Easy politics, bad policies
By indulging her Social Democratic coalition partners, Angela Merkel risks turning Germany in the wrong direction
ANGELA MERKEL, Germany's chancellor, is popular because Germans see her as a steady hand. In her first term, between 2005 and 2009, she coped with financial turmoil emanating from America. In her second, from 2009 to 2013, she kept the euro crisis at bay. In her third term, now in its fifth month, she is Europe's leader in confronting Russia over Ukraine.
At home, however, she is less sure. She could be ambitious. As in her first term, she is in a “grand coalition” of the two biggest groups in parliament: her own Christian Democratic Union (CDU) with its Bavarian sister party on the centre-right, and the Social Democratic Party (SPD) on the centre-left. The opposition has just one-fifth of the seats, and consists of two parties with little credibility. The smaller is the Greens, still squabbling after their defeat in September's election. The larger is the ex-communist Left Party. Its parliamentary leader, Gregor Gysi, is easily the Bundestag's most entertaining and witty speaker, but that is largely because he is unburdened by any responsibility.
During her previous grand coalition Mrs Merkel made one big domestic reform. In Europe's fastest-ageing country, she raised the retirement age from 65 to 67. Sadly, there is less method in the seeming madness of the present coalition's opening salvo of policies—what Germans are calling Ref?rmchen, or “reformlets”. One of these again affects pensions, but in the opposite direction, lowering the retirement age for certain workers to 63, and perhaps even to 61 if years in unemployment are counted. Economists and employers are screaming foul. So are 50 of the 311 parliamentarians from Mrs Merkel's own centre-right camp, who fear the economy will suffer.
Another Ref?rmchen is to introduce a national minimum wage for the first time, of 8.50 ($11.72). This will affect about 14% of workers nationwide and 20% in the less productive former East Germany, according to a study by three economists at universities in Magdeburg, Berlin and Dresden. When Britain introduced a minimum wage in 1999, it affected only 5% of workers. Germany's wage floor would barely increase incomes of poor workers, because they would lose welfare top-ups, the study says. But it could mean that as many as 900,000 lose their jobs. And it could stop young people (over 18 but under 21) getting good training and permanent jobs at all.
In energy, Germany is trying to switch from nuclear and fossil-fuel sources to sun, wind and biomass. But it is not going well. Electricity prices are going up; German companies are losing ground to foreign rivals; and carbon emissions are rising, not falling. Deep reform is needed to the huge and inflexible subsidies for renewables, which will cost 24 billion this year. Instead, the cabinet is making another Ref?rmchen, tweaking the system in ways that consumers and firms will not notice.
从能源方面看，德国正努力从核能和化石能源转向太阳能、风能和生物能。但是这条路走得并不顺利。电力价格持续增长，德国的公司也正日渐落后于国外的竞争对手 ，并且碳的排放量只增不减。对可再生能源的定期大量补贴需要深化改革，这在今年将花费240亿。相反地 ，内阁正谋划另一项迷你改革，以消费者和企业都不会关注的方式来调整系统。
The government has also intervened messily in the property market, where rents are rising fast in some cities. It will cap increases in rent when re-letting flats to at most 10% of the rental average in the relevant district. The rules are still vague. But that hasn't stopped landlords from panicking and raising rents as high as they can in anticipation. Investors who were planning to build new housing are thinking again.
A rare positive change concerns dual-citizenship laws, which Germany will liberalise. Currently, children of foreign parents (those from outside the European Union) who were born in Germany have to choose between their passports before their 23rd birthday. Germany's large Turkish population is especially affected. In future such people may keep both passports, so long as they can show that they “grew up” (for at least eight years) in Germany. This still involves bureaucratic hassles. But it is at least a step forward.
These Ref?rmchen have two things in common. First, polls suggest they are popular. Second, they are part of the SPD's wish list and are driven mainly by its ministers. The pension changes and minimum wage are being pushed by Andrea Nahles, the labour minister; renewables reform comes under Sigmar Gabriel, the energy and economy minister; rent caps and dual citizenship fall to Heiko Maas, the justice minister (although he co-ordinates with the Christian Democratic interior minister, Thomas de Maizière.)
这些“迷你改革”有两个共同点。第一，民意检测表明这些是深得人心的。第二，这些都是SPD愿望清单的一部分并且主要由其部长们发动。养老金的改革和最低工资政策是由安德蕾亚·纳勒斯——联邦劳工及社会事务部部长负责；可再生能源改革是能源与经济部长西马格·加布里尔负责；租金上限和双重国籍事项则由司法部长海科·马斯负责（尽管他与基民党内政部长Thomas de Maizière协调处理）。
This seems odd. The SPD ought to be the weaker partner in the coalition, having won only 25.7% of the vote in September against 41.5% for the centre-right. But the SPD extracted some big concessions as a price for entering the coalition, in hopes of showing the voters that they had made their mark. That strategy could backfire. The SPD will soon run out of pet projects. By 2017 voters may have forgotten their initial activity; or the Ref?rmchen will prove damaging and help the CDU instead.
But the SPD is not the only one running risks. The CDU, Germany's largest party, no longer stands for anything recognisable. Its longest-serving minister, Wolfgang Sch?uble at finance, boasts that he will in 2015 propose the first balanced budget in 45 years. But that achievement owes much both to reforms that Germany made many years ago and to low interest rates.
但是SPD（社民党）不是唯一一个行进在危机中的党派。德国最大的政党基民盟（CDU），不再代表任何人。它的在职时间最长的部长Wolfgang Sch?uble 在金融方面吹嘘说，他将在2015年提出45年来首个预算平衡。但是那些成就很大程度上归功于德国早先的改革和低利率的施行。
Aart De Geus of the Bertelsmann Stiftung, a think-tank, worries that reversing previous reforms and adopting growth-unfriendly new ones may mean that Germany squanders much of its past progress. Over ten years have passed since Gerhard Schr?der's Agenda 2010 reforms helped transform a country beset by high unemployment into today's powerful economy. Now Germany is near the bottom of the league for reform. For a high-cost country with gloomy demographic prospects, that is deeply worrying.
贝塔斯曼基金会的Aart De Geus（一个智囊团），担忧改变先前的改革并且采取新的增长不友好型的方式可能意味着德国在挥霍着过去的进步。十多年以来，由于Gerhard Schr?der's Agenda在2010年的改革，以高失业率帮助一个身处困境的国家摇身一变成如今的经济强国。如今的德国身处改革联盟的最底部。对于一个人口前景黯淡的高成本国家，改革更是让人忧心忡忡。译者：张娣 校对：王红兵