Germany: coalition government adopts war and austerity budget
The 2023 budget passed by the German parliament on Friday is a declaration of war on workers, with massive increases in military spending and drastic cuts to health, education and social benefits.
In June, the Bundestag (German parliament) voted to fund the Bundeswehr’s Special Fund at the request of the “tricolor” coalition of the Social Democrats (SPD), Liberals (FDP) and the Greens. [forces armées]”, costing more than 100 billion euros, thus launching the largest arms offensive since the end of World War II. The far-reaching consequences of the resurgence of German militarism—started with the 2013/2014 foreign policy shift, in which key state officials announced Germany’s return to an aggressive, great-power foreign policy— now reflected in the budget.
The only spending that will be massively increased is military spending. A total of 58.6 billion euros is planned for 2023, which means an increase of 8.2 billion euros compared to last year; €8.5 billion will come from the Special Fund, which is not officially part of the Defense budget. The government will use the extra money to buy F35 fighter jets, among other things; CH-47 heavy lift helicopters; Puma infantry fighting vehicles; four F126 frigates; and personal protective equipment for soldiers.
The defense budget is expected to increase further in the coming years. Defense Minister Christine Lambrecht (SPD) told the Bundestag that she was “very grateful” to hear “the various parties here today say that this budget needs to be increased in the future”. He added wryly that the current increases were enough to “make ends meet”.
Karsten Klein, who sits on the “Bundeswehr Special Fund” commission for the FDP, announced the sums involved: “300 billion euros are allocated by the German Bundestag, taxpayers, the German government Ministry of Defense for armaments and armaments. Military equipment of our Bundeswehr, for soldiers – 300 billion euros in this legislative period”!
In terms of annual budgets, this means that in 2024, 2025 and 2026, the military will be paid an average of 80.5 billion euros each year. And this is just the beginning. The ruling class aims to once again make Germany the “leading military power” (Lambrecht) and the Bundeswehr “the best-equipped armed forces in Europe” (Chancellor Olaf Scholz).
In his speech during the November 23 debate, Scholz gave an overview of these abnormal armament plans. According to him, financing from the “Special Fund” will allow Germany to “organize an organized and reasonable course change. We will and want to dedicate 2 percent of economic indicators to the Bundeswehr.
The ruling class is trying to arm the economy to implement its decided course of war – which is currently directed primarily against Russia. Scholz said that care must be taken “to ensure that factories and machines are bought for newly created things.” The goal was to “equip the Bundeswehr in a way that it could work for decades. This is the purpose of the Special Fund: a long-term plan.
This “long-term” rearmament goes hand in hand with historic attacks on working class living standards. Energy prices are skyrocketing due to NATO’s attack on Russia. The highest inflation in decades is already pushing millions into poverty. The costs of the war fall entirely on the workers. Adjusted for inflation, these budget deficits are the largest reduction since the end of World War II.
In nominal terms, the total budget fell to 476.29 billion euros from last year’s 495.79 billion euros, a decrease of about 20 billion euros. In 2021, it was still 556.6 billion euros. The new debt forecast for next year is just €45.61 billion, compared to €138.9 billion in 2022.
Finance Minister Christian Lindner (FDP) boasted in the Bundestag that he had kept the debt ceiling in place and hinted at even deeper reductions in the future. With the current austerity budget, we “have not yet reached budgetary normality”. It was “the demand of this coalition to return as soon as possible to this principle: only what was previously won can be distributed.” With net debt of only €12.3 billion for 2024, the budget still needs to fall by almost €53 billion to €423.7 billion.
The biggest savings is in Health. This year, this budget will decrease by approximately 40 billion euros (!), from 64.36 billion euros to 24.48 billion euros. This in the context of an ongoing pandemic that has claimed more than 157,000 lives in Germany alone. More than 1,000 people are now succumbing to the virus every week, even before the approaching winter wave. The ruling class is responding by ending last-ditch protections and almost completely eliminating funding to fight the pandemic.
Thus, the item for prevention and health associations is from 9.57 billion euros to 2.59 billion euros. Grants to fight against COVID-19 included in this amount will amount to a total of €119.4 million (2022: €1.9 billion). The vaccination campaign has also been largely suspended. “Subsidies for the central supply of SARS-CoV-2 vaccines” included in the budget will increase from last year’s 7.09 billion euros to 3.02 billion euros.
Severe cuts are also planned for all other areas of the health system, which is already on its knees due to lack of money. For example, spending on “medical work and other social security measures” will decrease by more than 2 billion euros, from 3.28 billion euros to 1.08 billion euros.
The affected education sector is also being cut. Its budget will officially increase by a modest €500 million to €21.46 billion (2022: €20.89 billion), but adjusted for inflation, this represents a massive drop. At the same time, education is increasingly placed at the service of war politics. The budget includes, for example, €2.1 million for the establishment of a “Conflict Academy” at the Institute for Interdisciplinary Studies on Conflict and Violence at the University of Bielefeld. Millions of additional dollars will be poured into this project and others like it in the coming fiscal years.
The so-called “social reforms” boasted by the coalition cannot hide the class character of the budget, it emphasizes. “Citizens’ Income” adopted by the Christian Democrats (CDU/CSU) on Friday is nothing but the “Hartz-IV” welfare system under a new name. Much of the so-called “bailout” money, such as Scholz’s €200 billion “protective umbrella”, is going into the pockets of trusts and the super-rich, just like the 2020/2021 coronavirus aid packages.
All the “debates” in the Bundestag made it clear that the workers were facing a conspiracy of all establishment parties. If there was any criticism of the budget, it came mostly from the right. Representatives of the CDU/CSU and the far-right Alternative for Germany (AfD) party complained that rearmament was not being implemented more quickly.
Speakers of the Left Party also showed their support for militarization despite their hypocritical criticism of the defense budget. Gesine Lötzsch, a representative of the Left Party on the Bundeswehr Special Fund Committee, said that a “well-equipped army for national defense” is “our constitutional vision”. At the beginning of the week, Bodo Ramelow, the “left” minister-president of Thuringia and the current president of the Bundesrat (upper house), even spoke as a supporter of the supply of arms to Ukraine and the restoration of compulsory military service.
The Left Party also criticized the internal budget from the right. And this includes 1.8 billion euros more than originally planned. Half of the costs are shared by the security agencies. The Ministry of Internal Affairs and its various departments, including domestic intelligence alone, will receive 1,607 additional positions.
This is clearly not enough for the Left Party. In her speech, Martina Renner, the party’s representative in the Internal Affairs Committee, complained that “the positions created as a result of the last budget increase have not been filled so far.” “9,000 positions in the government – in the national police alone” were still vacant.
Nothing better describes the bourgeois and right-wing character of the Left Party than the call for more soldiers and more police. As a party of the state apparatus and the upper middle class, it fears that the workers and youth will oppose capitalist war policies and austerity policies like the devil’s holy water. In the 2014 European elections, he campaigned “Revolution – No thanks!” hung posters with the words to signal to the ruling elite that he is on their side when it comes to suppressing the independent movement of the working class.
The Sozialistische Gleichheitspartei (SGP – Socialist Equality Party) is developing such a movement and therefore participates in the Berlin Land elections. Our election manifesto states: “We are giving a vote and a socialist perspective to the huge opposition that no longer has a voice in official politics.” “We cannot stop the war and end the social destruction without breaking the power of banks and corporations and bringing them under democratic control.”
The adoption of this war budget gives great importance and urgency to the socialist program of the SGP/PES.
(Article first published in English on 28 November 2022)