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One year on: Has Germany's government kept its promises?

Imogen Goodman
Imogen Goodman - [email protected]
One year on: Has Germany's government kept its promises?
Party leaders from the newly formed traffic-light coalition present their coalition pact in Berlin in November 2021. Photo: picture alliance/dpa | Kay Nietfeld

Dual nationality, a Green revolution, unprecedented house-building - the promises made by Germany's traffic light coalition last year were endless. One year on, we look at how many they've been able to keep.


On December 8th 2021, Olaf Scholz (SPD) was officially sworn in as Chancellor of Germany, marking the end of Angela Merkel's 16 years in office - and the opening chapter for the incoming traffic light coalition.

Together with the Greens and the liberal Free Democrats (FDP), the centre-left leaning Social Democrats had set out an ambitious programme for all areas of public life. It included pledges to overhaul the welfare system, transform Germany's energy and transport sector, make affordable housing more widely available, and create a much friendlier immigration and nationality law.

READ ALSO: KEY POINTS: Germany’s next government unveils coalition pact

So, one year on, has the coalition lived up to its promises? Or have the endless crises bombarding the government ultimately steered it wildly off-course?

Here's a look at some of the key pledges made by the government - and whether it has stayed true to its word.


Social welfare and wages

One of the SPD's flagship pledges - the introduction the €12 minimum wage - came into force in October this year, marking a major success for the centre-left party. The promise was plastered all over Scholz's campaign posters during the election campaign and felt timely at a moment when the cost of living was soaring. 

However, on another key pledge - the reform of unemployment benefits - the victory was rather more bittersweet. Scholz and SPD Labour Minister Hubertus Heil had initially envisioned a complete revamp of the current Hartz IV system that would see sanctions replaced with incentives and allow new claimants to keep much more their savings - and their current living quarters - intact. 

Instead, a blockade by the CDU and CSU parties in the Bundesrat meant that the coalition had to go back to the negotiating table and water down its plans significantly. A six-month grace period in which claimants wouldn't be subject to sanctions was scrapped entirely, and there were also reductions in the amount of savings claimants are allowed to keep and how long they're allowed to keep them. However, the SPD still claimed a victory for hiking the monthly allowance by €50 and for plans to encourage long-term claimants to undergo vocational training.

And whatever happened to the 'basic child allowance', a new type of child support that will see existing social benefits for children all rolled into one? Well, that's apparently on its way - but it's likely parents won't see their first payout until early 2025. In the meantime, the government has hiked existing child benefit payments for the first three children. 

READ ALSO: Germany poised to increase child benefit to €250 ‘from next year’

Olaf Scholz, Christian Lindner and Robert Habeck

Olaf Scholz, Christian Lindner and Robert Habeck present the traffic light's coalition agreement in Berlin. Photo: picture alliance/dpa | Michael Kappeler


The target sounded impressive: 400,000 new homes per year, including 100,000 affordable homes. But have these new homes actually materialised? Unfortunately not.

According to the latest estimates from the Housing Industry Association, around 250,000 new homes will be finished by the end of the year - and it's unclear how many of these will have subsidised rents for lower income households. In Hamburg, for example, only 20 affordable homes have been built. 

With building costs exploding this year, affordability has been a major concern, and Germany continues to struggle with severe labour shortages. All of which means that, in 2023 and 2024, the coalition could succeed in building just half of what it set out to: 200,000 new homes per year.


However, Housing Minister Klara Geywitz is attempting to speed things up with no fewer than 187 new measures, including digitalised approval procedures and building using prefabricated elements. 


Millions of e-cars, a new generation of sleeper trains, and a massive migration from cars to public transport. These were just some of the policies set out in the traffic-light coalition's agenda. So, how have they been doing?

Well, on e-cars at least, they look set to fall short of their targets. Instead of 15 million e-cars on the road by 2030, the consultancy firm PwC estimates that there will be just under 11 million. 

An S-Bahn train arrives at Berlin-Grünau station in the morning.

An S-Bahn train arrives at Berlin-Grünau station in the morning. Photo: picture alliance/dpa | Christoph Soeder

On the public transport front, the government was (quite literally) railroaded by the success of the €9 ticket last summer, and has now pledged to introduce a €49 'Deutschlandticket' by the middle of next year. That was never part of the original plan, but it has meant that the government has delivered on a key manifesto pledge: to pour billions more into local transport budgets.

However, whether this will be spent on infrastructure and improvements as intended - or on simply subsidising the ticket price - remains to be seen. 

READ ALSO: E-cars and sleeper trains: How Germany’s new government will reform transport


Climate protection 

With the Greens as the second-largest party in the coalition, meeting climate targets was a major goal for the new government. But the war in Ukraine - and resulting energy crisis - has meant that this priority has largely been put on the backburner. 

LNG terminals have been built at breakneck speed, nuclear power plants have been kept in service, and the target of closing coal plants by 2030 also hangs in the balance. It's probably unsurprising, then, that the government's own expert advisors believe that Germany is highly unlikely to meet its emission goals over the next eight years. 


That said, there has been some progress on expanding renewables. In the past, federal states have been able to set incredibly tough conditions for the approval of new windfarms. The government has recently been reshaping these rules to force states to allow a rapid rollout of wind technology across the country.   

Trans and abortion rights

At the moment, people who wish to change their official gender in Germany face a long and arduous process involving numerous psychological assessments and thousands of euros in costs. The traffic-light coalition pledged to replace this with a simple process at the registry office by the end of 2022.

Like many of the coalition's projects, the deadline for this has now been pushed back - and it's unclear exactly when the so-called Self-Determination Act will come into force. A draft of the new law does, however, exist.


On abortion rights, the coalition promised to remove the highly controversial paragraph 219a, a clause of the abortion law that dates back to the Nazi era. The paragraph, which banned doctors from "advertising" abortions and in many cases even offering consultations on them, was repealed in June this year.

Legalising cannabis

A key pledge of the liberal FDP, legalising cannabis, is certainly still on the agenda. But anyone hoping for a legal toke of ganja to see in the new year may be disappointed.

Back in October, the cabinet agreed on plans to allow the sale of cannabis in licensed shops and pharmacies in the coming years. 

Man smoking cannabis

A man smokes at the 'Global Marijuana March 2022' at Berlin's Brandenburg Gate. Photo: picture alliance/dpa | Christoph Soeder

The first step will see cannabis - and its psychoactive ingredient tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) - no longer classed as a narcotic. This will pave the way for a regulated market and enable people to purchase and carry up to 30g of the substance, as well as growing their own plants at home. 

However, the proposals still need to be run by the European Commission to see if they comply with EU law. If they don't, the government may have to do a major rethink of their plans, and if they do, legal "Bubatz" (weed) could be on sale in Germany in 2024. 

READ ALSO: Germany agrees on plan to ‘legalise recreational cannabis’

Migration and citizenship 

When the parties revealed in their coalition pact that they were planning to "permit the holding of multiple nationalities", most internationals in Germany were over the moon. Since then, they've been waiting on tenterhooks to find out when the new citizenship law will come into force, allowing both speedier naturalisation and dual nationality. 

Now, the wait is almost over, with MPs working on the bill saying they're hoping to get it passed in parliament by the middle of next year. 


On immigration more broadly, there are also big changes afoot. Arguably the most significant of these is the plan to introduce a new points-based system that allows qualified or highly educated migrants to come to Germany for a year in order to find a job. This - among other immigration reforms - was agreed by the cabinet at the end of November, and a draft law should be published in the first quarter of next year. 


What else has the coalition been up to?

It goes without saying that Russia's invasion of Ukraine - and the resulting energy crisis - have occupied much of the coalition's time and energy this year.

Not only has the government overhauled its military spending and decades of precedent in its decision to send weapons to Ukraine, but it has also had to tackle the spiralling cost of living at home. In three separate energy relief packages, the government set out a plethora of measures aimed at supporting struggling households. These included the popular €9 ticket, lump sums for employees, benefit recipients, students and pensioners, and a never-ending roster of tax-relief measures.

An electronic thermostat

An electronic thermostat displays the "Off" sign. Photo: picture alliance/dpa | Friso Gentsch

Most recently, the government has set its sights on a gas and electricity price cap that should come into force next year. It has also promised to cover December's gas bill for households and small businesses. 

At the same time, the country has been racing to drastically cut its dependence on Russian fossil fuels. When Scholz declared that the coalition had passed 100 bills in its first year in office, many of these came from the Economics and Climate Protection Ministry, which is responsible for managing the country's energy needs.

In fact, back in September, Economics Minister Robert Habeck (Greens) revealed that his civil servants had been suffering from burnout due to the sheer amount of work landing in their in-trays. He said the ministry had passed 20 laws and 28 ordinances in the first nine months since the government had taken office - as many as the previous minister passed in the entire legislative period. 



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