Germany went to the polls a year ago, although it feels more like a decade now. The new government was sworn in less than ten months ago on December 8. It had what must have been one of the roughest starts in the history of the Federal Republic, what with the ongoing pandemic, the war, the energy and cost of living crises and the ongoing climate crisis.
The incoming three-party coalition billed itself as an alliance for progress, which was a shrewd move: analyses of their respective manifestos by Marc Debus over at Mannheim show that they broadly agree on social-cultural issues but diverge on economic and fiscal policies.
Even in a more forgiving environment, this was bound to lead to conflicts within the coalition eventually. Under the current conditions, it helps to explain why two of the coalition’s leading men – Christian Lindner of the FDP and Robert Habeck of the Greens – are doing their best to block and outmanoeuvre each other, which in turn contributes to the government’s slide in the polls.
That brings me to this gem. One of the government’s most popular policies so far was the so-called 9-Euro-ticket, which gave access to all local and regional forms of public transport, anywhere in Germany, for a whole month, for the price of a takeaway pizza. This (wildly successful but sadly temporary) measure was the brainchild of the Greens. In return, the FDP got a temporary rebate on petrol and fuel. The former was more popular than the latter, and a broad coalition of civil society actors campaigned for an extension of the offer beyond August, pointing out that very affordable public transport is not just good for the environment but also a boon for the less well off – not exactly the electorate of the FDP, by the way..
Lindner (who is not only the minister for finance and the leader of Germany’s most pro-business party but also somewhat of a Porsche aficionado) nixed this idea, not just because he wants to go back to balanced budgets and is unwilling to save some money by, say, building fewer motorways, but also because he saw a “free lunch mentality” behind the proposal.
Yes, he said it like that, and this resulted in considerable backlash, but mostly from people who wouldn’t vote FDP anyway. Some, however, turned their anger into art. The poster, which popped up at my local commuter rail station, closely resembles the design that the FDP has used in their recent campaigns, including the large black-and-white picture of Lindner. The caption paraphrases Marie Antoinette: “No money for a ticket? Let them drive a Porsche”. But ours is a peaceful town, so his neck is safe for now.