The past ten years have already spoiled Germany's political mores a bit. These were golden economic years, interest rates were low, and taxes flowed into the accounts of finance ministers. Black zero or not, there was always enough money. The federal governments did not use it for investments in education or new railways, not even properly for the rehabilitation of old motorway bridges, but instead took the billions for one new social program after another. The basic pension was introduced, the mother's pension expanded, the parental allowance expanded and the costs almost doubled – so it went on. Within just ten years, the federal government pays around 50 billion euros more annually for social welfare, social spending has grown much faster than the rest of the federal budget – although the Germans themselves have earned more and more during this time.
Today, almost everyone from voters to ministers seems to think: money is there.
On Friday, Finance Minister Christian Lindner postponed the discussion of the next federal budget in the cabinet because he has not yet got the spending wishes of his colleagues under control. This can still be understood as a normal part of the political game. Other things are more problematic – especially what is currently happening around the abolition of fossil-fueled heating systems.
There is not even an estimate of the costs
There is no question that Germany wants to be climate-neutral by 2045 at the latest, earlier would be better. Something has to happen to the heaters soon. After all, some boilers run for 20 years, and heat generation is one of Germany's major CO2 emitters. This will be expensive, and poor households in particular must not be left alone with the costs.
On the other hand, one or the other has already happened. In a few years, an emission cap for transport and heating will be introduced in Germany and the EU, which will then no longer be exceeded. For every litre of oil and for each cubic metre of gas, the supplier must then have a permit, which can be traded in the form of certificates. The cap will continue to be lowered, the prices for emission permits will continue to rise – until one after the other voluntarily replaces its fossil fuel heating system. In this way, the emission cap is reached. In the meantime, fossil fuel heating is becoming more expensive, and the German government agreed last year on a detailed regulation on how the additional costs are distributed to tenants and landlords in a socially acceptable manner.
Now Economics Minister Habeck is adding to this plan a ban on new fossil fuel heating systems, which will make the path to climate neutrality more expensive. One can debate whether the emissions cap comes too late, is not sufficient or is not credible – but better coordination of the new rules with the existing ones would have been helpful and would probably have significantly reduced costs. Instead, Habeck nonchalantly calls for billions for social compensation. "If money is still missing, it must not fail." Habeck did not even bother to estimate the costs of his bill in time – his draft was sent to the other ministries without the usual cost information.
Such an approach endangers the energy transition. Replacing the heaters is one of the most difficult passages on the way to climate neutrality – and because Habeck doesn't think about money, he may soon be on his own. At least in this difficult place, responsible politics should give some thought to the costs. She would have to consider whether the same goals could not be achieved more cheaply by changing a few details or perhaps even taking a completely different path to the same goal. A policy that has learned to ignore money over the past decade is driving up costs excessively. And increases resistance to a necessary project.