Ortiz: Letters From Berlin, Part 3: Traffic light coalition

Sterling Ortiz, Assistant Opinion Editor

More than two months after the German general election, Social Democratic Party Chancellor candidate Olaf Scholz assembled a governing coalition consisting of his party as well as the Greens and the Free Democratic Party. German pundits and laypeople predicted this coalition — colloquially known as the “traffic light coalition” because of the parties’ colors — as soon as the Social Democrats took first place in the September election. At the time, a majority alliance with the Greens and the democratic socialist party Die Linke was mathematically impossible.

The new German cabinet, consisting of members from the Bundestag as well as other organs of government, stands 16 members in total, divided among eight male and eight female members. Olaf Scholz and the SPD have seven cabinet members, including the Federal Minister of Special Affairs and Head of the Chancellery Wolfgang Schmidt and Federal Minister of Health Karl Lauterbach. I would like to highlight Lauterbach, because his position is crucial during the raging pandemic, and he is a proponent of both single-payer health care and mandatory vaccinations. His public appearances during the pandemic have made him, on raw approval, more popular than Scholz.

The Greens, returning to the federal government after a sixteen-year hiatus, now hold five seats in the federal cabinet and have scored vital positions to lead Germany. Annalena Baerbock, once a chancellor hopeful, is now the federal minister for foreign affairs. Shaping foreign policy has been a Green demand since the start of the party, and now Baerbock wants to wield her new power to rebuild ties with the United States and form a pan-European and American coalition against authoritarian governments in Russia and China. Another significant Green gain has been with Robert Habeck, serving as both the vice chancellor and the federal minister for economic affairs and climate action. Habeck, along with Baerbock, leads the Greens nationally, and keeping with their environmentalist leanings, Habeck badly wanted this authority. He will try to implement the German vision for managing the natural and built environment in addition to phasing out nuclear power by 2022 and coal power by 2030.

Finally, the center-right Free Democratic Party rounds out Scholz’s cabinet. While a minor party of the coalition, both in their Bundestag seats and in their mere four cabinet members, the FDP wants to bring a conservative vision to Germany that you’d see in the U.S. in the Libertarians. Christian Lindner, the new federal minister of finance, had his eyes set on this position from the start of coalition negotiations, and this match between man and mission was a prerequisite for the FDP to lend their support to the SPD and not to the Union party. Lindner would like to keep Germany from running a federal deficit, even if this means less federal spending on social programs. Another influential minister to keep in mind from the FDP would be the new minister of transport and digital infrastructure, Volker Wissing, who will probably battle with the SPD and Greens on the level of state control over modern German infrastructure. 

Scholz’s cabinet represents more than new faces and party logos — it’s a shift away from the center-right, conservative government that Angela Merkel led for 16 years. His government wants to increase the German minimum wage from €9.82 ($11.13) to €12 ($13.60) this year. It also wants to allow citizenship after five years of living in Germany, reduce the voting age to 16 and implement other center-left wing proposals. I particularly like their housing proposal, pairing 400,000 new apartments built per year with a rent increase cap. This proposal protects Germans in the present with a cap on how high landlords and the government can raise the rent, along with safeguarding Germans seeking better lodgings with new construction.

These capable ministers will need to be as focused as possible because of the pandemic and other hardships over the coming years. Americans should look toward Germany as an example of excellent governance, and to see their new public policies and apply them to our country. Germany is a peer country in economic terms, and Germans have given a significant amount to the American tapestry of cultures, so I think my ask is justified.

Sterling Ortiz is a SESP fourth-year. You can contact him at [email protected]. If you would like to respond publicly to this op-ed, send a Letter to the Editor to [email protected]. The views expressed in this piece do not necessarily reflect the views of all staff members of The Daily Northwestern.