Merkel plays it safe on tax breaks for gay couples
While Merkel considered whether to legislate or procrastinate, her general secretary was out flying kites in favour of tax reform.
Even finance minister Wolfgang Schäuble, at 70 the elder statesman in cabinet, said it was “sometimes necessary” for political parties to stay relevant by “taking note of changed realities”.
Federal family and labour ministers, Christina Schröder and Ursula von der Leyen, have come out in favour of following the French model – where tax breaks depend on the number of children in a family, not a marriage certificate.
But opinion polls send a dangerously mixed message to the German leader: while 70 per cent of Germans are in favour of extending tax breaks to gay couples – at a cost of €30 million annually – another poll shows 80 per cent of CDU voters are opposed. And so extending the “spousal split” tax breaks to gay couples – or all families – could have unpredictable political consequences.
“It is a highly political matter of who would have more or less in their pocket after such a reform,” said Prof Markus Heintzen, professor of law at the Free University in Berlin.
“And, when you look at the typical CDU voter, it’s likely that a reform as required would leave them having to pay more tax.”
After a heated two-hour meeting of CDU executives on Monday, Merkel decided to play it safe and hold off on doing anything.
For Michael Spreng, a political spin-doctor, the tax debate has exposed a CDU identity crisis that, for years, was masked by Merkel’s aura of power.
“In this case, she has come up against the limits of modernisation, which is why she’s had to row back,” said Spreng to German radio.
Pragmatic reforms might attract urban floating voters to the CDU come September, but could also repel many socially conservative CDU voters. Of particular concern is Bavaria where Merkel’s conservative Bavarian allies, the CSU, this year face dual state and federal elections.
According to Spreng, the CDU leader is anxious not to alienate conservatives to break away to form a new party.
“The question now,” he said, “is how long Dr Merkel will succeed in modernising the party and keep conservatives on board.” While Merkel hopes to put off her taxing decision until after election day, the opposition Social Democrats (SPD) and Greens have other plans.
Debate kept alive
Later this month, they will use their new majority in the upper house, the Bundesrat, to table legislation opening civil marriage in Germany to gay couples later this month. It is unlikely to become law, but it will keep alive a debate Merkel desperately wants to kill off.
Stephan Wolsdorfer and his partner Hasso are watching the political debate in Berlin with interest, but little surprise.
“Merkel is staying true to herself, she has no convictions and she doesn’t act unless forced to,” said Wolsdorfer. “She has no interest in a fight with her own party, that’s clear, but in the coming weeks, we’ll have our ruling.”