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.
Photo: © Superbass / CC-BY-SA-4.0 (via Wikimedia Commons.
The coalition agreement’s greatest novelty is undoubtedly the formation of a powerful climate ministry. The co-chairman of the Greens, Robert Habeck, 52, is set to head the portfolio of a new “super ministry” which, beside climate-related issues, will include both the economy and energy. This will empower him to oversee the Energiewende—the radical German shift or ‘turnaround’ from fossil fuels to renewables.
Prior to becoming co-head of his party, Habeck, a philosopher who was a renowned author before entering politics in the early 2000s, had led the Schleswig-Holstein ministry for environmental protection, agriculture, fisheries, and energy policy. This makes him one of the more experienced members of the future German cabinet. Additionally, Habeck is set to become SPD president Olaf Scholz’s vice-chancellor—along with Christian Lindner, the spitzenkandidat (lead candidate) of the FDP—an unprecedented event in the history of the Federal Republic.
Photo: Courtesy of Stefan Kaminski, licensed under CC BY-SA 4.0.
The now-definitive nomination of the Greens’ other co-chair, Annalena Baerbock, for minister of foreign affairs has raised eyebrows in Europe and beyond. A fierce advocate of human rights diplomacy, her poor campaign performance was the most important reason The Greens missed their historic chance to win the election and ended up tailing even Armin Laschet’s embattled CDU instead.
In the past year, scandals concerned her academic degrees and work experience (or lack thereof), as well as questions over the funding she has received for doctoral research she never quite finished, as well as lucrative side gigs she failed to report to the Bundestag in time, had raised serious questions about her integrity. But now she’s in a position to play ‘hardball’ with Russia and China, possibly torpedoing North Stream 2, and further souring Germany’s ties with Central Europe—if the chancellor gives her any say in shaping Germany’s foreign policy, that is. Angela Merkel was famous for keeping the most important foreign policy decisions—especially those concerning the European Union—to herself. Whether or not Olaf Scholz holds on to this aspect of her legacy will have significant impact on Baerbock’s clout abroad.
Photo: Courtesy of Bündnis 90/Die Grünen, licensed under CC BY 2.0.
Also on the Green’s plate is the venerable ministry of families, now also responsible for pensioners, women, youth, integration, and equality. It would not be an overstatement to consider this Europe’s first ‘ministry of woke affairs,’ since it is set to covers everything from abortion to LGBT issues, all the way to the integration of Muslim immigrants. The apparent nominee is the Greens’ seasoned parliamentary leader Katrin Göring-Eckardt, although this has not been officially confirmed and is only known through media leaks.
Photo: Courtesy of Sandro Halank, licensed under CC-BY-SA 3.0.
The SPD is set to hold the health portfolio. An undoubtedly crucial office during the pandemic, the ‘comrades’ of the party are unlikely to nominate a ‘newbie’ to head it up. According to a leaked list, Saxony’s current social minister, Petra Köpping, is most likely to lead the ministry. Köpping is one of the true veterans of the SPD. She has managed to survive the sclerosis that plagued her party in previous years. Having started her political career in East Germany’s Communist Party (the SED), Köpping has risen to become one of the most influential members of the Saxon SPD, even attempting to snatch the federal SPD’s presidency in 2019.
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.
Photo: Courtesy of Dirk Vorderstraße, licensed under CC BY 3.0.
The FPD’s leader, Christian Lindner, will lead the ministry for finances in the new cabinet. Lindner, 42, has never held elected office before. It is debatable whether Christian Lindner is the man for the job, but it has been clear from the beginning that if the FDP is to be included in the next German government, Lindner would push for the finances portfolio. Lindner, known for his devotion to fiscal scrutiny and tax cuts, is popular among businessmen and big firms. But are his visions of cuts in social benefits and firmly halting further debts compatible with those of the Greens and the Social Democrats? That remains to be seen.
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.
Levente László Greczula is an international relations analyst and a foreign policy writer for the Hungarian weekly Mandiner, focusing on German domestic and foreign policy.
Mátyás Kohán is a foreign policy writer for the Hungarian weekly Mandiner. He has written extensively on the U.S., Russia, Germany, and Italy and appears regularly on national television.