Dear friends, Dear all,
The change of government in Berlin is also a change for me personally. If the members of the German Green Party approve the coalition agreement and the party’s personnel suggestions, I will move to the Federal Ministry for Economic Affairs and Climate Protection as a civil servant State Secretary.
Leaving the European Parliament is not easy for me. This Parliament has always been a very special place for me. Not only because politicians from 27 countries work there together and, in my experience, in an unusually constructive and collegial manner across party lines. It is also because the large scope of the changes that can be achieved for the whole of Europe through the EU Parliament, which is often underestimated by the public, makes the mandate we receive from the citizens highly effective.
Contrary to what some headlines now suggest, I am of course not moving directly from Attac to government. In between are 12 years in the European Parliament and before that many years in the environmental and economic justice movement. In Parliament, I achieved a lot with my colleagues, especially for tax justice, the stability and sustainability of the financial system, the common good orientation of the economy, fair competition and lobby transparency. Thus, my move in 2009 from civil society to parliament was a step that I found politically and personally enriching and rewarding. I decided to take the next step because the new federal government has a task ahead that is of utmost importance for the future. And the responsibility entrusted to us Greens makes it necessary to join forces in Berlin. What this task consists of is set out in the coalition agreement presented last week.
The coalition agreement offers the chance for a fresh start for Germany and Europe
As a member of the Green core negotiating team and the negotiations’ Finance and Budget Working Group, intensive but rewarding weeks of negotiations lie behind me and us.
We entered the coalition negotiations with the Social Democrats (SPD) and the Liberals (FDP) with the aim of initiating a fresh start for the country and for Europe. We have succeeded in this in many areas. We can now describe more concretely where this fresh start will lead, what progress has actually been made – and what could not be achieved in the negotiations.
To ensure that the fresh start does not remain an empty phrase, it must be measured in terms of concrete improvements for ecology, social cohesion, the economy, society and democracy. The coalition agreement defines reaching the Paris climate goals as the top priority. The central project for this is the ecological restructuring of our industrialised country. There will be a huge investment offensive, including a climate and transformation fund, which will drive the conversion of the economy’s production methods and the country’s energy supply to climate neutrality and sustainability with great strides. What the coalition partners have set out to do is anything but a trivial matter. Rather, together we can set global standards: The fourth-largest industrialised country will convert 80 percent of its electricity supply to renewables by 2030 and at the same time electrify mobility and heat supply more and more. The coal phase-out will be de facto sealed by then. In the medium term, Germany will have switched completely to renewable energies. Among the world’s major industrialised countries, Germany will thus undoubtedly become a climate pioneer.
This transformation of the economy is of utmost importance in the fight against ecological crises. It is a matter of no longer building our prosperity on the destruction of our planet, but of bringing ecology and economy together. Especially with the agreed energy transition, we Greens are achieving a goal that has greatly shaped many of us personally and politically: Decades ago we took to the streets en masse against nuclear power. In the first federal government coalition of Social Democrats and Greens (1998-2005) we initiated the nuclear phase-out and made renewables competitive, and now we can implement the completion of the energy transition, the conversion of the country to a renewable energy system. It is our chance and responsibility to prove that an energy system based on renewables is more ecological, more cost-effective and more decentralised than the renaissance of nuclear power dreamed of in other countries. And what is particularly important to me: to achieve this, we will particularly strengthen the decentralised expansion of renewables. In this way, we will unleash the energy transition from below!
We Greens will essentially steer this economic and energy transformation project of the century from the Ministry of Economic Affairs and Climate Protection, led by designated Green Vice-Chancellor Robert Habeck. This is an enormous opportunity and a huge responsibility at the same time. Importantly, a new understanding of the role of the state is necessary for its success. With the Agenda 2010 in Germany, but similarly, in other EU states, the state was weakened in many areas and social inequality increased at the end of the Red-Green government. For me personally, an important requirement for the new coalition was whether or not we would pick up where this misguided development left off. It is no secret that it was not possible with the FDP to agree on a tax policy that places a heavier burden on high incomes and wealth. But at the same time, the understanding of the role of the state behind the coalition agreement is not a market-radical night watchman state.
A state that invests, empowers and drives – but not a Green New Deal
It is a state that invests, that empowers economic activity and that drives innovation! In the coalition agreement, we spelled out an investing state that at the same time also knows its limits. Because by far the most investments for the socio-ecological transformation will be private investments, which we need to facilitate, incentivise and promote. This means that the state strengthens private investment in ecological transformation, but at the same time massively expands public investment in the modernisation of our country itself.
We will also strengthen the Social Economy as the common good-oriented avant-garde of the transformation with a dedicated strategy. This was a major aim of mine in the coalition negotiations, as I worked for years in the ecological business incubator to pursue ecological goals with economic means and helped to ecologically renovate countless houses and create around 100 sustainable jobs. In many places, ecological and social founders with social enterprises, citizens’ cooperatives and innovative start-ups are doing the same today in Germany and all over Europe and finally need state recognition and support, as other economic sectors have long since received. On top, planning procedures will also be accelerated, because speed is a key factor in combating the climate crisis.
This economic policy is not a Green New Deal, because a redistributive tax policy and consistent regulation of the financial markets are missing from the coalition agreement. But this economic policy is also not classic ordoliberalism covered with some ecological tarp. The state naturally sets an ecological regulatory framework for private economic activity. This offers great opportunities for investment and innovation. However, the understanding of the role of the state in the coalition agreement does not stop there but follows the model of the investing state, which also counteracts social and regional inequality in the transformation.
In foreign trade policy, the coalition agreement marks a course correction. Germany is and will remain a strong exporting country. The German economy needs and deserves further public support for this. Here, however, there are strong reforms in the coalition agreement: As far as free trade agreements are concerned, the new German government wants to push for binding and enforceable sustainability chapters that set ecological and social standards. We want to severely restrict investment protection to its economic core – protection against expropriation and discrimination. On arms exports, we have agreed on a restrictive course and will create a legal basis for this at the national and European levels. This topic is very important for me, not least because I will possibly be responsible for this area.
The coalition agreement is really good news for Europe
The coalition agreement thus sets the course for a fresh start into a decade of green transformation of our economy. But we have also succeeded in achieving a fresh start for Europe. In particular, we want to continue building the European democracy. The central project for this is the Conference on the Future of Europe, which is already underway and which we want to use for reforms and possible treaty changes. In this way, we are also reaching out to Emmanuel Macron, who has never received a real response to his EU reform proposals from Angela Merkel. Another important goal is the creation of a European law on associations and foundations, which will raise European civil society to a new level. Europe’s future viability will be enhanced by a European infrastructure initiative (including a European railway network) and in financial policy by strengthening the banking union.
The coalition agreement also commits to a federal Europe. And that is by no means all. It is fair to say that there has rarely been so much good for Europe in a coalition agreement of the EU’s largest member state. This sends a strong signal to Europe. For us Greens, it is also a success that we have the right to propose a possible next German EU Commissioner. Moreover, we Greens are in a strong position to implement a strong German European policy, because all proposals on EU issues in the Council go through either the Federal Ministry of Economics (Coreper 1) or the Foreign Ministry (Coreper 2). The aim must be to move Europe forward democratically, economically, socially and ecologically as we have outlined in the coalition agreement. In the Ministry of Economic Affairs, I will be responsible for this at the management level.
Light and shadow in many other policy areas
Progress will also be made in many other areas. For example, for biodiversity, agriculture (30% organic farming area by 2030) and animal welfare, which among other things makes improvements in the national implementation of the EU Common Agricultural Policy possible. There has been significant progress on integration, immigration and refugees. The lane change between asylum process and immigration process is being introduced, the rights of those already living here are being strengthened, the permanent loop of short-term tolerations is being ended, and the citizenship law is being reformed. The minimum wage of 12 euros, a basic child benefit, a moratorium on sanctions for Hartz4 welfare recipients (soon to be called Bürgergeld) and compulsory social insurance for the self-employed are important social advances. The coalition has also taken the first steps towards a legislative footprint that makes lobbying more transparent – based on our successes in Brussels. Citizens’ councils will play a greater role in the future – a democratic step forward! In addition, there are several other successes in social policy.
However, an honest assessment also includes the fact that the coalition partners did not agree in some areas. For me personally, it is a great disappointment that social inequality, which has risen once again in the Corona crisis, is not being comprehensively addressed. We were not able to push through redistribution projects necessary for this, such as the introduction of a wealth tax, which was to be expected because the stipulation “no tax increases” was central for the FDP. We have also made insufficient progress on the ecological overhaul of the transport sector.
My bottom line is: With this coalition, we can build a state that invests in decarbonisation and manages this change. However, it will not redistribute more. Nevertheless, overall we can release brakes and blockades in many areas and implement real progress: The coalition goes in the right direction on energy transition, the economy is being ecologically transformed and the common good economy promoted, diversity and equality in society strengthened. And we continue to build European democracy. This is worth governing for.
But the coalition negotiations have also shown one thing: we will still need pressure from civil society. In the same way, we have been helped by all the businesses that want to move forward ambitiously. This new coalition has united behind the Paris climate goals, which is why pressure is needed on the entire federal government to ensure that its policies do not fall short of these goals. Nothing can pass for progress today that cannot also be measured against the existential task of saving the climate.
My Europe Calling webinars continue!
In the last 12 years, the exchange with citizens, transparency about political and economic power and learning from associations and NGOs has been very important to me. This will not stop in my new role as State Secretary. That is why my webinar series “Europe Calling” will continue after 111 webinars. On Tuesday, 7th December 2021, I could discuss with over 3.000 guests what you expect from us and me and present what we have planned. You can watch the recording here:
I am also happy to receive written proposals. I ask all German Green members to vote for the coalition agreement in the current ballot. Because only then can we implement what we have achieved in the coalition negotiations!
With hopeful greetings