financial planning must now be discussed. The financing of health care is “on unsteady legs”. The Left Party argued that the workload in nursing is too high with a “permanent hamster wheel”. for staff. The Party also described the increase in the health contributions as a bad idea, whereas a wealth tax for millionaires would make sense.

Education and Research

The budget for the Department for Education and Research in 2021 provides for 20.24 billion euros for 2021 (2020: 20.31 billion).

Education Minister Anja Karliczek (CDU) said that the corona pandemic challenges the country both technologically and socially: “We all have to take responsibility for our fellow human beings. The changed rules throw us out of the routine of everyday life. ” The lockdown showed that the country was not able to adequately reach the children and continue to school with the usual quality. She emphasized that digitisation in schools had picked up speed and highlighted the digital pact for schools, which has now grown from originally five billion euros to around 6.5 billion euros. At the same time, she emphasized that it is important to train all teachers in such a way that they can use the new opportunities.

The SPD argued that the pandemic had showed that Germany had lost far too much time in digitisation: “That is why we now have to step up massively.” The government has said that nobody must be left behind by the corona crisis – this is especially true for those who already have a difficult time in the education system. The party called the provision of 50 million euros for the devices for schoolchildren, whose parents cannot afford the devices on their own, “a strong signal”. The “School Digital Pact”, with the planned acquisition of end devices for teachers and the training of system administrators will certainly come late for some, “but the pact shows that we are acting: we do not give up on anyone”. In addition, emergency funds for students who have suffered as a result of the pandemic should be provided: Lose no one in the crisis, invest boldly in the future, that is the headline of this budget, summed up the SPD spokesman.

Karliczek was heavily criticised by the opposition parties during the debate. The FDP said that a boom for education, research and innovation should have been expected, but that in the medium term, adjusted for corona, the budget will decrease. In addition, origin of individuals still has too much influence on educational success. The Left Party described Karliczek’s performance during the crisis as a “total failure.” Corona requires rapid implementation of the digital pact, but the states lacked experts. Additionally, poorer students were doing badly even before the pandemic, and the party called for state funding for such students. The Green Party argued that studies have found that only every tenth child had access to digital lessons during the corona period. 50,000 students are currently in quarantine. Despite six months of pandemic and summer break, too many still have no access to digital lessons: “This is at the expense of our students.” Overall, there is a lack of implementation in the Federal Ministry of Education and Research.

Labour and Social Affairs

The budget for the Department of Labour and Social Affairs in 2021 is the largest of any department: 163.98 billion euros. Planned expenditure is well above the target planning for 2020, which was 150.22 billion euros, but below the value of 170.68 billion euros, in the two supplementary budgets of 2020.

Expenditure on basic security benefits for the unemployed will be 44.53 billion euros (2020: 48.95 billion euros) and for unemployment benefit II (the controversial Hartz IV benefit), 23.4 billion euros (2020: 26.4 billion euros). The largest item in the budget, is the expenditure for “pension insurance and basic security in old age and reduced earning capacity”, which makes up 114.58 billion euros (2020: 109.9 billion euros).

Minister Hubertus Heil (SPD) said that it is the task of this state to “ensure that the crisis does not wash away millions of jobs”. The state subsidy for short-time work allowance is not a “panacea, but it is currently our sharpest weapon” to save millions of people from unemployment and the regulations for short time work have been extended for another year. Heil also announced initiatives for more collective bargaining, a “further development” of the minimum wage and regulations for home working.

The CDU argued that Germany is coping with the corona crisis better than other countries because it has a functioning, efficient welfare state.” The Federal Employment Agency will also play a particularly supportive role in the coming weeks, which is why it is right to increase the subsidies to the agency.

The FDP argued that in order to create new jobs, companies would have tone further supported, example with hiring new staff and that the planned protection for the self-employed must be finally put into action: “Stop treating them as second-class workers.” The Left Party criticised the unconditional billions in aid for corporations like Lufthansa; now the company is planning to lay off 22,000 employees. The Green Party suggested that short-time working allowances should be paid out according to the level of income. If you have a higher income, your wage replacement rate should be lower, and if you have a lower income, it should be higher.

Committee of Inquiry: Scheuer in trouble over car toll

In 2013, then CSU leader (and current Interior Minister) Horst Seehofer made implementing a car toll on German motorways a condition of entering a new governing coalition with Angela Merkel’s CDU. Whereas German motorists would have had the cost of the toll deducted from road taxes, this would not have applied to foreign motorists; and for this reason, the European Court of Justice ruled that the toll was against EU law in 2019.

The toll was due to have come into force in October 2020. The Ministry of Transport under Andreas Scheuer (CSU), concluded contracts in 2018 to collect and control the toll – before there was legal certainty. Eventim and the Austrian toll company Kapsch have demanded more than 560 million euros in damages from Germany for lost profits. The opposition therefore accused Scheuer of making serious mistakes at the expense of taxpayers and a Committee of Inquiry was set up.

In May, Seehofer said he had ‘done everything right’ with the planning for the toll, which had also been approved by the Bundestag and Bundesrat but one of the witnesses, former Federal Minister of Transport Peter Ramsauer (CSU) said that he had warned against the wording of the law that no vehicle owner in Germany should be burdened, which he said would be difficult under European law. This week, a leading representative of the bidding consortium for the collection of the car toll has confirmed that the consortium had advised Andreas Scheuer to wait to sign the contract until after the European Court of Justice judgement, leading the questions about whether Scheuer had lied to the Bundestag. At a high-level meeting, however, Scheuer rejected this. Scheuer rebutted these allegations, saying, “As far as I can remember, there was no offer to wait until after the judgment of the European Court of Justice with the signing of the contract.”

30 years of German Unity

On the 30th anniversary of reunification, German President Frank-Walter Steinmeier summed up opinion when he talked about the “paradox” of reunification. “We are nowhere near as far as we should be. But at the same time we are much further than we think, ” he said.

Steinmeier said that the upheaval in East Germany 30 years ago hit every family, whereas in the West, most people followed the change “from a distance – and often with distance.” He argued that, “To actually share the history of division and unity with one another – this task remains, even 30 years after reunification.” Steinmeier pointed out that there was still a clear wage gap between East and West: “Too few large companies have settled east of the Elbe,” and one still has to look “with a magnifying glass” for east Germans in company management, universities, the judiciary, the media and the Bundeswehr. At the same time, Leipzig or Rostock are now economically stronger than some cities in the Ruhr area and now more people go from West to East than the other way around. he concluded that, “Today we live in the best Germany that has ever existed.”

On Friday, the Bundestag debated 30 years of German unity. Opening the debate, a CDU politician said that, “Back then, courageous people took to the streets” and argued that, “We who were born later were given a better life. ” CDU parliamentary group leader Ralph Brinkhaus also expressed his thanks for the demonstrators who took to the streets in 1989 for their freedom in the GDR. Regarding the economic problems that east Germans have had to experience, Brinkhaus said: “I would like to expressly apologize for the fact that we in the west have not seen this for a long time.”

For the SPD, Finance Minister Scholz also said that “It was the citizens of the east who fought for freedom.” He argued that unification has been a success story – much has been achieved in the 30 years, which is a long time, “about twice as long as the Weimar Republic.” He admitted that there was much to do, particularly in terms of income and pensions, arguing that the newly introduced ‘basic pension’ would help a lot in the east.

FDP leader Christian Lindner said that before unification, people were driven by a longing for freedom and prosperity. He remembered Chancellor Helmut Kohl and Foreign Minister Hans-Dietrich Genscher, who never stopped believing in unity. “Without these German statesmen, unity would not have gone like this.”

For the Left Party, Dietmar Bartsch pointed out the differences that still exist between east and west: people in Mecklenburg-Vorpommern work two weeks longer a year and earn 4,000 euros less than their neighbours in the west, that there are more federal authorities in North Rhine-Westphalia than in the whole of the east.

The Green Party co-leader Katrin Göring-Eckardt was surprised that reports on the state of unity often focuses on the east. “The west has changed too,” she said. “Germany is a different country. It has become more open and diverse. ” Nevertheless, she called the comparative figures with between east and west Germany “hard.”

2016 Berlin terrorist attack Committee of Inquiry

A Committee of Inquiry into the 2016 attack by an Islamic terrorist on a Berlin Christmas market, which killed 12 people and injured more than 70, heard this week that the Office for the Protection of the Constitution (BfV) did not have the perpetrator on their radar. The head of the department responsible for Islamism and Islamist terrorism said that the then President of the BfV Hans-Georg Maaßen called him after the attack and asked: “Who is that? Do you know him?” He said that 2016, which began with the Islamist attacks in Brussels and ended with Anis Amri’s attack in Berlin, was “the greatest challenge of my professional activity so far.” This was due to a “never-ending emergence of indications of attack plans”. The Islamist threat has steadily increased, he reported. The number of “persons from the Islamist-terrorist personal potential” has grown from 1500 to 2200 since 2016. Since 2014, the Office for the Protection of the Constitution has been expanding its ability to defend against Islamism, creating new posts and changing structures. Nevertheless: “There is no final guarantee that every attack plan will be recognized in good time.”

Lobby register – Committee on Election Review, Immunity and Rules of Procedure

Experts called to give evidence to the committee to examine the government’s proposal to set up a lobby register unanimously welcomed the fact that all parliamentary groups want to create more transparency in the representation of political interests. However, many expressed doubts: one argued that lobby registers such as exist in the USA remain limited in their effectiveness and tend to be overestimated and that it is very questionable whether this can prevent unfair behaviour. Another objected to proposed exemptions, and thus unequal treatment – for example, churches are not only religious communities, but also very large employers, property owners and also entrepreneurs. Others felt that the proposals of the coalition groups will be inadequate in helping to provide a ‘legislative footprint’, especially because of the exemptions.

Calendar and information

Information about what is happening in the Bundestag on a daily basis (including in committees and parliamentary questions) can be found in the ‘Heute im Bundestag’ section of the Bundestag website (in German) here. The timetable can be found here and agendas and sittings under ‘Tagesordnungen und Sitzungsverlauf’ here. The Bundestag calendar also includes sitting dates of the sate parliaments.

The next sitting week for the Bundestag is next week, 5th October.

The next plenary session of the Bundesrat is Friday, 9th October. Information about the plenary sessions of the Bundesrat can be found here and information about its responsibilities here.

The politikonline political glossary can be found here.

One thought on “Parliamentary Digest 2nd October: Budget week and 30 years of German unity

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