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Union parliamentary group leader and opposition leader Friedrich Merz (r, CDU) during his parliamentary speech to Chancellor Olaf Scholz (SPD): "The seriousness of the situation does not lie in rhetoric and populism"

Photo: Michael Kappeler / dpa

The Bundestag is negotiating the budget for the coming year – and the defense budget is at the center of a dispute between Chancellor Olaf Scholz (SPD) and opposition leader Friedrich Merz (CDU). In the general debate on the budget in parliament, the CDU leader accused Scholz of not meeting the "fundamental challenge of an actual turning point" with the draft budget for 2024. Aggressors who invade neighboring countries, possibly also with nuclear arsenals, will continue to exist in the future. Merz believes that the Bundeswehr is too poorly prepared for future challenges.

The dimension of the Russian war of aggression could therefore not be met with a short-term special fund for the Bundeswehr, Merz said. By 2027 at the latest, there will be a gap of at least 30 billion euros in the defense budget, which the government has no idea how to fill today. NATO's goal of spending two percent of gross domestic product on defense could not be met permanently with the help of the special fund, said the CDU chief. Shortly after the start of the Russian attack on Ukraine, Scholz spoke of a turning point.

After the Russian invasion of Ukraine, Scholz had promised in a government statement to invest two percent of gross domestic product in the Bundeswehr with immediate effect. In addition, a debt-financed special fund of 100 billion euros was set up for the procurement of large weapons systems to be financed over many years.

"Since yesterday at the latest, we have two opposition leaders in Germany"

Merz also attacked the energy and climate policy of the traffic light coalition. With bans and regulations alone, you can't take people with you. In this way, the climate policy of the traffic light is above all a policy against climate protection. The tensions in the traffic light, especially between the Greens and the Liberals, were smugly commented on by the Union parliamentary group chairman with the observation that the Green squad had demonstratively left the government bench during the budget speech by FDP leader and Finance Minister Christian Lindner the day before. "Since yesterday at the latest, we have two opposition leaders in Germany, one in parliament and one in the government," Merz quipped. "Here's to good cooperation, Mr. Lindner!"

Merz also accused the traffic light of wanting to expand a patronizing, all-regulating and paternalistic state with its plans for a basic child benefit and the citizen's money. The government wants "air supremacy over the children's beds, over the families, over this society, so that you can shape it according to your own ideas". The Union is not only arguing about details of the budget, but also fundamentally contradicts the traffic light's understanding of the state.

The majority of people in the country no longer support the government's climate policy because they are tired of being confronted only with bans, regulations, incalculable costs and bureaucratic requirements. The so-called citizen's allowance would be designed by the Union in such a way that work would be more worthwhile than the receipt of state transfer payments. People did not go back into employment because they could calculate that they would get more out of government transfers than if they had to work in a simple job and pay social security contributions and taxes.

Scholz accused Merz of abandoning the democratic consensus in parliament. His accusations against the government's budget plans would not help to unite the country. "The seriousness of the situation does not lie in rhetoric and pomposity," Scholz said. The Chancellor also attacked the AfD. Their plan to dismantle the European Union would reduce prosperity in Germany. The far-right party is "a demolition squad for our country."

Scholz promotes "Germany Pact"

The chancellor promised a "Germany Pact" in which he would like to involve the heads of the 16 federal states, but also Merz. Together, the country is to be advanced in housing construction, digitization and energy supply. For too long, previous governments had not dared to approach the "bureaucratic thicket" in order to make Germany faster and more modern.

Now Scholz wants to work on the "engine room" of the country: "The turning of hundreds of regulators to ensure that the tanker Germany gets up to speed." In doing so, Scholz followed up on the "pace of Germany" that he called for months ago – the term refers to the intention to accelerate planning and approval procedures in Germany, for example for infrastructure projects.

For the general debate on government policy, the parliament on Wednesday allowed four hours. The budgets of the individual ministries will be discussed at first reading until Friday. As things stand, the overall budget is to be adopted on 1 December.

The budget debate was kicked off on Tuesday by Finance Minister Christian Lindner (FDP). The FDP leader wants to comply with the debt brake, according to which the federal government's spending in the coming year should be 445.7 billion euros – more than 30 billion less than this year. New debt is expected to amount to 16.6 billion euros, around 30 billion less than this year.