Olaf Scholz and Pedro Sánchez not only share ideology and a common diagnosis of the energy crisis that Europe is experiencing and the recipe for dealing with it, with social spending and protection policies for the working middle classes. The plans of Spain and Germany are quite similar, although in Berlin they are already preparing the third aid package and Spain is still developing the second. The leaders of the two main countries in the hands of the European Social Democrats also share some problems. Both are facing runaway inflation that is causing social unrest that keeps them both down in the polls. And they also govern in coalition with the usual problems of these agreements, although in the Spanish case it is with a group to the left of the PSOE and in the German case with greens and liberals.
The two Social Democrats, who met on Tuesday at the baroque palace in Meseberg, 70 kilometers north of Berlin, are facing a harsh winter. Even more so in Germany than in Spain, due to their dependence on Russian gas, in which they can leave part of their political capital or come out stronger, as they hope, if they manage to dominate the crisis and the enormous deployment of public funds has its effect. to protect the citizens they are launching. The two leaders, according to Spanish government sources, agreed on almost everything in their private meeting, but above all they agreed to work on joint proposals for the reform of the energy market and measures against the crisis at a European level.
Sánchez, who has been at the head of his government for much longer than Scholz – more than four years compared to eight months – is also suffering from the wear and tear caused by the crisis. The Spaniard has suffered a very tough electoral defeat for his party in Andalusia, a historic socialist granary. However, since that Andalusian fiasco, in La Moncloa they have launched a counteroffensive strategy that began in the debate on the state of the nation in July and continues now in September. It consists of the implementation of clearly progressive measures, such as taxes on large electricity companies or banks, which Sánchez defended at the press conference with Scholz this Tuesday before questions from the German media; a proximity strategy with dozens of events throughout the country; and also, a counterattack to the leader of the opposition, Alberto Núñez Feijóo, to try to demonstrate the shortcomings of the former Galician president, who has just made his leap into national politics. In this strategy, Sánchez has decided to force a face-to-face with Feijóo next week in the Senate to try to show the weaknesses that La Moncloa finds in the PP candidate, at this moment the favorite in the polls for elections for which it remains a long year and a half.
Meanwhile, the chancellor faces this start of the course sunk in the polls and with other members of his government disputing the leadership before public opinion, although at the press conference Scholz also expressed confidence that the citizens will know how to appreciate the effort he is making the semaphore coalition government to protect them from the consequences of the crisis due to the war in Ukraine.
Nearly two out of three Germans are unhappy with the performance of Scholz and the coalition he leads, which has faced successive crises since he took office last December. In a few months, the chancellor’s popularity has plummeted to 25% approval, compared to 46% last March, according to a recent Insa poll for the Bild newspaper. 62% of Germans are not happy with the management of their Executive (compared to 39% in March).
As has happened to Sánchez almost since he came to power, Scholz’s eight months at the helm of Europe’s leading economy have been anything but placid. The chancellor, who was Angela Merkel’s number two in the last great coalition that led conservative politics, crises are piling up. Added to the challenge of pulling the country out of the pandemic hangover was the invasion of Ukraine in February; then the energy crisis; runaway inflation —7.9% in August and which the Bundesbank expects to reach 10% in the fall—; and more recently, a historic drought that threatens river traffic and the economy.
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Facing a Germany on the verge of recession and on the verge of an increase in the gas bill that millions of people will have difficulty paying, Scholz is challenged on multiple fronts. His government is already preparing a third aid package that will lighten the burden on the lower and middle classes in an attempt to avoid the “hot autumn” of protests and discontent that many are predicting. Inflation has already made a big dent in the income of families. This Monday the statistical office, Destatis, published that the real wages of workers fell by 4.4% in the second quarter of the year.
The extraordinary two-day meeting (Tuesday and Wednesday) of the German Government in Meseberg should also serve to iron out rough edges between the government partners, who have exchanged little praiseworthy comments in recent days. The co-leader of the SPD, Lars Klingbeil, criticized the Minister of Economy and Climate, the green Robert Habeck, for the controversial rate on gas that will begin to be charged to industry and households from October. He called it a “bungler”. Habeck, until now the most valued politician, is facing criticism these days from the opposition and his partners for this rate designed to prevent the bankruptcy of energy companies that will increase the annual bill of half of the German homes, those that are heated with gas. The minister has already promised changes, but the criticism continues.
Meseberg’s withdrawal aims to counteract the increasingly conflictive image that the traffic light coalition offers in public, with its partners scolding each other in television interviews and festering nervousness. The government is under pressure to deliver, especially to agree on the third aid package for low- and middle-income people facing skyrocketing energy prices. So far Scholz has failed to reach an agreement because the finance minister, the liberal Christian Lindner, rejects the proposals coming from the ranks of the Social Democrats and Greens, and vice versa. The chancellor wants to leave Meseberg with the agreement under his arm and hopes to get “an aid package that is as personalized as possible, as efficient as possible, as specific as possible”.
The invasion of Ukraine has forced Germany to accelerate the search for alternatives to Russian gas. Reducing Moscow’s energy dependence in the medium and long term is Habeck’s main priority, who has had to make painful decisions for a member of the Greens, such as restarting coal-burning plants or traveling to countries of dubious reputation. democracy like Qatar to ask for help. All possible gas supply routes are welcome in Berlin, even if they are medium or long-term projects such as the MidCat gas pipeline defended by Spain.
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