On 24 November 2021 three German parties (SPD, FDP and the Greens) agreed on a coalition agreement (PDF in German) that sets the German government’s plans for the next four years. Here, we will analyse this agreement with effective altruist considerations in mind.

We hope this post will improve the effective altruist community’s model of the new German government and what to concretely expect for various cause areas. 

 

Epistemic Status:

Overall we expect to have a positive bias towards the new government’s plans. Furthermore, all of us are non-experts in the covered policy fields, limiting the depth of our analyses. Across all authors we’ve spent around 40-50h on this post.

As every government is incentivised to present itself in the best possible light, we expect our methodology of focussing solely on the coalition agreement to slightly—though systematically—overrate the coalition. Planning fallacies on the government’s side will likely also limit some policy proposals’ full execution and impact.

 

Max Räuker, Jasper Götting, Marius Hobbhahn, Simon Grimm, Ludwig Bald and Yannick Mühlhäuser contributed equally to this project.

 

Executive Summary

  • Across the government’s agenda we found only a few concrete policy proposals on core EA topics.
  • We considered the following proposals particularly promising:
    • Plans to increase PPE stockpiles
    • Measures to enhance farmed animal welfare
    • Increased and more sophisticated state investments in R&D
    • Streamlining permitting procedures and addressing NIMBYism
    • (largely) technology-agnostic climate change mitigation
  • The government’s continued stance against nuclear energy strikes us as a mistake. Given the COVID-19 pandemic, we also found the lack of ambition on biosecurity surprising.
  • The coalition agreement puts significant focus on shortening and streamlining permitting procedures and other bureaucratic hurdles, which we welcome.
  • German policy-making currently seems more in flux than usual. Hence, the case for EA engagement with German politics arguably got stronger (see conclusion).

 

Background

Germany is the wealthiest and most populous member of the EU and plays a key role in international affairs. Germany has high favorability ratings throughout the world and relatively high state capacity. We therefore think that the plans of the next German government are particularly relevant for effective altruists focused on policy.

The new government consists of three parties:

  • SPD: center-left social democratic party
  • Greens: progressive party with major focus on climate change
  • FDP: socially liberal, fiscally conservative party

All three parties are in general supporters of stronger European integration and social liberalism. Remaining differences are biggest in climate and fiscal policy. The Greens favour a more expansionary fiscal policy, which the FDP opposes. The FDP supports more moderate free-market solutions on climate change, while the Greens endorse more ambitious state-directed projects.

We have the impression that coalition agreements are a relatively honest representation of the government’s goals, though the language is often very finely crafted and might hide disagreement. Nevertheless, according to one estimate the last government fulfilled around 80% of its promises—we expect similar to slightly lower results for this government.

The rest of this post will first focus on major EA cause areas; further below you will find a summary of other policy changes we thought notable.

 

Core EA Issues

Artificial Intelligence

Overall, the government’s stance is very vague, e.g. it is not clear how they want to balance regulation and innovation. There is no explicit stance on AGI or AI safety

The government wants to improve the country’s AI capabilities through increased funding and easier immigration for high-skilled workers in general. Previous state investments into AI amount to around 5 billion € until 2025. They want to define clear liability rules and prevent discrimination but don’t want their regulation to reduce innovation. 

In terms of military and AI, they support the use of drones but oppose fully autonomous weapons; furthermore they pledge to support arms control measures when it comes to military use of biotech and AI. Lastly, the new government supports the European AI Act and supports an EU-wide ban on facial recognition in public spaces and government scoring systems.

They want to push forward the EU Chips Act, which aims to increase the EU’s market share in semiconductors to 20% by 2030. 

 

Biosecurity

Despite the COVID-19 pandemic and multiple mentions of biosecurity and pandemic preparedness in the individual party’s election programmes, the coalition agreement makes no proposals addressing GCBRs, e.g. enhancing pathogen surveillance or regulating concerning gain-of-function research.

Nevertheless, we identified three noteworthy proposals:

  • Medical countermeasure and PPE stockpiles will be enlarged and their locations will be decentralised.
  • The coalition will establish a scientific advisory board for pandemics, similar to SAGE.
  • The new government will simplify and accelerate research funding during crises.

There are currently no organisations in German politics solely focused on biosecurity. From reading the coalition agreement and our understanding of the government, the new coalition could be engaged with arguments for stronger biosecurity. EA efforts could thus influence and improve Germany’s biorisk strategy. 

 

International Relations & Nuclear Security

The coalition generally favours closer European Integration and wants to develop the EU into a stronger, more assertive “federal European state”. They want the EU Council of Ministers to vote with a qualified majority instead of unanimity for EU-level foreign policy decisions.

The foreign ministry will be occupied by the Greens, a party that traditionally emphasises human rights. They will likely increase criticism of human rights violations in Xinjiang and demand that China stop undermining Hong Kong’s autonomy.

On great power competition, the government intends to reinforce transatlantic relationships with the US and Canada. They call for further dialogue with China while emphasising rivalry with the Chinese system. The coalition supports Taiwan's participation in international organisations and insists on peace in the Taiwan Strait. Historically, Germany's relationship with China has been ambivalent due to very strong economic ties—China is the largest supplier to the German economy, accounting for 11.4% of imports. Similarly, China is a significant export market, receiving 8% of all German exports.

While the treaty proclaims the goal of reaching a nuclear weapons-free world, calling for nuclear disarmament, it also states that Germany should be part of nuclear planning within NATO and endorses continued nuclear deterrence.

 

Climate Change

Due to its coal-heavy energy generation, Germany emits more CO2 per capita than many similar European countries:

To address this, the new government plans to rapidly shift its energy production to renewables. As nuclear power will be fully phased out this year, the coalition intends to provide 80% of energy through wind, photovoltaics and hydrogen imports by 2030. For this, they will expand and facilitate wind turbine construction, mandate photovoltaic panels on new commercial buildings and subsidise hydrogen technology R&D. In general, the coalition is open to most technologies (other than nuclear), and they allow for negative emissions tech.

By law, coal will be phased out only by 2038, but rising CO2 levies will likely make coal energy unprofitable by 2030, plausibly leading to an earlier exit.

The coalition intends to further decarbonise the economy with the following actions: 

  • Addressing NIMBY-opposition to renewables by giving local communities a financial stake in wind and solar
  • Explicitly marking 2% of all land for wind energy and significantly speeding up the approval process for new turbines
  • Electrifying public and individual mobility, e.g. electric busses and a grid of 1 million EV charging stations by 2030
  • Subsidising rail for freight and passenger transport
  • Making climate-neutral technologies (e.g. clean steel production) a major national research priority
  • Increasing economic incentives for industry and reforming EU emission trading, e.g., through increased CO2 prices

 

Animal Welfare

The government will support farmed animal welfare. Although we welcomed some of the coalition’s plans, they are less ambitious than we hoped for, and it is uncertain whether they result in significant improvement of animal welfare and accelerated reduction of meat consumption.

The responsible ministry of agriculture will be led by a vegetarian secretary from the Green party, which has traditionally been most concerned with animal rights and welfare. The coalition agreement lists several policies aiming to increase animal welfare; among them, they plan to

  • Introduce detailed animal welfare labelling (e.g. free-range, factory-farmed)
  • Reserve financial support for farms with high animal welfare standards
  • Consider legislation enabling video surveillance in slaughterhouses
  • Reduce live animal transports by introducing mobile slaughterhouses and import bans on farms with low animal welfare standards.
  • Tighten animal protection laws by moving some violations to criminal law


The coalition agreement argues for a marked increase in organic agriculture but does not mention bans on GMOs. 

Furthermore, the government will support the research, authorisation, and promotion of alternative protein products and plant-based nutrition. 

 

Global Health and Development

On a high level, we didn’t observe major changes in Germany’s global health and development policies. There is no major increase in funding and no obvious focus on highly effective interventions. Nevertheless, we thought it useful to outline Germany’s approach and updates to developmental aid. 

The coalition mentions two institutions guiding their humanitarian efforts:

  1. Humanitarian Development Peace Nexus: Bringing together humanitarian assistance, development cooperation and peacebuilding, the humanitarian-development-peace nexus (‘HDP-nexus’ or ‘triple nexus’) closely links these three pillars with the aim of ensuring a more sustainable approach to poverty, violent conflict and the underlying multisectoral causes of crises. 
     
  2. Grand Bargain: a unique agreement between some of the largest donors and humanitarian organisations who have committed to get more means into the hands of people in need and to improve the effectiveness and efficiency of the humanitarian action.

The government wants to invest at least 0.7% of GNI (30 billion USD) in development assistance. Compared to 0.73% in 2020 this isn’t a meaningful change in volume.  

The government has a broad set of priorities in development assistance. We welcomed their mention of vaccinations and neglected tropical diseases, but felt uneasy about the government’s plans to ban pesticide exports and their opposition to “financial market speculation” on food staples. We have low confidence in these judgments, as global health is not a focus area of any author of this post. 

Notably, the German government also intends to:

  • Partner with developing countries in building their capacities in renewables and climate protection measures
  • Stop German and European agricultural exports from harming markets in partner countries
  • Support social security systems in developing countries
  • Increase financial support of the global vaccination alliance (Gavi)

 

Innovation & Economic Growth

Overall, we were pleasantly surprised by the government’s goals in this area. 

There is a general commitment to reduce bureaucracy in many chapters of the treaty, across different parts of the state. The coalition agreement lists the specific commitment to halve approval times for private and public projects and investments. Faster decisions by certain authorities will be forced through shorter deadlines and so-called “fictions of approval”. This mechanism automatically approves a project if a government agency doesn’t make a decision before some defined deadline. 

The government will increase R&D funding from its current share of 3.19% to 3.5% of GDP. They further want to develop new, large scale research facilities. The DARPA-like SPRIN-D agency for disruptive innovation will receive major financial and legal support.

Many parts of the coalition agreement mention stronger support of start-ups. This includes the facilitation of allocating equity to early employees, reducing red tape and increasing government VC funding. Finally, when assessing new laws and regulations, the government will put more focus on how new legislation could hinder innovation.

High-skilled and mid-skilled immigration will be expanded. The government will implement a points-based system, similar to the Canadian model; the European Blue Card will be expanded to non-academic professions. More generally, visa processes will become easier.

On housing, the government will launch a new ministry of housing and plans to build 400,000 units per year of which 100,000 are social housing. They want to simplify and speed up permitting procedures but intend to prolong nationwide rent controls.

 

Notable other topics

Economics

  • National Fiscal Policy: The government plans to reduce the deficit to the level allowed in the constitutional debt-brake by 2023. However, the government will borrow ~169b € until 2022 which will be used primarily for investments in climate change mitigation. One EA-adjacent actor in discussions on this topic is Dezernat Zukunft, a German econ thinktank that was recently awarded 4,000,000$ by Open Philanthropy.
  • EU Fiscal Policy: The coalition says they want to stick to the Stability and Growth Pact but also aim to ‘further develop existing fiscal rules’. They also stress that European fiscal rules have been flexible in the past, indicating that they may be open to making more exceptions in the future. This looks like a compromise between the Greens and the FDP.
  • Cryptocurrencies are described as an opportunity that they want to create an adequate regulatory framework for.
  • The minimum wage is increased from 10 to 12€.
  • Education and re-education at different career stages will be easier. To this end, the government will create many different financial support instruments and supporting institutions.
  • Unemployment benefits reform: The government will make the unemployment system more streamlined and less bureaucratic; unemployment benefits and criteria will generally become more favourable to the unemployed. 
  • Pension reform: 
    • Access to pensions should be digitized as much as possible.
    • Pensions and other payments should be paid out automatically, removing unnecessary bureaucratic work.
    • Introduction of a state-owned wealth fund as part of the pension system. The fund will be managed by the state and invest in a mix of stock and bonds similar to the Norwegian sovereign wealth fund (but with just 10€ Billion in the beginning).
    • The new pensions system will allow individuals to hold parts of their pension in ETFs, stocks or bonds.

Social Liberalism

  • The coalition endorses reproductive rights, trans-rights, more support for non-nuclear families and an overall more progressive view on family, reproduction, gender and sexuality.
  • Justice: The justice system and new laws should be based on scientific evidence and criminal law and enforcement will be based on the principles of prevention and resocialization.
  • Marijuana legalization: Marijuana is going to get legalised and will be sold by licensed vendors.

Foreign Policy

  • The coalition wants to offer protection, financial support and quicker asylum to threatened political and human rights activists, journalists and scientists, e.g. in the form of the Elisabeth-Selbert Initiative.

Miscellaneous

  • A number of improvements in the health care system, including increased digitization, increased focus on preventative measures, easier access to doctors for rural communities, campaigns to destigmatize mental health issues.
  • Police reform: The government will introduce and enforce measures to reduce violence and arbitrary actions by police.

 

Conclusion

Overall we were pleasantly surprised by some plans by the new government. Regarding core EA topics there were however few concrete proposals. While most of what we read generally goes in the correct direction, we think the new coalition could reasonably have gone much further.

While we considered reading the entire coalition agreement valuable, a balanced set of media reports might give most individuals enough information to arrive at a good model of the new government. Furthermore, we lacked relevant knowledge to assess certain staff picks, which might help predict the government’s future behaviour. Still, for niche (EA) topics, there will be little to no coverage and analysis, making the coalition agreement the only available source for analysis. 

Lastly, as the effective altruism movement moves to increase its policy engagement beyond English-speaking countries, Germany strikes us as a good candidate for the following reasons:

  • Behind China, US, India, and Japan, Germany is the 5th biggest economy in the world.
  • Germany has a lot of influence on EU policy-making, even more so following Brexit.
  • German governance and public administration seems reasonably competent and amenable to policy advice.
  • Germany has the biggest non-English speaking EA community.

We also have reservations against more policy engagement in Germany:

  • German politics seem less dynamic than in the UK and US, with less room for major policy shifts due to a lack of first-past-the-post voting and resulting multi-party governments.
  • German lawmakers and jurisprudence appear to be less sympathetic towards consequentialist reasoning.
  • Some think that state power grows superlinearly, making US policy engagement vastly more impactful.


If anyone feels motivated to contribute to German policy making, do reach out to us. 

Further advice can be found in the excellent EA Forum post “Report on careers in politics and policy in Germany”. Please note though, that the new government wants to facilitate career moves from the private sector into government, which isn’t reflected in the linked post.


 

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16 comments, sorted by Click to highlight new comments since: Today at 6:14 AM
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"To address this, the new government plans to rapidly shift its energy production to renewables. As nuclear power will be fully phased out this year, the coalition intends to provide 80% of energy through wind, photovoltaics and hydrogen imports by 2030. For this, they will expand and facilitate wind turbine construction, mandate photovoltaic panels on new commercial buildings and subsidise hydrogen technology R&D. In general, the coalition is open to most technologies (other than nuclear), and they allow for negative emissions tech."
 

  1. Is it 80% of energy (extremely ambitious, now at 15% decarbonized energy) or electricity?
     
  2. The German government is one of the least technology-neutral governments on climate that I know, it is not only anti-nuclear (which you mention and rightly criticize), it is also limiting options in hydrogen (e.g. very focused on green hydrogen, with little support for blue hydrogen) and fairly lukewarm on CCS. 
     

Hi, I contributed to that part, let me respond to both of your points:

  1. You are right, the plan is to get 80% of electricity from renewable sources by 2030. But it's complicated: At the same time, they expect to see an increase in electricity demand from 488 Twh in 2020 to 680-750 TWh per year, as more sectors are electrifying. Separately, they state the target to generate 50% of energy for heating from climate neutral sources by 2030. The goal is to also electrify transport. I can't quickly give you an overall target percentage, that would require further research. The exact goals for 2030 and 2045 will be put into law this year.

  2. Yes, they do plan to build up infrastructure for green hydrogen, but explicitly state they will remain technology-neutral for now, in order to quickly mature the hydrogen market. Personally, I think it's impossible to stay truly technology-neutral if you want to move that quickly. We can only build things that we know work today. And I think it makes sense to focus CCS efforts on sectors where there is no green alternative available yet, especially now while CCS is unreasonably expensive.

On 1, agree that this is complicated because of electrification, but even in 2030 80% of electricity are unlikely to translate into more than, say, 40% of energy, given a lot of energy-intensive processes are not easily electrifiable (heavy-duty transport, industry etc.). In any case, these are good goals. But more technology-inclusive peer countries (France, UK)  are much more successful.

On 2, blue hydrogen (natural gas w CCS) is cheaper than green hydrogen for the next decade or so, so it is good if that is included.

I think the current coalition is better than some counterfactuals on climate (continued Grand Coalition, government led by the Greens), but overall still fairly disappointing.

 

Thank you for the very thorough analysis! I remain a bit sceptical about the practical takeaways, maybe you could shed some light on your thinking there? 

a) You seem to have a generally positive view of potentially influential advisership to the German government. The article on careers in politics (which I largely agree with, I think) as well as very basic conjecture on the general makeup of influential departments in the German government seems to imply that there is a strong emphasis on party politics, 'Ochsentour'-like progression through the system etc. in getting to positions that can actually meaningfully influence policy (esp. given the comparatively weak role of external advisory bodies like thinktanks). 

To me, this seem to require a relatively substantial commitment to popular positions that make for a good base for quick progression through the ranks of a party - the more counterintuitive or 'outlandish' one's priorities are when starting out, the lower the chance to get to influential positions seems to be. This seems to imply to me that a very particular set of already generally popular positions is rewarded - making it somewhat unlikely that a person with a sufficiently strong commitment to underappreciated EA-positions to actually change things will actually succeed in reaching influential positions in the first place. 

b) This might be more of a metaethical pet peeve of mine, but why do you suppose being unsympathetic towards consequentialist reasoning is necessarily disadvantageous to EA efforts? There seem to be many causes that aren't really particularly controversial between moral theories, but are rather a matter of weeding out irrational biases, perception errors, systemic barriers etc.  - there seems to be lots of room to improve before you hit any barriers created by deep-rooted German Idealism (if they do exist).
 

(I'm aware the two questions seem to push in opposite directions - I don't really have a strong prima facie opinion on the attractivity of German policy-making, those were just things that came to mind)


I'd be very curious to hear your thoughts, and thank you again for the write-up!

a) I share that belief to some extent and was initially very skeptical of influencing any government, especially the German one. However, most of my encounters with EAs in politics updated me towards "influence seems easier than I thought". These are all second-hand experiences but include:
- People working in different German ministries detailing how their EA approaches were welcome by their colleagues and shaped some parts of the legislation, e.g. on climate change.
- People working in think tanks saying that people in ministries took their ideas much more seriously than they expected.
- EAs giving workshops in a German ministry that resulted in prolonged cooperation. The workshop was less about specific proposals and more about ideas of measuring impact and quantifying stuff.
- EAs apparently consulting governments of various countries on Covid, Biorisk and AI. 
Some of them might be overblown and I don't know how much impact they really have but I guess people in politics are usually happy to work with outsiders that have some expertise and seem well-intentioned. 
I think the route of working yourself up the ranks within political positions is much harder and your suspicions are probably correct there.

b)  I agree with you that most problems that EA cares about are bad under most moral theories and it probably doesn't matter too much. However, I think there are some cases where it does. For example:
- Urgency: You can think that factory farming is bad because the animals suffer a lot or because we violate their rights. My intuition is that as soon as you start calculating, ending factory farming becomes more urgent because there are just so many animals that suffer. The rights-based approach doesn't imply this urgency to me but maybe I'm strawmanning. 
- Some of the German ideals are just really weird, tbh. Like why do so many Germans love savings and hate public dept? Or why are they so pacifist even when it means not helping Ukraine, an important ally and partner? Just a bit more consequentialism might be helpful there IMO.

I would think that for energy supply reasons Russia is a much more important partner for Germany than Ukraine, and that entirely explains German reluctance to help Ukraine, do you think this is incorrect?

I agree in general that depending on Russia for your energy is concerning. However, two points:

(1) Given that it is possible to import  LNG from the US (although more expensive), energy dependence on Russia is always in a sense chosen and needs itself to be explained.

(2) This is just one data point, but at least in 2017 german dependence on gas was not higher than neighbouring countries. https://imgur.com/a/UhHaZ3B

Good points, thanks!

As weird as this sounds, I would hope that is the reason because it would mean Germany acts for understandable reasons. 
However, my discussions with other Germans and broader public sentiment suggest to me that Germans are insanely pacifistic. Even things like sending troops to stabilize a region when asked by the respective country are seen as critical by many.  https://twitter.com/RikeFranke a German IR researcher/pundit seems to share my belief. Maybe you should check out her twitter.

That's interesting, and if true a very disappointing and convenient delusion. Thanks!

I thought this was really interesting : we should open the way to a constitutional assembly leading to the development of a federal European state

Curious to hear thoughts from other EAs about the new German administration's appetite for a federalist Europe. I think a stronger, federalist Europe is something we should want from an EA perspective for the following reasons:

  • A stronger Europe increases the chance of European collective investments in AI leading to the development of "human-centric" AI
  • Increases the chance of a strong green European energy policy and other climate action, reducing the chance of +2 degrees scenarios
  • A strong federalist Europe is a good counterbalance against a market-oriented US model and the Chinese/Russian government that has a strong appetite for breaching human rights.  Just as the Western model looked so aspiring for former citizens of the DDR / Soviet states at the end of the cold war, Europe could be aspiring for American, Russian and Chinese citizens. Internal pressure could lead to welfare enhancing reforms in the US, Russia and China.

Some risks I see:

  • A strong federalist Europe would shake up the current international order with unknown geopolitical consequences. The current world order is not perfect, but was also quite peaceful compared to the pre-1945 era.
  • National European governments pushing too much for quick federalist changes could cause massive internal backlash, giving room to a further rise of populism. That would increase the odds of internal European warfare, less free trade etc. with negative consequences for welfare

I am personally also very unsure of how to feel about european federalism. At this present moment it seems to me there is neither a strong political majority for further political integration, nor is there one for a significant roll-back. I expect the next years to be about management of the status-quo.

While I think that a federal EU would be desirable in principle, at the present moment the risk of backlash seems high enough to me that I don't think EAs should invest resources into pushing for it. Although if such a push were to happen, there seem to be many opportunities in the steering of this process, as I expect it to be in large part elite-driven.

I think there are definitely some areas where further European integration is warranted and popular across most of the political spectrum. We need a common foreign policy, we need a common migration policy. Just to get these wins, the EU will have to centralize some more power. Some other things also make sense and are rather popular, like allowing paneuropean party lists at EU parliament elections.

I think over time, the direction is towards tighter integration, but this will have to follow cultural integration of the people, not precede it.

I think of federalism and further European integration as opposite ideas. More integration means moving towards having a single point of failure where we currently have 27. For instance, the commission bungled the acquisition of vaccines in 2020. Consequently, vaccination rates in the European Union lagged behind those in Britain by about one month (see this graph).

Neither do I think that joint investments in AI and climate joint require further integration, but I guess it would strengthen the European position wrt foreign policy.

Thanks for this; German politics and governance continues to be (despite flaws) a hopeful example to the Anglosphere!  If only more countries were more like Germany.

I'm not sure Germany is that much of a role model to other countries. I guess the Netherlands and Scandinavian countries might be better suited for that. I think our main message is
a) The new government seems to be more reasonable than past governments from an EA perspective.
b) Given a), Germany could play a larger role in the overall EA sphere since it is pretty important globally and yet there are only very few EA organizations located in Germany or trying to work with the government.