Noted inBerlin

Black Friday for the finance minister

For the coalition, it's still a long way from a Black Friday. It's all about hunting for bargains in the budget planning for 2024. The key question: Where can things still be made cheaper?

Black Friday for the finance minister

The week is coming to an end in Berlin. It's not just Black Friday, but exactly one month until Christmas Eve. Over the weekend, the annual Christmas tree is set to be erected in front of the Chancellery—a 17.5-meter-high spruce from Brandenburg, which on Friday morning was still firmly stuck in the softened soil of the city forest in Eberswalde. Despite various activities in the city, there is certainly no Christmas atmosphere in the governing "Ampel" coalition. The search for gifts has been temporarily suspended since the Federal Constitutional Court's ruling on the debt brake and the climate fund.

Finance Minister Christian Lindner had planned to get a whiff of holiday spirit last Tuesday. On his agenda was the presentation of a Christmas stamp in a church in the Neukölln district of Berlin. However, the Finance Minister had to cancel the appointment at the last minute due to crisis meetings, sparking rumors of coalition strain. In the current situation, the message "The Angel's Message – Today the Savior is born to you" might not have been fitting anyway. "An extraordinary emergency is born to you, and thus the renewed suspension of the debt brake" might have been more appropriate but perhaps less postage-stamp compatible.

Slogans can be tricky and prone to misinterpretation. For instance, a large poster that adorned Lindner's ministry until recently read, "With Money and Reason. Brake Debts, Create Opportunities. Our Federal Budget." This message was covered with a black cloth a few days ago, which vividly illustrates the Karlsruhe climate ruling. However, this was not intended by the ministry; the sign was scheduled for replacement, and the person behind the covering action, à la Christo, was apparently an employee of the relevant service provider.

On Friday, the Finance Minister had a new feel-good appointment: presenting the new 25-euro collector's coin, "Erzgebirgischer Schwibbogen," at the Representation of the Free State of Saxony. However, in a panel discussion, the focus shifted to the overall German structural transformation. Such a transformation, or one might say transition, was supposed to be financed from the climate fund, from which the Constitutional Court has just cut 60 billion euros. So, it turned out to be not such a feel-good appointment after all.

But it's still Black Friday, not just on this day and in this week but likely for Lindner and other leading figures in the government coalition for a while. The goal is to completely realign the budget for 2024 by the end of the year and, in doing so, salvage as many projects as possible from special funds, namely the climate and transformation funds and the economic stabilization fund. "Where can things be made cheaper and discounted?" seems to be the most pressing question in all ministries currently. Lindner himself doesn't hide his desire to cut social expenses and hopes for bargains in the climate and industrial policy of his cabinet colleague from the economic department. In this context, Lindner often speaks of "structural changes."

The immediate task is to quickly finalize the supplementary budget for 2023. When asked if he was looking forward to the next meeting with the Chancellor and Vice Chancellor, the FDP leader replied in an interview, "Well, I don't have a damp apartment and private friends." His response was laden with meaning. He doesn't have to spend his evenings and nights constantly in the Chancellery. But it's not about joy; it's about duty. For the coming week, the Finance Minister currently has no feel-good appointments scheduled.