The Transformation Project: A Coalition Agreement of the New German Federal Government

The federal elections on September 26, 2021, ushered in a new phase of German politics. The election results, but even more so the ensuing coalition negotiations between the partners belonging to different political camps, have led commentators to see a historical caesura in this process, comparing it to the 1969 elections, when Willy Brandt, who later won the Nobel Peace Prize, was elected the first Social Democratic chancellor of a social-liberal coalition. The message of Brandt's first government declaration, which was later widely quoted, was both an aspiration and a signal: 'Dare more democracy.' Dare more progress is the title of the coalition agreement signed by representatives of the new coalition of SPD, Greens and FDP on December 7, 2021, and this should be read as a deliberate link to Brandt's motto.

The 177-page coalition agreement is a political document. Here, perhaps for the first time in the history of the Federal Republic of Germany, a broad social transformation process is outlined and formulated as a binding guideline for government action. The social reality in Germany has become richer and more diverse, but also more complex and contradictory. The coalition sees itself in this ambivalence, since the Greens and the Free Democrats in particular have different positions on many issues and have developed different political cultures historically and in terms of content. What the parties do have in common, however, is that they see global developments and, in particular, competition between political systems as a challenge that poses a threat to what has already been achieved. Germany should not rest on its laurels. Transformation and modernization are overdue to secure, if not increase, the country's prosperity. However, these coalition parties also agree in rejecting authoritarian systems, as does the overwhelming majority of the political class in Germany. The linking of the model of an open society that is at the same time protected by the rule of law with dynamics of industrial and scientific innovation and transformation, which are to be fueled not least by political guidelines, is certainly remarkable in this form. Sustainability as a political, social and economic concept is intended to form something like the central paradigm for controlling government action. This can be understood as a claim to advance social innovation and integration in a co-evolutionary manner and to have the success of the project measured against this.

From the point of view of the Centre, interesting constellations arise for possible research questions. The policy fields of climate change, flight and displacement, peacekeeping measures and regulation of the Internet, which are closely followed at the Centre in terms of empirical research, are in part prominently addressed in the coalition agreement. The document also emphasizes in several places the importance of scientific expertise for sound policy decisions. The share of total government spending on research and development is to be increased to 3.5 percent of GDP by 2025. A future research strategy is drafted (19). Agriculture and food systems are to play a special role here. Regional and supraregional innovation ecosystems are to be strengthened. The establishment of a German Agency for Transfer and Innovation (DATI) will serve this purpose. Universities are to be supported with federal funds in the creation of start-up infrastructures. A German Tech Transfer Fund is under discussion.  Open access and a uniform European data space are to be promoted. This also includes a plea for citizen science and the promotion of science journalism through a separate foundation. And yes, the law on scientific time-based contracts ('Wissenschaftszeitgesetz') should be reformed ('permanent positions for permanent tasks,' 23).

Unsurprisingly, climate policy occupies a significant place in the coalition paper. Here, the will to act quickly is particularly noticeable. For example, the national climate protection law is to be systematically developed further before the end of 2022 and an immediate climate protection program with all the necessary laws, regulations and measures is to be launched by the end of next year. An energy and climate policy roadmap is outlined here for the first time. It makes the concession of temporarily necessary gas-fired power plants (H2-ready). The 2026 review step agreed in the 2018 coal compromise is brought forward to next year in parallel with the aforementioned legislative projects. A phase-out of coal could succeed 'ideally in 2030.' Here, the coalition partners have not made a commitment, but they have named the year. Hydrogen is to be promoted and further developed as a technology of the future, primarily within a European framework (H2Global).  The topic of power lines, which is the subject of controversial debate in Germany, is to be advanced with a roadmap for system stability by mid-2023, and storage technologies and products are to be legally defined as an independent pillar of the energy system. A 'Climate Neutral Electricity System' platform is to make concrete proposals on electricity market design in 2022, with the involvement of representatives of science, business and civil society. The intention is to phase out support for renewable energies at around the same time as the actual phase-out of coal. Internationally, the coalition wants to use Germany's G7 presidency in 2022 to initiate intergovernmental energy cooperation. There is talk here of climate clubs, an idea that has gained renewed momentum in the international climate debate since Glasgow.

In the section 'Integration, Migration, Flight,' the claim is formulated to make Germany a modern immigration country in the course of a 'paradigm shift'. There are expected statements here, such as the call for an immigration law free of contradictions, 'which would ideally be summarized in a user-friendly and systematized manner in an immigration and residence code.' The call for a fundamental reform of the European asylum system is also anything but new. And so it is rather concrete remarks on the right of residence and the right to stay that hint at a substantial improvement in integration opportunities. The dissolution of anchor centres, the statement that children and young people will no longer be taken into custody pending deportation, the recognition of integration achievements with the prospect of remaining, and a reduction in the time limit for employment toleration. However, there are few concrete statements on the international interconnectedness of the migration issue. For example, procedures for issuing humanitarian visas are to be digitally upgraded. This is likely to be aimed at the procedures in German missions abroad. Humanitarian admission and repatriation programmes will be made more permanent. The European Border and Coast Guard Agency (FRONTEX) is to be subject to parliamentary control and shall 'actively participate in sea rescue within the framework of its mandate.' (141)

In addition to the cross-cutting theme of climate and sustainability ('foreign climate policy'), the theme of digitization runs through almost all sections of the document.  It plays an interesting role in the section on 'multilateralism.' For example, it explicitly states:

Germany is pursuing an active digital foreign policy for a global, open Internet and a consistent EU digital policy across departmental boundaries. (144)

This is also about 'a policy of disarmament' in the digital space on the one hand, and 'digital sovereignty' on the other. 'In development cooperation, we are working with our partners to build their independent digital infrastructure.' There is a desire to become even more involved in multi-stakeholder forums such as the Internet Governance Forum (IGF). An 'international law of the net' is called for. This is about shaping political spaces, about competition between systems, about Power and Authority in Internet Governance, and from the Centre's point of view, certainly an interesting development.

Diplomacy, development cooperation and NATO obligations are named as three international fields of action for which - in total - three percent of GDP is to be spent. Germany sees itself as part of the 'strategic sovereignty' of a united Europe. Committed to the goal of multilateral cooperation, it feels obligated to show strategic solidarity with democratic partners in system competition with authoritarian states. This, however, also implies the will to engage in dialogue with competitors. For example, China is to be more closely involved in nuclear disarmament and arms control. Germany is not a member of the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons (TPNW), but the coalition agreement communicates its current observer status - which has caused disgruntlement among NATO partners - and claims a leading role in strengthening international disarmament initiatives and non-proliferation regimes, especially with a view to the Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) Review Conference next year and the follow-up agreement to NewSTART. (145) The paper is not particularly specific on the subject of arms exports. A national arms export control law is to be introduced. There is a rejection of lethal autonomous weapons systems (including drones).

It is in keeping with the complexity of the current political situation that several cross-cutting issues come to mind when reading this coalition agreement. Policy fields increasingly touch each other, it seems, and with climate, digitalization and agriculture/nutrition (pesticides!) three fields of cooperation are addressed that already play a role in development cooperation. With the appointment of the previous Environment Minister Svenja Schulze to head the Federal Ministry for Economic Cooperation and Development (BMZ), this ministry, which has been ambitiously put into service every now and then in its history, is receiving a thematic enhancement and upgrading, not least in the context of the priorities of this new coalition.

To all appearances, BMZ funding allocations are to be kept stable (ODA: 0.7% GNI, of which 0.2 for LDCs). However, multilateral distribution mechanisms such as COVAX for vaccines and the climate fund for developing countries concretized in Glasgow open up development opportunities that can open up new scope in such cooperations. The Global Fund for Social Protection is to be supported as an international financing instrument. The goal of a new international debt management consensus is formulated with the aim of establishing a codified international sovereign insolvency procedure. The coalition agreement also advocates strengthening the German Development Cooperation Evaluation Institute (DEval) of the German Development Institute (DIE) as independent bodies.

Financial incentives, be it the further development of the Energy and Climate Fund (EKF) into a Climate and Transformation Fund (KTF) or the additional funding of the state development bank KfW and increased cooperation with other development banks such as the European Investment Bank[1], are intended to flank the upcoming industrial transformation and stabilize and perpetuate it beyond the national context. Climate and digitization are opening up growing opportunities for cooperation here, which in addition to the economic aspect also convey political and cultural values in system competition. The non-military strategic approach to Ukraine, which is being offered a deepening of the energy (technology) partnership, would be an example of this (153). The actors in the new coalition, who are so different from one another, find common ground where it is a matter of overcoming global threats through innovative transformations and this systemic technological expertise secures a competitive edge that Germany contributes to a Europe of solidarity. So much for the idea. International networking may put the cohesion of this political constellation to the test, not to mention domestic challenges. Getting along well with like-minded people will not be enough.

Cooperation research knows that. But coalition leaders know it, too. The outgoing German Chancellor Angela Merkel, who did not let the thread of conversation with Russian President Vladimir Putin break until the very end, put it this way on the occasion of her ceremonial farewell:

I would like to encourage you to continue to see the world through the eyes of others, to perceive the sometimes uncomfortable and contradictory perspectives of your counterparts, and to work for a balance of interests. 

This may become particularly important in times of upheaval. For 'the challenges are immense, interwoven and demanding in their simultaneity.' But there is also an opportunity in shaping the upheavals. The coalition's task now is to give political impetus to the necessary innovations and provide orientation.

In doing so, we want to trigger a new dynamic that will have an impact on society as a whole. (Preamble)


Martin Wolf


[1] Its president Werner Hoyer sat for 25 years for the FDP in the German Bundestag and was Minister of State in the Foreign Office under Ministers Kinkel and Westerwelle.

Coalition Agreement

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