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Wednesday, March 07, 2012

Will Merkel's fiscal treaty become a hostage of the FTT?

As we reported in yesterday's press summary, given that the recently signed 'fiscal treaty' will impact on the budgetary autonomy of the Bundestag, it will have to be ratified in both houses of the German Parliament by a two-thirds majority.

Here are some basic Bundestag mathematics: out of a total of 622 MPs, Merkel's coalition has 331 (195 from CDU + 43 from CSU + 93 from the FDP), far from the 415 MPs necessary for the two-thirds majority. So Merkel will definitely need to have some of the SPD's 146 MPs on side, and would also like to be able to count on the Greens' 68 MPs just in case. The remaining opposition party, Die Linke rejects the very premise of the treaty so all its 76 MPs are highly likely to vote against.

However, the SPD and Greens have already said their consent is conditional on a number of concessions from Merkel, most notably: a 'growth programme' to balance out the budgetary discipline element of the treaty and the introduction of a financial transaction tax (FTT - its not clear if they want it in just the eurozone or the EU as a whole, although the latter looks impossible). The SPD’s leader, Sigmar Gabriel told German radio that:
"Whether we vote in favour or not depends on whether Mrs. Merkel makes substantial offers to improve the fiscal pact. I can only urge Merkel to finally take care to ensure that her government ceases to oppose the taxation of financial markets.”
This has not gone down with the FDP, who have long been opposed to a FTT unless imposed across the whole EU as minimum. The party’s General-secretary Patrick Döring described the prospect of tying the ratification of the treaty to the introduction of an FTT as “inconceivable” and “irresponsible”, while parliamentary faction leader Rainer Brüderle criticised Gabriel, arguing that:
"This is no place for ideological battles for the purpose of winning future elections. The situation demands statesman-like responsibility from all concerned."
As things stand there is a classic stand-off over the issue, with significant risks for all parties concerned:

Giving in to demands for a FTT or weakening the budgetary discipline in the treaty further, would undermine Merkel's support within her own party and threatens to split the coalition - which could trigger early elections. That said, the threat of early elections may be just enough to keep the FDP in check given their dismal recent poll results. It would also cause huge problems for Merkel in Europe given that she has expended so much political capital on pushing this treaty through.

The SPD and the Greens are far from cohesive on all issues either and getting embroiled in a full debate on this issue could expose flaws in this fledgling partnership. Furthermore, the German public seem to be losing patience with politicians inability to tackle the eurozone crisis - further posturing on the issue for political gain could easily backfire.

In the end then consideration of these risks and the trend for orderly consensual politics in Germany means that the approval of treaty still looks highly likely, posturing aside. Nonetheless it looks as if Merkel will have to offer the opposition some concessions (e.g. the FDP have indicated they could stomach a watered-down FTT along the lines of the UK’s stamp duty). The extent of these could have a big impact on the power base of the current government and the outcome of the next election.

The vote itself is not scheduled until the 25th May, so there is 'plenty' of time for the party leaderships to hammer out a deal between themselves and present it to their MPs to be rubber-stamped...


Rollo said...

We used to have a chancellor / prime minister called Brown, who thought himself prudent and thought himself the 'iron chancellor'; but he gave way up on every problem and chucked money at it, hoping it would solve the problem and make him popular. It did neither. Now we have another iron chancellor called Merkel who talks tough and collapses, chucking money at every problem without solving the problems behind the problems. She will meet the same fate, in the dustbin of history.

Patrick Barron said...

It seems that printing euros by the bucket load is not enough for the euro elite; now they want to tax every financial transaction. The FDP must stand firm and oppose any financial tax. Do not let the camel get his nose under the tent--tomorrow you will have the whole camel.

Rollo said...

A change from the elephant in the room, studiuosly ignored by the Quisling party.