What are the key issues for Germany’s new government?
Germany’s incoming coalition — made up of Social Democrats, Greens and the neoliberal FDP — has agreed on a political roadmap. DW takes a look at the key issues they’re taking on, including the COVID pandemic.
COVID-19 fight: A top priority
The coalition agreement worked out by Germany’s incoming government of Social Democrats, Greens and Free Democrats gives the greenlight to social renewal. The 178-page document is called “Dare to Make More Progress” and outlines the coalition’s political roadmap for Germany.
Right now, the battle to curb COVID-19 is the most pressing issue. The number of new infections are rising to dizzying heights and winter has not even fully set in. More than 100,000 people have already died of the virus in Germany so far. At the unveiling of the coalition agreement, Olaf Scholz of the center-left Social Democrats (SPD), who is due to replace Angela Merkel as chancellor, announced the creation of a permanent coronavirus crisis team that would report to the government on a daily basis.
The committee is to consist of national and regional politicians, as well as experts in the fields of virology, epidemiology, sociology and psychology. “We should make vaccination mandatory in places that care for particularly vulnerable groups,” announced Scholz — but he added that any decision on making vaccination compulsory in the general population would depend on specific circumstances. There are plans to expand the use of mobile vaccination teams and offer COVID vaccinations in pharmacies as well.
Many health care workers are now running on empty
Health: Bonus for health care workers
Health care workers and care home workers are set to receive bonus payments in recognition for their hard work during the pandemic.
Scholz said a billion euros would “initially” be earmarked for this purpose. The new government also aims to make care work more attractive by boosting staffing levels and wages.
Climate change: A joint challenge
As expected, climate change is a main focus and the new government wants all future laws to be double-checked regarding their effect on climate change. Renewable energy will be boosted by installing solar power facilities on new commercial buildings and residential houses and by creating more wind farms, in particular at sea.
The ambitious goals: By 2030, 80% of electricity should come from renewables and 50% of heating should be climate neutral. Likewise, coal should, if possible, be phased out by 2030 and the days of the combustion engine will, finally, be numbered.
Migration: Making naturalization easier
Citizenship laws also look set to change. The coalition parties are planning a series of reforms to make getting German citizenship easier.
Naturalization is to be possible after five years, or after three years if the applicants have distinguished themselves in terms of integration. Children born in Germany to non-German parents will automatically get citizenship if one of the parents has been resident in the country for at least five years. According to the coalition treaty, migration should be “forward-looking and realistic”, while “irregular migration” should be cut down.
The coalition also aims to reduce the burden on the Federal Office for Migration and Refugees. Visas are to be dealt with digitally and faster. Likewise, there are plans to abolish current employment bans “for people already living in Germany.”
Digitalization: Dismantle bureaucracy
The coalition aims to make Germany fit for the digital future and dismantle current bureaucratic hurdles.
The three parties want to start by reforming administrative structures. The SPD, the Greens and the FDP see digitalization and transparency within the public sector as the way to achieve that. Their aim is to speed up approval processes, particularly when it comes to infrastructure projects.
The three coalition parties aim to bring Germany up to speed in digital matters
Welfare benefits: Citizen’s income rather than Hartz IV
The new coalition wants to replace the unemployment payment scheme known as Hartz IV with what they call a citizen’s income. In 2022, it will be raised to EUR449 a month for a single person — an increase of EUR3.
Retirement benefits: Pensions remain largely unchanged
The incoming coalition has agreed to keep the retirement age at 67.
Pensions should not drop beneath 48% of current average income levels. For the next four years, pension contributions will stay frozen at 20%.
The incoming German government is set to arm military drones
Defense: Armed drones for the army
Under the plans of the new coalition, the German armed services will, in future, be able to arm their drones — subject to “binding and transparent terms and the consideration of ethical and security aspects.” The coalition treaty states: “Armed drones can contribute to the protection of members of the armed services on international missions.”
Finances: Debt moratorium remains on hold
The moratorium on new debt remains on hold until 2023, as the economy still requires assistance to get through the pandemic. The state will have to continue to dig deep into its pockets.
Likewise, additional billions will have to be provided to fight climate change and make the transition to renewable energy.
Overcrowding and the late arrival of trains are some of the challenges facing German railways
Infrastructure: Expanding rail and e-mobility
The Greens had been calling for a speed limit on all of Germany’s interstate highways but this did not make it into the final deal. Instead, the goal is to have at least 15 million electric cars on German roads by 2030 — with the corresponding expansion of the charging station infrastructure. Rail transport should also play a more important role.
For instance, more freight cargo should be moved from road to rail. Freight rail traffic should increase by a quarter compared to current levels. The coalition’s goal: Germany’s role as an export nation should be boosted while German industry should go climate neutral.
Housing: Hundreds of thousands of new homes
In areas with strained housing markets, rents should only be able to rise by up to 11% in three years. Up to now, 15% increases were possible.
Some 400,000 new apartments should be built per year — 100,000 of those should be built with public funding.
Education: Digital transformation of schools
There’s a consensus among all German political parties that education is a key investment in the future. The coalition treaty says that Germany wants to “provide everyone with the best education opportunities irrespective of their origin, to enable and ensure participation and social mobility via inclusive education.” The three parties aim to support schools in socially disadvantaged areas, in particular.
The modernization of the school system by means of new digital technology is at the forefront of these ambitions. The goal is to create “contemporary learning environments and creative laboratories.”
The Fridays for Future movement has been very vocal in Germany, too
Electoral law: More power for youth
The “Fridays for Future” demonstrations have shown that young people want to and are able to get involved in politics. The coalition agreement wants to take that into account by reducing the voting age from 18 to 16.
This, however, would require a change in Germany’s constitution — and would therefore need backing from some of the opposition parties.
Drug policies: Chilling out on cannabis
The incoming government has agreed to introduce the “controlled sale of cannabis to adults for recreational purposes in licensed stores.” The coalition parties expect that this will “ensure quality control, prevent the spread of contaminated substances and guarantee the protection of minors.”
This article was originally written in German.
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