Debt brake (Schuldenbremse) reform is often understood to require constitutional change.
Frequently overlooked, however, is that a crucial part of the debt brake is governed by ordinary
law, namely the cyclical component (Konjunkturkomponente). By allowing for more or less net
borrowing depending on the level of economic activity, this component was intended to enable a
counter-cyclical fiscal policy, while both limiting and legitimising new spending. Sections 1-7 of this
paper assess to what extent it is fulfilling this purpose.Recent research, however, has shown that this paradigm yields suboptimal results in the current environment: It neither ensures the long-term sustainability of public finances, nor limits external imbalances, nor effectively contributes to solving the challenges Germany faces today, in particular decarbonisation and demographic change. As this is increasingly being recognised, a lively debate on the future of fiscal rules has developed, both in Germany and internationally. This working paper contributes to that debate by developing reform ideas that depart from a positive goal for fiscal policy rather than from the deficiencies of the current rules.