German coalition talks: Between old-age poverty and cannabis legalisation

The Christian Democratic Union (CDU), the Christian Social Union (CSU), the Greens and the Free Democratic Party (FDP) are holding talks in Berlin to form the next Government after the general elections in September. [EPA-EFE/OMER MESSINGER]

The first round of the German coalition talks on social policy was a meeting to get an initial feeling for where the parties stand. However, some common things are emerging: in the fight against old-age poverty, shortage of nurses and long-term unemployment. EURACTIV Germany reports.

In the end, political shortcomings in retirement, health and social matters were significant for the German election. But the results of the first Jamaica coalition talks on these topics were thin.

According to one of the participants, there had been a “very, very small preliminary clarification”: The parties only agreed that they intend to talk about the most pressing issues. But even these meagre goal descriptions caused a scramble for the correct interpretation.

Greens concerned by “erosion” of minimum wage

This was the case with the basic commitment to the minimum wage that all four parties had made beforehand. Green Party leader Simone Peter was forced to clarify the following day that her party could not agree to an “erosion” of the minimum wage by either restricting the duty to record working hours or “softening the Working Hours Act.”

The FDP, on the other hand, was annoyed by this riposte. Liberal labour market expert Johannes Vogel replied that Peter was not present during the talks on work and social issues. Of course, one has to “adapt rules in the age of digitisation, when they no longer meet the needs of millions of employees for self-determination and flexible organisation of working hours,” he insisted.

During the negotiations, they also “rightly talked about how we can reduce the mistrust of bureaucracy against crafts and small- and medium-sized businesses”.

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Social security contributions not to exceed 40 percent

The goal to stabilize social security contribution is called a success by the FDP and the Union’s economic wing. By their will, contributions must not break the 40 percent mark.

However, the Greens immediately came up with a restriction. They emphasised that “this will only work if one also expands the contribution base for social security.” According to them, that would mean either a stronger tax financing of certain items or additional contribution from other types of income, such as rents or capital investments.

Common goal: Improvement of working conditions in care

But there were also less controversial targets. These included the desire to reduce the minimum contributions of self-employed in health insurance.

“We are united by the will to noticeably improve the working conditions in nursing care of the elderly and the sick,” they wrote in their three-page paper, with which they summarized the results of the first negotiating round. Moreover, they stated that “someone who has worked longer and has made provisions should have more than just the basic security in the old age.”

But this still leaves the question of how it can be implemented. Here, two models have been fixed into writing: more allowances in basic security or a guaranteed pension, or perhaps it could even be a combination of both.

Abolition of retirement at the age of 63 was not an issue

This aspect was said to be discussed in a pension commission; as the paper vaguely states. However, the idea of such a commission to clarify all major pension issues has already been dropped. There is the impression that “we could get something” in three areas, one of the negotiators said: pension, the fight against long-term unemployment and the elimination of care needs.

Alliance between CSU and Greens?

Green leader Cem Özdemir considers an alliance with the CSU possible when it comes to social terms. “There could also be a surprise, namely that the CSU and the Greens forge alliances in one place or another,” he said in an online video.

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More concrete outcomes could be seen on the subject of health. There is a will “to tackle things together,” the paper states.

There is a “special demand” for further development of emergency care and “improvement of the situation in obstetrics”, which concerns above all the financial burden on midwives with their liability insurance, integrated and cross-sector demand planning and the “use of opportunities” in the digitisation of healthcare.

FDP will not be bone-headed on cannabis

The paper closes with the statement that the “Jamaicans” also want to talk about “the question of legal, controlled delivery of cannabis.” The fact that they dedicated themselves to this subject is “certainly not because of one of the two Union parties,” sneered CDU Secretary General Peter Tauber.

Green Michael Kellner announced in return that a negotiator from the Union had asked him for a joint. Both the Greens and the FDP want a legalisation of the drug. However, one will not fight here, one Liberal said. “Cannabis legalisation would be reasonable, but there are more important issues.”