Olaf Scholz's cabinet has laid out an extremely progressive agenda
Habemus chancellor! There is white smoke over Berlin as the new German government concluded its coalition talks and announced its agenda for the next four years. If you expected a slight tilt to the Left from Merkelism, think again: Germany is in for a radical overhaul.
In the press conference yesterday afternoon, the four party leaders went through the motions of praising each others’ conduct during coalition talks in an effort to allay fears that Germany’s first three-party coalition will lead to instability and division. They stressed that they had agreed on basic principles such as the raising of minimum wage, building new and affordable homes and combating climate change.
But even a cursory glance at the 178 page coalition treaty reveals that their agreement went further than the basics. Much further. Baerbock spoke of a ‘paradigm shift’ in German politics rather than just ‘finding the lowest common denominator’ and it seems the three progressive parties have indeed found a lot of common ground after all.
On a social level, the coalition treaty places huge emphasis on younger people. The voting age will be lowered to 16 not only for European elections but also for general polling. This is hardly surprising as both the Greens and the Liberals draw a significant proportion of their support from younger demographics, but it would require an amendment of the constitution, a much more radical change than the half-sentence dedicated to it suggests.
In terms of migration too, German society is in for a paradigm shift. The coalition treaty speaks of Germany as an ‘immigration society’ and wants to change the law accordingly. It promises to make the acquisition of German citizenship easier, increase the immigration of workers and enshrine the representation of diversity in law (without mentioning specifically what this will look like).
In addition, existing legislation regarding trans people will be replaced with a ‘self-declaration law’, which will allow everyone to change their gender by declaration alone. Gender reassignment surgery will be fully funded through the public health system. ‘Rainbow families’ will receive more support ‘especially in middle-size businesses and in the civil service’ but also in education, which is traditionally a devolved matter for the individual states.
Foreign policy and security doesn’t start until page 143 but it also contains some radical decisions. NATO remains an ‘indispensable’ part of German policy in which the coalition ‘will invest accordingly’ but equally the UN is described as ‘the most important institution.’ ‘While nuclear weapons remain part of NATO’s strategic concept’, Germany will support this but in the long run, the aim is ‘a Germany free of nuclear weapons’.
In terms of energy, Germany will bank largely on renewables in the hope that the technology will develop accordingly. The nuclear power plants will be switched off next year, as planned. Coal will be phased out by 2030 (8 years earlier than previously planned) and of non-renewables only gas is deemed ‘indispensable for the foreseeable future’. However, the document contains no comments at all about Nord Stream 2, the controversial gas pipeline from Russia to Germany.
A selection of other announcements include the legalisation of cannabis, the banning of arms sales for specific conflicts, the return of museum objects to other countries, the acceleration of the accession of the Western Balkans into the EU and the even equal representation of male and female MPs in the Bundestag.
Tensions in Germany are already high with a renewed migrant crisis in the east, widening class divisions and ongoing problems with the integration of radicalised political and religious communities. Germany undeniably needs big changes after sixteen years of slow-moving Merkelism. But knee-jerk identity politics from Berlin does not strike me as the way to move the country forward together.