Newsmaker: Olaf Scholz – Merkel’s natural heir
Boring. It was the word that had been used most often by fellow politicians and analysts to describe Olaf Scholz, the man who is most likely to become Germany’s next chancellor. And in the coming weeks, as he tries to strike a coalition deal with the Greens and Liberals to secure enough Bundestag seats to form a government.
Scholz led the Socialist Party (SPD) with the largest share of the vote in last Sunday’s federal election – the first time in 16 years that retired Chancellor Angela Merkel was not on the ballots. As it stands, his preferred successor, Armin Laschet, led the Christian Democrats to second place with 24.1% of the vote – but with few options for building a potential coalition and little will from the part of a victorious Scholz to team up again.
The Socialists’ election campaign focused on their leader and his impressive track record as finance minister in the outgoing CDU-SPD coalition. It was a personal victory for career politicians, the 63-year-old who has been involved in German politics for decades – being presented as a safe pair of hands that could be trusted now that Merkel has retired. The game plan was to sell him as a natural replacement – and 11.9 million German voters voted for his party. Since the formation of modern Germany and the chancellery of Otto von Bismarck, there has been a party that opposed and suffered during the Hitler years.
Scholz has been Minister of Finance in the Merkel cabinet since 2018 and is also vice-chancellor of the current government coalition made up of the CDU / CSU and the SPD. He – like Merkel, stays in office until a new coalition is in place – and he is eager to form it as soon as possible.
In part, his electoral victory was due to his stranglehold on Germany’s finances at a time when Europe’s largest economy – like everywhere else as well – stagnated and went into economic hibernation as a result of the coronavirus pandemic.
He convinced the Germans, notoriously tight when it came to providing direct federal aid to the economy, that the nation was strong enough to cope. By 2022, Germany will have contracted 400 billion euros in new debt – and he campaigned on promising that it would be able to exceed the new debt levels.
“Nobody needs to be afraid of this, we have already managed it once, after the last crisis of 2008/2009, and we will achieve it again in a little less than 10 years”, he said. he declares. Soothing words – spoken by a man who knows federal finances better than anyone.
He took the same approach to climate protection. The Greens have good ideas, he argues, but they can only be implemented with the help of the SPD. “Pragmatic, but looking to the future”, this is how Scholz sums up his program.
When it comes to foreign policy, think of Merkel. It promises continuity and provides strong leadership for the rest of Europe who will speak with one unified voice built from a position of pragmatism and compromise.
Pragmatism, yes – but barely charisma, a quality he lacks most of the time, showing every sign of restraint as a British butler. It was only during the campaign that the Germans were able to see a warmer, softer side, changing his facial expressions as well. This explains why for many years it was known as “Scholzomat”, a play on the words “Scholz” and “Automat” or machine and coined by the newspaper Die Zeit in 2003 because it had the used to repeatedly advocate labor market reform. technocratic speech formulas.
He also comes from the conservative tendency of the SPD, a business-oriented pragmatist from Hamburg, who only says what is absolutely necessary. It’s a transformation that started from his anti-capitalist views when he was vice-president of the youth organization SPD in the 1980s.
Scholz, who is married to Britta Ernst, another SPD politician, grew up in Hamburg and entered politics as a socialist youth leader, after studying labor law. He was mayor of Hamburg from 2011 to 2018, during which time his politics became less radical. He was first elected to the Bundestag in 1998.
His victory is all the more remarkable given that the SPD had not won a national election since 2002, and he managed to shake off Laschet’s accusations of recklessness over a wire fraud scandal where his finance department appeared to be asleep on the switch. .
The Greens and Free Democrats plan to meet with each other before entering formal talks with Scholz. With 206 seats, the SPD may be the largest party in the Bundestag, but it falls far short of the majority in the 736-seat chamber. The Christian Democrats ended up with 196 seats – meaning Scholz is likely to be chancellor, but nothing is certain. His preferred agreement would be the so-called “traffic light” coalition with the Greens, the yellow colors of the FDP party and, of course, the Greens.
Greens and FDP leaders met on Tuesday and after the meeting FDP leader Christian Lindner posted a photo of himself and General Secretary Volker Wissing on Instagram, alongside Greens co-leaders Annalena Baerbock and Robert Habeck.
The caption read: “In the search for a new government, we seek common ground and bridges over our divisions. And we even find some of these things. Exciting moments.
The two sides have divergent political agendas on issues such as climate change and economic policy, but come together in areas such as progressive social policy.
After the 2017 elections, an offer by the CDU / CSU to set up a three-way alliance with the Greens and the FDP collapsed when the FDP came out, complaining of being the third wheel. Germany ended up with another grand coalition between the two main parties instead.
Laschet said on Tuesday that he planned to have talks with the Greens and the FDP on forming a coalition “in the next few days”.
But any agreement will take time. Merkel knows it, so does Laschet – as does Scholz – the outgoing CDU-SPD coalition which took six months to reach an agreement for the government.
But the reality is that Scholz is now the man most likely to be chancellor…. Not anytime soon. Or if not at all.