Germany's Coalition in Impasse Over 2025 Budget

FDP Finance Minister Christian Lindner (L), Greens Economy Minister Robert Habeck (C) and Chancellor Olaf Scholz (R) of the SPD are locked in a budget dispute - AFP
FDP Finance Minister Christian Lindner (L), Greens Economy Minister Robert Habeck (C) and Chancellor Olaf Scholz (R) of the SPD are locked in a budget dispute - AFP
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Germany's Coalition in Impasse Over 2025 Budget

FDP Finance Minister Christian Lindner (L), Greens Economy Minister Robert Habeck (C) and Chancellor Olaf Scholz (R) of the SPD are locked in a budget dispute - AFP
FDP Finance Minister Christian Lindner (L), Greens Economy Minister Robert Habeck (C) and Chancellor Olaf Scholz (R) of the SPD are locked in a budget dispute - AFP

The three parties in the German government are locked in a bitter dispute over the 2025 budget, with experts warning the stalemate could be the final straw for the uneasy coalition.

Chancellor Olaf Scholz's Social Democrats (SPD), the Greens and the liberal FDP, who came to power in 2021, have until July 3, the end of the current parliamentary term, to reach a compromise, AFP reported.

FDP Finance Minister Christian Lindner, a fiscal hawk, is demanding close to 30 billion euros ($32 billion) in savings -- which the Greens and SPD have baulked at.

The coalition has faced many rows in the past but some pundits believe this could be the one that finally blows the government apart.

"These talks will decide the coalition's continued presence in office," said the Sueddeutsche Zeitung daily this week.

While budget discussions have been difficult before, they have never lasted this long.

"It's much more difficult than usual," Jacques-Pierre Gougeon, an expert on German politics at the French Institute for International and Strategic Affairs, told AFP.

He pointed to a gloomy backdrop due to Germany's poor performance in recent times, with Europe's biggest economy hit hard by high inflation and a manufacturing slowdown.

According to the finance ministry, tax revenues for 2025 are set to be 11 billion euros lower than originally forecast.

A ruling by the country's top court in November that the coalition had contravened the constitutionally enshrined "debt brake", a self-imposed cap on annual borrowing, has also limited room for new spending.

In addition, all three parties are increasingly worried about their own levels of support after doing badly at this month's EU elections -- in which the opposition conservative CDU-CSU bloc came first, with the far-right AfD second.

A key sticking point in discussions centres on unemployment benefits.

Lindner wants to restrict the current payouts, which he believes are too expensive and do not provide enough of an incentive to get people to return to work.

But the SPD won't accept this. Improving benefits was central to the party's 2021 election campaign as they sought to win back support of lower-income voters.

"Politically, the Social Democrats cannot afford to give it up," said Gougeon.

There is also disagreement about any measures affecting diplomacy and defence, at a time when Germany is seeking to stand up for liberal, European values and overhaul its creaking military in the wake of Russia's invasion of Ukraine.

Defence Minister Boris Pistorius is calling for an increase in his ministry's budget, and for military spending not to be covered by the debt brake.

"It would be disastrous to have to say in a few years' time: we saved the debt brake at the expense of Ukraine and the European security order," said Foreign Minister Annalena Baerbock, from the Greens.

While calls have grown for the debt rules to be relaxed, Lindner and the FDP categorically refuse to countenance any changes.

Maintaining the brake is an "existential question" for the party, according to Gougeon.

Lindner did however promise on Wednesday not to push for any savings in defence.

Scholz, Lindner and Economy Minister Robert Habeck, from the Greens, are due to meet Sunday in an attempt to make progress.

The aim is to prevent "the budget crisis from turning into a crisis of confidence", which could lead to new elections, according to the left-leaning daily TAZ.

The parties may ultimately compromise as the alternative -- a collapse of the government -- will not be in their favour.

They "know that they would be swept aside if there were new elections, and will want to avoid them", said Gougeon.



UK Borrowing Overshoot Underscores Task for New Government

Larry the Cat sits on Downing Street in London, Britain July 19, 2024. REUTERS/Toby Melville
Larry the Cat sits on Downing Street in London, Britain July 19, 2024. REUTERS/Toby Melville
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UK Borrowing Overshoot Underscores Task for New Government

Larry the Cat sits on Downing Street in London, Britain July 19, 2024. REUTERS/Toby Melville
Larry the Cat sits on Downing Street in London, Britain July 19, 2024. REUTERS/Toby Melville

Britain's government borrowed a lot more than forecast in June, according to official data published on Friday that highlighted the big budget challenges facing the new government of Prime Minister Keir Starmer.
Public sector net borrowing, excluding state-controlled banks, was a larger-than-expected 14.5 billion pounds ($18.75 billion) last month. A Reuters poll of economists had pointed to an increase of 11.5 billion pounds.
Dennis Tatarkov, Senior Economist at KPMG UK, said the data showed "the daunting task" for the new government to fund its agenda without worsening the public finances.
"A combination of high levels of spending and weak growth prospects will present uncomfortable choices – deciding between even more borrowing or substantially raising taxes if spending levels are to be maintained," he said.
New finance minister Rachel Reeves is likely to announce her first budget after parliament's summer recess. She and Starmer have ruled out increases in the rates of income tax, corporation tax and value-added tax, leaving her little room for maneuver to improve public services and boost investment.
Reeves has ordered an immediate review of the new government's "spending inheritance", a move that lawmakers from the opposition Conservative Party say could presage increases in taxes on capital gains or inheritances.
"Today's figures are a clear reminder that this government has inherited the worst economic circumstances since the Second World War, but we’re wasting no time to fix it," Darren Jones, a deputy Treasury minister, said after the data was published.
Starmer's government says it will speed up Britain's slow-moving economy - and generate more tax revenues - via a combination of pro-growth reforms and a return to political stability that will attract investment.
The borrowing figure for June was 2.9 billion pounds higher than expected by Britain's budget watchdog whose forecasts underpin government tax and spending plans.
In the first three months of the financial year which began in April, borrowing was 3.2 billion pounds higher than projected by the Office for Budget Responsibility at 49.8 billion pounds.
The Office for National Statistics said June's borrowing was the lowest for the month since 2019, helped by a big drop in spending on interest paid on bonds linked to inflation which has slowed sharply.
But the deficit was made bigger by a 1.2 billion-pound fall in social security contributions compared with June 2023. They were cut by former Prime Minister Rishi Sunak before the July 4 election that swept Starmer's Labour Party to power.