On Wednesday [November 24], the Ampel-Koalition (traffic light coalition)—a historic three-way coalition of Social Democrats (SPD), Greens, and Free Democrats (FDP)—made their grand announcement of the plans they have in store for their imminent four-year term at the helm of Europe’s most powerful economy. Although we don’t have a final cabinet list just yet, we do have confirmation about the ministries that each party will occupy—and some of the lists leaked via the notoriously porous ‘Berlin grapevine’ have proven to be more accurate than others.
During the arduous series of meetings that gave birth to the new coalition, each party managed to carve out just enough commitments to stay in it—but not enough to wholly rejoice. According to Wednesday’s coalition agreement, the Greens and the FDP made concessions to the SPD on social security and rent controls, with the Greens also giving up some ground on internal combustion engines and coal-fired power plants. (The new dates to remove them from the grid are 2035 and 2038, respectively, not 2030 as the Greens would have wanted in both cases.)
The SPD, however, gave way to Greens’ wish to conduct a “climate check” on each planned piece of legislation to ensure its full compliance with the coalition’s still-ambitious climate goals. Meanwhile, the FDP eked out a “digitalization check” in the same vein. The Greens, in turn, managed to successfully obtain coalition assent to various policy objectives, including voting rights for 16-year-olds, mandatory land quotas for wind power (that each state or Bundesland will have to comply with), and mandatory solar panels on newly built real estate projects.
At the same time, the FDP managed to block plans for a mandatory speed limit on the German Autobahnen, and obtained commitments from their left-wing coalition partners that they wouldn’t raise income, sales, or corporate tax rates, and help put the brakes on Germany’s skyrocketing national debt.
Petra Köpping’s track record as Saxony’s social minister is rather poor, though. The former East German state was severely hit by all waves of the COVID pandemic. To make matters worse, the Saxon health cabinet has clearly failed to deliver a successful vaccination campaign so far, resulting in one of the lowest vaccination rates in all of Germany.
Not entirely unrelated to this is the fact that the SPD is most likely to nominate Karl Lauterbach, one of the country’s best-known epidemiologists, to support Köpping as state secretary. Lauterbach has established a reputation as an eminent scientist, constantly pleading for stricter COVID measures, which enables him to boldly pursue his ambitions within the party. After all, in 2019, Karl Lauterbach launched his own bid for the SPD presidency, too—in vain.
It is precisely the COVID measures that may pose the greatest threat to the unity of the new Ampel coalition. The two leftist parties, the SPD and the Greens, have been pushing for stricter measures ever since the beginning of the pandemic, while the FDP has profited from their constant, though mild, criticism of continued lockdowns.
Apart from the big names in ‘big ticket’ ministries mentioned above, the coalition publicly laid out its policy agenda—and Germany’s well-versed journalists already have some more or less reliable information on who might head them up. The SDP will have a chance to nominate ministers for domestic affairs, labor, defense, and development. Come Christmas, we will soon see Green faces in the ministries of environmental and consumer protection, as well as agriculture, and the FDP will soon count as strongholds the ministries of transport and digitalization, justice, and education—that is, as long as the coalition can hold together.