Germany: Berlin coalition government adopts drastic austerity budget

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School in Berlin – the Max Planck gymnasium in the Berlin-Mitte district (Image: Jörg Zägel/CC BY-SA 3.0/wikimedia-commons)

The government in Berlin passed its 2022 and 2023 budgets last week, codifying massive austerity measures. The coalition of Social Democrats (SPD), Greens and the Left Party cuts the budget drastically from just over 40 billion euros to 36.4 billion this year and 35.7 billion the following year. These budget cuts must be financed in particular by cutting the budget of the already decrepit school system.

Berlin schools felt the first consequences of the cut last week: their annual provision fund will be reduced to 3,000 euros. Previously, the disposal fund varied from 15,000 to 30,000 euros per school, depending on the number of pupils. These funds are now reduced by up to 90%.

When the Association of German School Principals learned of the impending budget cuts, it appealed to the Mayor of Berlin, the Senator for Education (Bildungssenatorin) as well as the Education Committee of the House of Representatives , which, however, fell on deaf ears.

Ronald Rahmig, chairman of the Association of School Principals for Vocational Education Berlin (BBB), spoke of a “massive reduction in schools’ ‘training opportunities'”. Previously, the money was used to fund school-based support programs, which will now effectively be scrapped. According to Karina Jehniche, acting president of the Berlin Association of School Principals, the cuts are “disastrous for schools”.

Sven Zimmerschied, director of the Friedensburg school in the district of Charlottenburg, explained the consequences of the cuts in the Tagesspiegel: “Our school now lacks more than 20,000 euros which could have been used in a relatively flexible way.” For example, school lecturers were paid for study days, minor renovations were paid for directly, and simple furniture was purchased by the school. “Now all this is impossible,” criticized the principal.

“We will have to reduce IT support, maintenance, study days and continuing education,” Gunilla Neukirchen of the Beethoven Gymnasium in the Lankwitz district told the same newspaper. She added that this would lead to “significant restrictions in the pedagogical work of schools at a time when the consequences of the pandemic have to be faced”.

Even the Liberal Democratic Party (FDP), which vehemently supported the budget cuts, felt compelled to criticize the scale of the cuts. Paul Fresdorf, education policy spokesman for the FDP faction in the House of Representatives, called the cuts an outrage. “For years Berlin has been in the bottom places according to the education monitor and just won’t budge from that position, and now that has to be set in stone.”

Last year, the “Red-Red-Green” coalition (SPD, Left Party and Green Party) imposed an austerity budget on schools. Then-senator for education Sandra Scheeres (SPD) declared a budget freeze from mid-October until the end of last year. This meant that schools were not allowed to spend their desperately needed funds amid the pandemic.

Cuts to the annual Trust Fund are just the beginning of even bigger budget cuts. Staff cuts are on the table, since 80% of education budget spending is made up of staff costs.

Although there is already a massive shortage of educators and full schooling can only be ensured by hiring substitutes and untrained staff to teach, school officials fear further cuts. In 2021, 500 teaching positions in Berlin were officially vacant.

Education will not be the only area to suffer budget cuts. As already announced by the Senate, cuts are to be crossed on the chessboard. Above all, the areas of social services and culture will bear the brunt of tax rationing. These two areas are politically led by Katja Kipping and Klaus Lederer, both representatives of Die Linke who unreservedly support the austerity policy of the Senate.

Like the SPD and the Greens, Die Linke made grandiose promises during the election campaign last September that increasing the education budget in Berlin was a priority and that sufficient funds would be made available for this purpose. . Now in power, they are pursuing exactly the opposite path.

The Senate’s housing policy is just as openly directed against the population. While a clear majority of Berliners voted in favor of the expropriation of the large housing companies, which Die Linke had supported during the election campaign, the SPD, the Greens and Die Linke are now ignoring the result of this referendum and working in close cooperation with the stalwarts of real estate, universally known in Germany as the rental sharks.

The ruling mayor, Franziska Giffey (SPD), has launched a so-called housing alliance in which the state government and representatives of private real estate groups work closely together to remove any obstacles for the same companies which, for years, have pushed rents to dizzying heights that for most Berliners are barely affordable.

While parts of the left initially pretended to advocate expropriation, the Left Party’s head of state, Katina Schubert, has since officially shelved the project. A law on the socialization of housing would inevitably end up before the Federal Constitutional Court, and there one would receive a “slap in the face”, she said, trying to justify her retreat.

The approved budget cuts recall the sweeping austerity measures of the Red-Red Senate (SPD and Left Party) which governed the capital from 2001 to 2011. Both parties have backed a social policy of slash and burn cultivation. Public housing in the state was sold at ridiculous prices to rent sharks, public institutions were shut down en masse, and education and social service budgets were slashed. A third of public sector jobs have been destroyed and at the same time the salaries of the remaining employees have been massively reduced.

Current Finance Senator Daniel Wesener follows in the footsteps of Thilo Sarrazin, the far-right Finance Senator from the former Red-Red Senate. Wesener boasted in the BZ that he would confront the population with his policy. “You won’t see a finance senator dotted with tinsel,” the Green politician said cynically.

Like Sarrazin in his day, Wesener explained that cutting spending and paying down debt would be his priority. The entire €810m coronavirus emergency loan would be repaid in the coming year and not just €270m, as planned. In total, the repayment of 1 billion euros is scheduled for 2023.

It remains to be seen whether the loans will actually be repaid to that extent, Wesener said. In saying this, the senator for Finance does not mean broken schools or a healthcare system bled dry by the pandemic. On the contrary: Like his predecessor, he has sat on the supervisory board of Living Public Clinics since mid-February in order to enforce his budgetary discipline. His real concern is the cost of the war in Ukraine. “The war is not ready for budgeting,” Wesener said.

This statement requires little explanation. As education and social services continue to be cut and there is ‘no money’ for health and care, even amid a deadly pandemic, the massive budget increase defense is enshrined in the Basic Law. This policy is supported by all established parties, from the extreme right Alternative for Germany to the nominal left.

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