The Guardian view on strikes and protests in Germany: this is no time for austerity

Olaf Scholz needs a new economic approach to heal divisions in a country renowned for its consensual politics

Jan 8,2024

For several decades, German politics and society have been shaped by two fundamental features – both of which have contributed to an enviable aura of stability. An electoral system embracing proportional representation has reflected and fostered a wider culture of social compromise and pragmatism, including “grand coalition” governments of left and right that would be unthinkable elsewhere. With regard to economic policy, an aversion to debt rooted in dark historical experience has placed a premium on balancing the books – embodied since 2009 in the “debt brake”, a constitutional limit on budget deficits.

In new and challenging times, however, fiscal rules may need revising if treasured consensual traditions are to continue to thrive. Amid recession and renewed austerity, a highly unusual wave of strikes and demonstrations taking place this week point to a country which is becoming disturbingly polarised.

Returning from holiday last week, the Green vice-chancellor, Robert Habeck, was ambushed by farmers over moves to slash agricultural subsidies in the new year. On Monday, convoys of tractors were deployed to bring central Berlin to a halt, at the beginning of eight days of planned protests across the country. Elsewhere, railway workers are planning imminent strike action over pay and conditions, doctors intend to close surgeries unless the health system is given more state support and hauliers furious over higher road tolls are set to mount blockades.

The catalyst for this unrest was a recent ruling by the German constitutional court, which stopped the government diverting emergency credit authorised during the pandemic to a new climate and transformation fund. This coincided with the reintroduction of the debt brake which had been suspended during the crises of the past three years.

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