Amendment of the Basic Law for 100 billion special debts: Traffic light needs Union votes

The federal government wants to take on 100 billion euros in special debt for more Bundeswehr equipment and other security tasks. But the Union, whose votes the traffic light needs, opposes the first reading in the Bundestag – and insists on having a say.

The fact that this matter is important to the Federal Government can be seen from the list of speakers: with Federal Finance Minister Christian Lindner, Federal Defense Minister Christine Lambrecht and Federal Foreign Minister Annalena Baerbock, prominent cabinet members from all three government parties are bringing the bill to amend the Basic Law for the introduction of a special fund. They are also the ones whose departments are essentially affected. After all, the 100 billion euros in special debts are to be used to strengthen German defense and security policy, bypassing the debt brake that Lindner regards as sacred. Introducing the special fund is the main conclusion drawn by the government from Russia’s war of aggression, which Chancellor Olaf Scholz described as a “turning point”.

“This is a decision of historical character,” Lindner introduced the topic late Wednesday afternoon and is already drawing parallels to the NATO dual-track decision-making process of the early 1980s. It is doubtful that the rearmament skeptics in the ranks of the SPD and the Greens would like the comparison. Rather, that Lindner also makes it clear that the money should not only flow into the Bundeswehr, but that “diplomacy and international crisis prevention must also be a top priority”. With this understanding of security policy, the traffic light was only able to secure broad approval in all three factions after Scholz had spoken of purely military investments in his speech about the turn of the century and many Greens and Social Democrats became completely faint while listening.

Union does not want to be stretched in front of traffic light carts

The fact that the chancellor didn’t mean it that way afterwards on February 27 poses a problem for the traffic light: Because the strong applause from the ranks of the Union faction at the time was mainly based on the fact that the deputies from the CDU and CSU heard two things that the money should flow solely into the armed forces and that in future Germany will put budget funds amounting to more than 2 percent of gross domestic product into the armed forces every year, i.e. finally meet the corresponding demands of the USA and other NATO partners. Because there was no more talk of either shortly afterwards, the approval of the Union is shaky and without the Union, the SPD, Greens and FDP will not get the two-thirds majority they need to change the Basic Law.

Much of this debate is reminiscent of the discussion about introducing compulsory vaccination, which ultimately failed. There, too, the vaccination advocates around Scholz needed the votes of the Union to get the required majority because their own ranks were divided on the issue. For the two-thirds majority, the Union would also need a unified voting traffic light, but it again believes itself in the role of a majority procurer without a say, even though the governing coalition needs it so urgently.

Because if most members of the CDU and CSU would vote for the special fund, the traffic light would not have to worry about the expected no votes from its own camp. Union faction leader Friedrich Merz had therefore announced that his faction would only provide as many votes as the government factions would need in addition to achieving the two-thirds quorum. Since then, the mood between the two camps has been toxic, at least in public debates on the subject.

Union does not want to agree

Defense Minister Lambrecht urged the Union to agree. Warnings that the Bundeswehr is standing there blank are pointed, but: “It hits the core and that has to end.” She lists a few drastic examples of shortcomings: of 350 “Puma” type infantry fighting vehicles, only 150 are operational, of 51 “Tiger” type combat helicopters “just 9 could take off”. There is a lack of resources for maintenance and repairs. With the lack of ammunition alone, Lambrecht puts the pent-up demand at 20 billion euros. Because the federal government also wants to purchase nuclear-capable US F-35 combat bombers, the 100 billion special funds may be used up quickly.

The Union is therefore also insisting on a further increase in the Bundeswehr budget, which will even decrease in 2022 when adjusted for inflation – which FDP budget politician Karsten Klein vehemently rejects as a misrepresentation. The debate quickly gets loud. “What you brought to the Bundestag today cannot be approved by us,” said the deputy leader of the Union parliamentary group, Mathias Middelberg, and called for the money to be used exclusively for the armed forces and for the 2 percent target to be met.

His co-deputy Johann Wadepuhl notes that today’s debate “made an agreement more difficult”. He calls for the Union to be more involved and responds to traffic light appeals for state responsibility: “We won’t let these pithy slogans put us under pressure.” Above all, he finds the blame on the many defense ministers from the CDU and CSU in the last legislative period. “There are so many greenhouses here that any nursery would be happy about it,” says Wadepuhl. In fact, Lindner initially spoke of “15 years of neglect of our armed forces” – this includes the participation in government of the SPD and FDP in addition to the Union.

Left sees no point in rearmament

Baerbock warns: “This is not a moment for party tactical games.” And: “If we’re honest, each party has to carry its own bag here.” Most of the Greens have long been skeptical about more money for the Bundeswehr. How little resistance there is now to armed drones, F-35 bombers to maintain nuclear ownership, and other projects from within her faction is a turning point in itself. However, Baerbock firmly rejects a 2 percent target anchored in the Basic Law: Such quorums would be exceeded in one year because, for example, the payment for new fighter jets has to be paid at once, and undercut in the next year.

The discussion is mainly taking place between the government factions and the main opposition. AfD and Left Party consider the government course to be fundamentally wrong. “That won’t end this war in Ukraine and it won’t lead to more security for us either. The only thing it will lead to is that the share prices of the armaments companies will rise,” says Left Party leader Amira Mohamed Ali about the special fund. And: “Today, the NATO countries are already spending 17 times as much on armaments as Russia does. And that didn’t deter Putin. He started this terrible war anyway.” Mohamed Ali asks: “How do you know that even more money for the German military will change anything?”

Not even that much

The majority in the Bundestag will not be irritated by this: Despite all the criticism, the Union faces the dilemma that it can hardly stand in the way of strengthening the Bundeswehr and German defense capabilities. It corresponds to their basic belief that this is correct. However, she does not want to give the governing coalition the votes it needs without making any concessions. Protracted behind-the-scenes negotiations are therefore to be expected until the second and third reading of the law, which may become easier when a list of requirements is finally available that makes specific purchase plans comprehensible.

In addition to the F-35 bombers, the list of requirements includes 20 billion euros for ammunition, 2.4 billion euros for protective equipment such as helmets and vests, more in-house skills for repairing technical equipment and also stocking spare parts. In addition, there is encrypted digital communication for the Bundeswehr and spending on cyber security, which is intended to protect the critical infrastructure beyond the Bundeswehr. More is added. At first glance, 100 billion euros in additional debt is an immense sum, but in view of the need to catch up and spread over several years, it is surprisingly little – a turning point.

(This article was first published on Wednesday, April 27, 2022.)

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