The coalition treaty from a fiscal point of view
After weeks of negotiations the coalition finally agreed on the conditions for their political work. Not surprisingly, the coalition agreement is complex and intransparent – with a multitude of single measures far away from a precise definition. Quantifying the programme and estimating resulting cash flows is currently difficult; official calculations are – if at all – only partly available. Anyhow, the contract will form the basis for economic policy during the next four years; therefore its evaluation by now is indispensable. The thin red line of the agreement – not astonishingly when considering the precarious financial situation of the public sector – is consolidation. However, more than 80% of the consolidation volume results from the revenue side. Though one third of this is due to the cutback of tax exemptions, the lion’s share comes from raising tax rates, mainly the VAT standard rate. In contrast, cutting back public expenditure is minor and the agreement clearly comes short of the Koch/Steinbrück proposal; even new tax reliefs are created. The consolidation is almost completely borne by private households. Enterprises as a whole are barely hit. However, they have to wait until 2008 for a reform of company taxation – one of the most pressing problems in this legislative period. To reduce the companies tax burden until the reform starts the conditions for tax depreciation are temporarily relaxed. Anyway, from an international point of view the statutory tax rate is an important signal to enterprises deciding where to invest. Lowering effective tax rates by changing depreciation conditions is intransparent and, thus, will be less effective. Furthermore savings within the public sector are planned to accomplish consolidation; 10 billion Euro should result from efficiency gains and reduced expenditure. Consolidation measures mainly focus on the budget of the federal government. However, Länder and communities will participate in the additional tax revenues. In contrast, social securities will loose – and therefore also the share of employment that is subject to social insurance contribution. Particularly the unemployment insurance will be burdened by the decrease of its premium rate. Besides, the federal government will reduce its grants to the pension funds and most notably the health system. The contract is dominated by fiscal constraints. Cyclical requirements are considered only cursory and pressing structural reforms are put off. The reforms of company’s taxation, of fiscal federalism, of the health system as well as a proceeding reform of the labour market are only proposed. How and when measures in these fields are realised will determine whether fiscal policy can set a new course.