Wednesday, November 27, 2013

Germany (almost) has a new government

Germany is preparing for a grand coalition. After weeks of negotiations, the parties agreed on a coalition deal. Now, the SPD members will have to give the final green light. More than two months after the elections, Germany finally has a coalition deal. Early yesterday morning, the two Christian-democratic parties (CDU and CSU) and the socialdemocratic SPD reached a final coalition deal. The final deal is a 185-page package with lots of good descriptive analysis but also many meaningless words. Stripping down the coalition deal to the essentials, a couple of tangible issues and measures remain. The most remarkable measures are probably the introduction of a minimum wage of €8.50 starting in 2015 but with a transition period until 2017, the reduction of the retirement age to 63 years for persons with a work life of more than 45 years, a pension increase for mothers with children born before 1992, a principal agreement on a highway toll and changes to dual citizenships. In addition, the coalition deal includes several expenditure increases to build or renovate schools and childcare facilities, to modernize highways and to reintegrate long-term unemployed but also higher expenditures into development aid. These measures could amount to around €40bn (1.6% GDP). Interestingly, the coalition partners want to finance these additional expenditures without tax increases. In fact, the goal of a balanced fiscal balance remains unchanged. These calculations might work at the current juncture with strong economic growth and record high tax revenues. However, it is doubtful that the new expenditure plans could survive an economic downturn without higher taxes and/or increasing the fiscal deficit. While the announced measures for the domestic economy clearly reflect a socialdemocratic stamp combined with several presents, Germany’s European and Eurozone policies will not change with the new coalition. The coalition deal confirms the well-known approach of solidarity against solidity, meaning weaker Eurozone countries can be rescued but only if they implement structural reforms. Moreover, the coalition deal underlined Germany’s “no” to debt mutualisation, common Eurobonds, a debt redemption fund and a common deposit guarantee scheme. Fiscal consolidation will also remain a red thread. As regards to further Eurozone integration, the coalition deal remains rather vague. The big vision thing is still missing. Instead, the new government looks set to pursue the idea of reform contracts to create additional incentives for structural reforms, will push to exclude costs of future bank recapitalisations from fiscal deficit calculations and will rather slow down than accelerate the speed towards a banking union. Interestingly, the new coalition seems to add a new condition to direct bank recapitalisation through the ESM. The EU summit in the summer of 2012 agreed to allow for direct ESM bank recapitalization (after a bail-in cascade and national contributions) once the ECB has taken up its new role as bank supervisor in late-2014. The new German coalition only wants to agree to direct bank recapitalisation once the Eurozone has also agreed on a bank resolution mechanism. While Germany continues to commit to further Eurozone integration, it remains striking that every time concrete steps and measures have to be taken, it is often Germany which slows down the process. All in all, the coalition deal is what it was expected to be: a compromise. Whether the coalition will last, now depends on the ballot of SPD members, with the results expected in mid-December. As regards to the economic aspects of the coalition deal, it looks as if the new government’s focus is on redistributing the harvest of earlier economic reforms, rather than using the economic good times for new structural reforms. The short-term impact on the economy should be positive. However, in the longer term, the coalition deal could turn out to have been a missed opportunity.

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