‘We can deploy this money sensibly for the future’: Germany pockets billions in surpluses

Germany's government again booked a double-digit billion-euro surplus in 2019, official data showed Monday, leaving unused "fiscal space" as neighbours and institutions urged Berlin to spend more.

'We can deploy this money sensibly for the future': Germany pockets billions in surpluses
Olaf Scholz at a press conference on Monday. Photo: DPA

At just over €357 billion, tax revenue outweighed spending by €13.5 billion last year, the federal Finance Ministry said.

“We had some luck, and also we did a good job managing” the money, finance minister Olaf Scholz told reporters in Berlin.

The ministry said that interest payments on Germany's remaining debts had turned out lower than forecast, while tax revenues climbed higher than predicted.

Scholz, of Chancellor Angela Merkel's centre-left junior coalition partners the SPD, has stuck to conservative predecessor Wolfgang Schäuble's “black zero” policy of no new debts.

But calls have grown louder over the past year for Germany to shake off its self-imposed spending shackles to rejuvenate crumbling infrastructure at home and – proponents hope – juice growth across the euro single currency bloc.

In both 2018 and 2019, Germany narrowly escaped “technical” recessions – two successive quarters of economic contraction.

READ ALSO: Should Germany boost spending to help revive Europe

Its export-oriented industries have suffered from US-led trade wars and uncertainty over geopolitical events like Brexit, as well as weaker global growth.

For 2020, the Bundesbank central bank forecasts growth of just 0.6 percent as the country keeps grinding through the weak patch.

Official data due to be released on Wednesday is expected to show similarly anaemic 2019 expansion.

Across the eurozone, “in view of the weakened economic outlook… governments with fiscal space should be ready to act in an effective and timely manner,” European Central Bank chief Christine Lagarde urged last month, echoing predecessor Mario Draghi.

Under Scholz, Germany has trumpeted increased investment, and argued that administrative and planning bottlenecks, rather than miserliness by politicians, are holding up spending boosts.

The Finance Ministry pointed Monday to a “record level” of federal investment spending, at €38.1 billion.

It added that 2019's surplus would allow investments to be “significantly increased” in the coming years.

“We can deploy this money sensibly for the future,” Scholz said.

But parliamentary finance committee member Hans Michelbach, a member of Merkel's conservative CSU allies, urged tax cuts instead.

“The latest budget surpluses contradict the finance minister's claim that there is no room to ease the burden on citizens,” Michelbach said.

READ ALSO: 'Germany will do what's needed without new debts'

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Scholz names Germany’s first gender-equal cabinet

Olaf Scholz, due to be elected this week to succeed Angela Merkel as German chancellor, on Monday named the country's first gender-balanced cabinet, with women taking key security portfolios.

Incoming Chancellor Olaf Scholz with his SPD team of ministers for the next coalition government.
Incoming Chancellor Olaf Scholz with his SPD team of ministers for the next coalition government. Photo: picture alliance/dpa | Michael Kappeler

Scholz, a Social Democrat (SPD), unveiled his party’s line-up for the first government led by the centre-left in 16 years, with outspoken pandemic expert Karl Lauterbach tapped as Health Minister.

READ MORE: Karl Lauterbach to become Germany’s next Health Minister

“Equality is important to me and that is why of 16 ministers there will be eight men and eight women,” said Scholz, who describes himself as a “feminist”.

After the Greens, partners in the incoming coalition government, named their co-leader Annalena Baerbock as foreign minister, the SPD’s Christine Lambrecht, until now justice minister, will take on the defence brief.

“All foreign missions will continually be under review,” Lambrecht told reporters following the NATO debacle in Afghanistan, calling for every operation to have a “clear exit strategy”.

Regional MP Nancy Faeser will become Germany’s first woman Interior Minister, saying her top priority would be tackling the country’s “biggest threat: right-wing extremism” after a series of deadly far-right attacks.

Lauterbach, a prominent but divisive figure who has consistently called for tougher measures to stop the spread of coronavirus, will be the government’s
point-man to fight the pandemic.

Scholz said he was certain “most Germans” wanted Lauterbach in the job.

“Care givers and doctors deserve to see (healthcare) as a top priority in German policy,” Scholz said, as many hospitals report their intensive care units are at the breaking point with a surge in Covid patients.

Scholz’s SPD won the September 26th general election and last month sealed a deal to form a coalition with the ecologist Greens and the business-friendly Free Democrats.

He is expected to be formally elected by parliament on Wednesday.

Merkel is retiring from politics after 16 years at the helm of Europe’s top economy.