Almost three days of wrestling behind closed doors. In the end it was all worth it, the heads of the traffic light coalition in Germany announced on Tuesday evening. “We’ve made real breakthroughs, real paradigm shifts, and that’s why the result speaks for itself,” said FDP leader Christian Lindner after the coalition committee’s marathon of negotiations in Berlin. If it always goes like this, “then in the future we should go to retreats for three days every month”.
The bottom line was a number of sometimes surprising decisions on climate protection in traffic on Tuesday evening. The coalition partners also had a justification for the almost endless coalition dispute ready: the traffic light government is carrying out the conflicts of society on a small scale, so to speak. The long scramble now sounds like something desirable.
“The laborious work and negotiation process that the coalition parties and my government have now undertaken is representative of society as a whole on its way to an economically successful modern age,” said Chancellor Olaf Scholz (SPD). Means: As divided as the coalition recently presented itself, society is also divided when it comes to climate protection and its costs. Even before the end, the chancellor promised effusively “very, very, very good results”.
The party leaders of the SPD, Greens and FDP were also very satisfied. The decisions guaranteed “that many things in the country will run faster,” promised SPD leader Lars Klingbeil. Germany should be modernized, infrastructure projects should progress faster, renewable energies should be expanded more quickly. In doing so, the coalition is breaking away from its agenda of the past year of dealing with the consequences of the Russian war in Ukraine and is looking to the future. Greens leader Ricarda Lang promised that the traffic light would now address structural reforms “to move this country forward”.
The traffic light wants to invest “considerable funds” in the modernization and expansion of the rail network. At Deutsche Bahn, there is an investment requirement of around 45 billion euros by 2027. This is to be covered, among other things, by revenue from truck tolls on motorways and federal roads. The SPD, Greens and FDP had already agreed on a reform of the truck toll in the coalition agreement, the income from which has so far only gone to trunk roads.
A CO2 surcharge of 200 euros per ton is now to be introduced for the user fee on January 1, 2024. Zero-emission trucks should be exempt from the toll by the end of 2025 and then only have to pay 25 percent of the regular rate. In addition, from 2024, even smaller trucks from 3.5 tons are to be included in the toll obligation. “Craft businesses are excluded,” says the decision paper.
For those who travel a lot by train, the 49-euro ticket should be integrated into the Bahncard 100 at no extra charge, so that it can also be used for local transport in all cities. The coalition had previously argued violently about this: the FDP not only wanted to expand railway lines, but also motorways more quickly in order to prevent traffic jams when there was more freight traffic. The Greens resisted for a long time. Now a narrowly limited number of particularly important motorway projects are to be given a special status. This should speed up these projects, among other things through no less complex environmental protection tests. Lindner spoke of 144 projects. The Federal Government Commissioner for Railways, State Secretary Michael Theurer (FDP), named the A5, A6 and A8 motorways as examples of how to accelerate the planning of roads at bottlenecks.
The traffic light coalition wants to tackle the installation of more climate-friendly heating systems – there should be a social balance. “One can say: No one is left in the lurch,” emphasized Lang. The coalition partners initially did not give any details. According to Lindner, the money should come from the climate and transformation fund, a pot of money outside the regular federal budget. According to Lindner, heaters that currently use fossil fuels should continue to be operated if they are operated with climate-friendly gases. A year ago, the coalition had already basically agreed that from January 1, 2024, every newly installed heating system should be operated with 65 percent renewable energy.
In the future, it should be possible to pay money as compensation for interventions in nature and the landscape, for example through the construction of wind turbines or roads. “This allows project developers to plan infrastructure projects more easily and quickly,” explained the traffic light. The funds will then be used to buy larger and more connected areas in order to strengthen renaturation and nature conservation – an aspect that many environmental organizations also consider useful.
The traffic light wants to allow more flexibility in achieving the German climate goals. So far, the annual emissions of greenhouse gases have been recorded for economic sectors such as energy, industry, transport, buildings, agriculture and waste management. If an area exceeds the agreed annual amount, the ministries must submit so-called emergency programs for more climate protection. The coalition wants to stick to this survey for each sector, but the government should only make adjustments in the future after two consecutive missed targets – for all sectors together.
According to Lindner, the decisions will not have a direct impact on the federal budget for the coming year. The strengthening of the railway infrastructure should be financed via the truck toll and the funding programs for heating from the climate fund. The dispute over the budget for 2024 and the following years has therefore not yet been resolved. It was only briefly touched upon by the coalition committee, said Lindner. The coalition partners also did not comment on the financing and design of the basic child security planned from 2025. In the program, state benefits for families such as child benefit and child allowance are to be combined. It is disputed whether rates will also be increased.
Even after the almost three-day marathon of negotiations, not all of the traffic light coalition’s issues have been resolved. The “Süddeutsche Zeitung” recently counted up to 30 proposed laws. The tone was “quite rough within the last week,” admitted Lang after the negotiations. “That’s not a question. All three of us have to take a good look at our own noses, or the noses of our parties.” In the end, however, the results might be better “than if we were all just negotiating with ourselves.”
Lindner cryptically emphasized the value of communication: “One keeps silent and one discusses one another. I think that is the feeling that we as coalition partners share at the end of this intensive consultation process.”