Christian Lindner, the liberal ‘hawk’ that worries half of Europe

Christian Lindner, right, with Robert Habeck and Annalena Baerbock, after a press conference in Berlin on October 1.picture alliance (dpa / picture alliance via Getty I)

Germany is preparing to be governed by its first tripartite Executive (Social Democrats, Greens and Liberals). About 300 experts in 22 working groups have spent weeks negotiating all kinds of issues behind closed doors: from the energy transition to education, through housing policies and social protection. Its spokesmen assure that the battle for the distribution of ministerial positions has not yet begun, that the first thing is the content of a future coalition contract, but for days there has only been talk of one position, and of the person who yearns to fill it: the powerful finance minister and the leader of the Liberals, Christian Lindner.

Lindner spent the election campaign running for office. He even hinted that he would not accept another. For this reason, although it is not at all clear that he will achieve it – the co-leader of Los Verdes, Robert Habeck, also aspires to it – his interviews and public statements are scrutinized in search of clues that allow us to know what type of finance minister he would be. Lindner, 42, chairman of the Liberal Democratic Party (FDP), is what is known as a hawk. Conservative from the fiscal point of view, guarantor of the budgetary orthodoxy, rejects the increases of taxes and flees the indebtedness like the plague. Affiliated since the age of 16, at 21 he obtained his first seat in the Parliament of the land from North Rhine-Westphalia. They say that even then he was dressed and tied, impeccably formal. From that time comes the nickname of Bambi, very misguided as he demonstrated a few years later when he took over the reins of the party.

Europe is waiting expectantly to know if it will finally occupy the most powerful portfolio, after the post of chancellor, the man who only a few years ago was in favor of Greece being temporarily expelled from the eurozone. Lindner is radically against financing the debt of other countries with German money, and there is concern about whether times of confrontation with the countries that defend greater European integration are coming. The German position will be decisive, for example, in the discussions on the reform of the Stability and Growth Pact, which sets strict limits on the indebtedness of governments.

Lindner’s liberals line up with the so-called frugal, northern and central European countries (especially the Netherlands, Sweden, Denmark and Austria) who want the fiscal rules that were suspended at the start of the pandemic to go back into effect in 2023. Southern Europe, led by France, Italy and Spain, defends that it is time to change the pact and free countries from the rigidity in public spending, which would punish growth after the Covid-19 crisis. 19. Media Europe trembles at the possibility that the next German finance minister will push to return to austerity as soon as possible, something that Lindner has assured would please him.

With the coalition negotiations underway, the liberal is consciously ambiguous about what his position would be in Brussels. In an interview this week, he seemed to hint that he might be opening up to a review of tax rules. It has also been leaked that the tripartite would be considering promoting the creation of a European fund similar to the Next Generation EU recovery plan, but dedicated to the fight against climate change. “I suspect that Lindner could agree because it would not count as a national debt and politically it would be very difficult for Los Verdes not to accept it,” says German economist Daniel Gros, director of the Center for European Policy Studies (CEPS) in conversation with EL PAÍS. .

“In any case, Lindner’s position would depend on the coalition agreement,” recalls Frenchman Nicolas Véron, an economist at the think tank Bruegel. If he is finally a minister, “it will not be free.” To get the most coveted position, he would have to give something back, surely give in to greater flexibility on budgeting matters, he adds. Véron underlines the idea that German policy in Brussels “will depend much more on circumstances and context than on the finance minister.” Véron assures that it is “very important” that Lindner has not rejected outright the idea of ​​the fund to finance the Green Deal.

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The leader causes concern in the European Union, but also beyond its borders. The interest aroused by the possible future Minister of Finance of the fourth world economy is surpassed only by the Chancellor. A few days ago the economists Joseph Stiglitz and Adam Tooze, the first American, the second British, published a fierce criticism against the leader of the German liberals. “It would be a mistake to grant her wish,” it was titled the rostrum. The Nobel laureate and his colleague, a professor at Columbia University, directly assure that Lindner “would not be suitable” as the head of the country’s finances, although he could do a good job in another ministry, such as the one that deals with modernization. and digitization.

Not a few German economists have been bothered, or at least surprised, that two foreigners come to warn against the appointment of a minister in Germany. As Lars P. Feld, a member of the advisory council of the German Ministry of Finance, puts it in an opinion piece, what concerns them is not whether Lindner, or Habeck, are personally suitable for the position because of their experience and knowledge, but “that continue the lax financial policy in Germany and Europe ”.

Whoever is next responsible for German finances, the country faces the task of guaranteeing huge investments in climate protection, digitization and infrastructure in this legislature. If social democrats, liberals and greens have agreed before starting their negotiation that they do not raise taxes and that the constitutional brake on debt be respected, the funds will have to come from somewhere to finance it. And Lindner, for now, seems to give clues that there is room for the fiscal margin, also in Europe.

The Greens warn of possible delays in the negotiation


The coalition negotiations of the parties that intend to form an unprecedented three-way government in Germany are proceeding with much secrecy and at a slower speed than expected. The Greens have warned this past week that they are encountering obstacles that make it difficult to reach agreements, so they do not assure that the Social Democrat Olaf Scholz, winner of the September elections, can be appointed Chancellor the week of December 6, as had been proposed. “We still cannot say when it will be ready because we have not yet finished with some central issues,” said Annalena Baerbock, co-president of Los Verdes on Friday. Without giving details, he pointed out that social democrats and liberals are not taking climate protection seriously. “We are still not on the right track for 1.5 [grados, en referencia al objetivo del acuerdo de París]”. He mentioned transportation and construction, two areas where Germany can still go a long way in reducing emissions.

Negotiations to form a coalition between the Social Democratic Party (SPD), winner of the September elections with 25.7% of the votes, the Greens (14.8%) and the liberals of the FDP (11.5%) began formally on October 27 with 22 working groups with between four and six representatives from each party, although they had previously tested each other. According to the roadmap agreed by the three formations, each group would have to agree and draft the corresponding position papers before November 10. Afterwards, a negotiating team of a more political nature would take over to resolve the pending issues so that the coalition agreement could be signed by the end of November. The objective was to be able to appoint Olaf Scholz as chancellor during the week of December 6.

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Christian Lindner, the liberal ‘hawk’ that worries half of Europe

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