Taxing the wealthy is becoming the latest sign of how German Chancellor Angela Merkel’s already-frail coalition is drifting apart, adding to the political turbulence as the economy teeters on the brink of recession.
The Social Democrats, Merkel’s junior coalition partner, are expected to back a proposal that would aim to impose a 1% tax on wealth, a revenue stream that could be worth around €9bn annually.
Finance Minister Olaf Scholz, who comes from the party, last week expressed support for the idea.
About 45 families in Germany own as much wealth as 50% of the citizens,” Thorsten Schaefer-Guembel, an interim SPD leader and one of the main proponents of the proposal, said on broadcaster ZDF.
Taxing the rich is the latest sign of how SPD is seeking to veer the government to the left as it struggles to revert dismal polling numbers ahead of three regional elections this fall.
From rent caps in Berlin to proposals for a minimum pension, the party’s push for more social welfare risks straining the coalition to the point of bursting.
Ms Merkel’s Christian Democratic-led government was quick to shoot down the idea of a wealth tax, arguing that taxpayers ought to be given a break at a time of an economic slowdown.
“Burdening the economy further with a wealth tax now is insane,” said Sebastian Brehm, CDU legislator in Germany’s lower house.
“A wealth tax is utterly out of the question,” said Bavarian Premier Markus Soeder of the CSU, the CDU’s sister party.
“It would be the wrong instrument at the wrong time,” he said following a meeting of leaders in Dresden.
Still, Mr Scholz’s support and the need for Ms Merkel to keep her coalition intact could mean the idea is more than an electoral bargaining chip. Mr Scholz already scored a victory last week when the cabinet slashed the ‘solidarity tax’, which helped finance reunification, for all but the rich.
Ms Merkel’s CDU had demanded the levy be eliminated across the board. Her government is also mulling whether to abandon its long-standing zero-deficit budget policy, which the SPD and business leaders have spearheaded. The SPD is expected to decide on the wealth tax and other issues at a party conference in December, the same time it will choose a new leadership duo and decide whether to abandon the coalition. That could lead to a minority government or a snap election.