Germany Freezes Government Spending as Budget Crisis Deepens

The halt in new spending authorizations applies to all ministries. It also covers a special fund of about €200 billion that was set up to support companies in the aftermath of the pandemic and the energy crisis ignited by Russia’s war in Ukraine.

“We are not talking about a shutdown like in the United States,” said Christian Hasse, a budget expert for the center-right Christian Democrats. “But it means new commitments can’t be made, except under exceptional circumstances.”

The freeze will be in effect through Dec. 31, the Finance Ministry said.

The economy minister, Robert Habeck, issued a dire warning of the ruling’s impact, even as Mr. Scholz raced to work out a solution.

“The core substance of the German economy is at stake,” Mr. Habeck said Monday in an interview with German public radio broadcaster Deutschlandfunk.

Economists warned on Tuesday that the ruling could dent economic growth next year. The German economy is already expected to contract in 2023, dragged down by flagging industrial production and high inflation.

“We are not yet able to see in detail what the impact of these fallouts could be, but it means that we will not be able to count on gross domestic product to grow next year,” Michael Hüther, director of the Cologne Institute for Economic Research, told a parliamentary committee.

Among the spending commitments that could be threatened are billions in subsidies aimed at attracting new industries to Germany, such as the chipmakers Intel and TSMC.

The chancellor and Mr. Habeck have insisted that the ruling would not affect those commitments.

The pledges were made to help Germany transform its industrial sector from heavy industries to green technology, aimed at helping the country meet its goal of carbon neutrality by 2045.

In 2009, Germany imposed strong borrowing limits on itself. The so-called debt brake, written into its Constitution, restricts annual borrowing to 0.35 percent of gross domestic product, or roughly €12 billion a year. Exceptions are allowed in emergencies, including natural disasters or a pandemic. The court ruled that the €60 billion, borrowed during the pandemic, could not be used for purposes unrelated to the spread of Covid.

Germany is the only leading industrial economy to have such stringent controls.

Lawmakers were expected to pass Germany’s 2024 budget last week. But after the ruling effectively ripped a $64.6 billion hole in this year’s spending plan, the talks were postponed pending a solution.

The coalition partners are aiming to reach a solution by the end of the week, Bloomberg News reported.