Germans agree on fiscal pact vote this month

The German government and opposition agreed on Thursday that parliament would vote on ratifying the EU fiscal pact and the bloc's new bailout fund on June 29, the ruling parties said.

Germans agree on fiscal pact vote this month
Photo: DPA

The deal between Chancellor Angela Merkel’s centre-right coalition and the centre-left opposition indicated that the eurozone’s top economy would manage timely approval of tools seen as key to fighting the raging debt crisis.

“The just-agreed timetable ensures that the European Stability Mechanism, together with the fiscal pact, can come into force on time,” the head of Merkel’s Christian Union parliamentary group, Volker Kauder, said.

“We are now on track for Germany to live up to its responsibilities in Europe,” he added in a statement.

His counterpart with the pro-business Free Democrats, Rainer Brüderle, agreed the deal sent the right message.

“It is important that we move to assure European stability as soon as possible,” he said in a separate statement. “If the opposition sees that the same way, we welcome it.”

Parliament must pass the draft laws on the fiscal treaty, a new European budgetary rule book, with a two-thirds majority.

However its quick passage, which the government aimed to see completed by the start of the summer recess on July 6, had been thrown into question by squabbling between the ruling parties and the opposition.

A spokesman for the parliamentary group of the main opposition party, the Social Democrats (SPD), said the timetable did not imply an agreement on all the contentious points and that negotiations would continue.

The new roadmap would see the Bundestag lower house vote at 5 pm June 29, the spokesman for the Christian Union parliamentary group, Ulrich Scharlack, said, confirming earlier comments from party sources.

The draft laws would then move to a vote in the Bundesrat upper house, where Germany’s powerful 16 regional states are represented, Scharlack said.

This would come after the scheduled end of a pivotal June 28 and 29 European Union summit on the eurozone crisis.

Driven through by Merkel and signed by 25 of the European Union’s 27 member states, the fiscal pact aims to enforce stricter budgetary rules in the bloc and prevent the high public deficits that touched off the eurozone turmoil.

In addition to SPD deputies, members of the ecologist Green party have indicated they will support the fiscal pact but are demanding concessions in exchange.

They would like to see pledges that Berlin will push for a disputed EU-wide tax on financial transactions and would use the revenues from the levy to fund more growth-boosting measures.

SPD chief Sigmar Gabriel said Merkel recognised the need to commit to efforts to bolster growth and embraced the aim of taxing financial transactions.

But on the issue of growth in particular, he said that “there are no concrete proposals.”

Gabriel and two other leading Social Democrats met French President Francois Hollande in Paris late Wednesday to discuss ways to get Europe out of the debt turmoil.

Hollande has positioned himself as an advocate of growth rather than German-led austerity as the way out of Europe’s debt crisis.

Designed as a successor to the EU’s current bailout fund, the European Stability Mechanism (ESM) has core funds of €500 billion to help struggling eurozone countries deal with the debt crisis.

Analysts said Germany’s approval of the ESM by the end of the month would help it come into effect as planned on July 1.

“So far, only France, the Netherlands and Slovakia have approved. However, if cleared in Germany in time, the ESM is unlikely to be delayed further,” Christian Schulz of Berenberg Bank said.

“Spain or Italy have every interest in approving it for lack of an alternative.”


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EXPLAINED: Berlin’s latest Covid rules

In response to rapidly rising Covid-19 infection rates, the Berlin Senate has introduced stricter rules, which came into force on Saturday, November 27th. Here's what you need to know.

A sign in front of a waxing studio in Berlin indicates the rule of the 2G system
A sign in front of a waxing studio indicates the rule of the 2G system with access only for fully vaccinated people and those who can show proof of recovery from Covid-19 as restrictions tighten in Berlin. STEFANIE LOOS / AFP

The Senate agreed on the tougher restrictions on Tuesday, November 23rd with the goal of reducing contacts and mobility, according to State Secretary of Health Martin Matz (SPD).

He explained after the meeting that these measures should slow the increase in Covid-19 infection rates, which was important as “the situation had, unfortunately, deteriorated over the past weeks”, according to media reports.

READ ALSO: Tougher Covid measures needed to stop 100,000 more deaths, warns top German virologist

Essentially, the new rules exclude from much of public life anyone who cannot show proof of vaccination or recovery from Covid-19. You’ll find more details of how different sectors are affected below.

If you haven’t been vaccinated or recovered (2G – geimpft (vaccinated) or genesen (recovered)) from Covid-19, then you can only go into shops for essential supplies, i.e. food shopping in supermarkets or to drugstores and pharmacies.

Many – but not all – of the rules for shopping are the same as those passed in the neighbouring state of Brandenburg in order to avoid promoting ‘shopping tourism’ with different restrictions in different states.

2G applies here, too, as well as the requirement to wear a mask with most places now no longer accepting a negative test for entry. Only minors are exempt from this requirement.

Sport, culture, clubs
Indoor sports halls will off-limits to anyone who hasn’t  been vaccinated or can’t show proof of recovery from Covid-19. 2G is also in force for cultural events, such as plays and concerts, where there’s also a requirement to wear a mask. 

In places where mask-wearing isn’t possible, such as dance clubs, then a negative test and social distancing are required (capacity is capped at 50 percent of the maximum).

Restaurants, bars, pubs (indoors)
You have to wear a mask in all of these places when you come in, leave or move around. You can only take your mask off while you’re sat down. 2G rules also apply here.

Hotels and other types of accommodation 
Restrictions are tougher here, too, with 2G now in force. This means that unvaccinated people can no longer get a room, even if they have a negative test.

For close-contact services, such as hairdressers and beauticians, it’s up to the service providers themselves to decide whether they require customers to wear masks or a negative test.

Football matches and other large-scale events
Rules have changed here, too. From December 1st, capacity will be limited to 5,000 people plus 50 percent of the total potential stadium or arena capacity. And only those who’ve been vaccinated or have recovered from Covid-19 will be allowed in. Masks are also compulsory.

For the Olympic Stadium, this means capacity will be capped at 42,000 spectators and 16,000 for the Alte Försterei stadium. 

3G rules – ie vaccinated, recovered or a negative test – still apply on the U-Bahn, S-Bahn, trams and buses in Berlin. It was not possible to tighten restrictions, Matz said, as the regulations were issued at national level.

According to the German Act on the Prevention and Control of Infectious Diseases, people have to wear a surgical mask or an FFP2 mask  on public transport.

Christmas markets
The Senate currently has no plans to cancel the capital’s Christmas markets, some of which have been open since Monday. 

According to Matz, 2G rules apply and wearing a mask is compulsory.

Schools and day-care
Pupils will still have to take Covid tests three times a week and, in classes where there are at least two children who test positive in the rapid antigen tests, then tests should be carried out daily for a week.  

Unlike in Brandenburg, there are currently no plans to move away from face-to-face teaching. The child-friendly ‘lollipop’ Covid tests will be made compulsory in day-care centres and parents will be required to confirm that the tests have been carried out. Day-care staff have to document the results.

What about vaccination centres?
Berlin wants to expand these and set up new ones, according to Matz. A new vaccination centre should open in the Ring centre at the end of the week and 50 soldiers from the German army have been helping at the vaccination centre at the Exhibition Centre each day since last week.

The capacity in the new vaccination centre in the Lindencenter in Lichtenberg is expected to be doubled. There are also additional vaccination appointments so that people can get their jabs more quickly. Currently, all appointments are fully booked well into the new year.