Grand Coalition quarrels continue over dissent on ‘basic pension’

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It’s half time for the Grand Coalition, and two years into this not-so-easy 4-year term, its achievements so far are neither overwhelming nor underwhelming. Speculations about a premature end of the coalition are have re-ignited in the light of the controversy over the basic pension.

For months now, the SPD and the Union have been arguing over the introduction of the ‘basic mininum pension‘, a central item of the coalition agreement. However, an agreement is still out of sight. To the contrary, there seems to be no solution to the current deadlock: after a meeting of party leaders, the head of the CDU/CSU Bundestag group, Ralph Brinkhaus, has made it clear that he rejects a basic pension which does not include a means test.

The Union’s parliamentary group leader has ruled out a solution without a means test in the government coalition’s dispute over the basic pension. “This will not work with us,” the CDU politician told the newspaper “Welt”. “We do not want to distribute taxpayers’ money to people who do not need the support at all.”

Brinkhaus told the newspaper that his group was not prepared to “throw out the principles of the pension system and the basic social security system”. According to him, “people don’t understand when some people get extra money from the state when they don’t need it.”

The Hamburg CDU politician Christoph Ploß told the newspapers of Funke Mediengruppe that he expected CDU leader Annegret Kramp-Karrenbauer “to make it clear to the SPD that the CDU will not accept a deviation from the coalition agreement”. He stressed that the agreement on the basic pension provided for in the coalition agreement was already a compromise.

Top-level meeting surprisingly postponed

Felix Schreiner, member of the CDU in Baden-Württemberg, described a solution in the basic pension without mean testing as a “termination of the intergenerational contract”. “It cannot be that in the end those who do not need it and have other incomes profit”, said the 33-year-old.

The SPD and CDU/CSU have been arguing for months about how to structure the basic pension. There is agreement that all those who have contributed for at least 35 years will receive a pension ten percent above the minimum benefits level. This was also agreed in the coalition agreement. Disagreement could not be resolved over who should be eligible for this ‘premium’. The CDU/CSU insist on a means test as a tool to determine such eligibility, which was also agreed upon in the coalition agreement, whereas the SPD now rejects this.

A summit meeting was planned for Monday evening, which was supposed bring about a solution. This summit meeting, however, was surprisingly postponed on Sunday. It will now take place on November 10. Both sides justified the postponement with the fact that there was still a need for further clarification.

As a line of compromise, a solution had emerged on the weekend according to which the payment of the basic pension would be made dependent on the income of the pensioners and not on a means test in which the pensioners’ entire assets would be included. However, the CDU/CSU group remains opposed to it.

The divisive potential of the ongoing quarrel over the basic pension is not to be underestimated, as it’s a sign of the current less-than-stable condition of the Grand Coalition and its potential collapse in the near future. Forces in the SPD seem increasingly willing to push for a premature end of the coalition, which is largely viewed as harmful to the party from within, and CDU/CSU seem increasingly unwilling to compromise their positions to please their coalition partner in order to stay in power. It thus seems plausible that the basic pension issue might be seen as a welcome opportunity to break up this unholy alliance.

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