Scholz will take over Germany at the end of the Merkel era

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Berlin (AFP) – The German parliament will officially elect Olaf Scholz on Wednesday as the country’s next chancellor, ending Angela Merkel’s 16-year reign and ushering in a new political era with the center-left in charge.

Scholz led his Social Democrats to victory over Merkel’s conservative CDU-CSU bloc in a landmark election in September, as the veteran chancellor prepared to leave politics after four consecutive terms.

Together with the Greens and the Free Liberal Democrats, Scholz’s SPD succeeded in a much shorter time than expected in forging a coalition that aspires to make Germany greener and fairer.

“I want the 1920s to be a time of fresh beginnings,” Scholz told the weekly Die Zeit, declaring his ambition to advance “the greatest industrial modernization that will be able to stop climate change caused by humanity “.

The return of the center-left to power in Europe’s largest economy could tip the scales on a continent still reeling from Brexit and with the other major player, France, as the 2022 presidential elections approach. .

Chronology of the career of Olaf Scholz, who will replace German Chancellor Angela Merkel. Kenan AUGEARD AFP / File

But even before taking office, Scholz’s “traffic light” coalition – named after the colors of the three parties – has already received a baptism of fire in the form of a fierce fourth wave of the coronavirus pandemic.

“No red lines”

With the exhaustion of intensive care beds in some areas and a surge in the number of infections showing no signs of slowing down, Scholz and her new team have been pressed – including by Merkel – to agree to new restrictions even before that they are not sworn in by Parliament.

After Austria led by example and Germany struggled to increase the number of stagnant vaccinations, the parties also came under pressure to turn around on the pledge made earlier in the pandemic to not not make vaccinations mandatory.

Restrictions are back in Germany as coronavirus cases rise in country's fourth wave
Restrictions are back in Germany as coronavirus cases rise in country’s fourth wave John MACDOUGALL AFP / File

Scholz has since spoken out in favor of compulsory vaccination, saying he wanted MPs to vote on the issue before the end of the year with a view to its implementation in February.

“For my government there are no red lines on what needs to be done. We are not ruling anything out,” he told Die Zeit.

“It’s not something we can do during a huge natural disaster or a health disaster like a pandemic.”

Balancing act

Nicknamed “the discreet” by the left-wing daily TAZ, Scholz, 63, is often described as austere or robotic.

But he also has a reputation for being a meticulous workaholic.

A man of experience in government, Scholz was Minister of Labor in Merkel’s first coalition from 2007 to 2009, before becoming Vice-Chancellor and Minister of Finance in 2015.

However, its tripartite alliance is the first mixture of this type at the federal level, the FDP not being a natural partner for the SPD or the Greens.

Greens co-leader Annalena Baerbock will be Germany's first female foreign minister
Greens co-leader Annalena Baerbock will be Germany’s first female foreign minister MICHELE TANTUSSI POOL / AFP / File

Keeping the trio together will require a delicate balance taking into account the pro-business trends of the FDP, the social instincts of the SPD and the sustainability demands of the Greens.

As part of their coalition agreement, the parties agreed to secure Germany’s path to carbon neutrality, including through huge investments in sustainable energy.

They also aim to revert to a constitutional no-new debt rule – suspended during the pandemic – by 2023.

New Greens Foreign Minister Annalena Baerbock also pledged to put human rights at the center of German diplomacy.

In a recent interview, she signaled a more assertive stance towards authoritarian regimes like China and Russia after the trade-oriented pragmatism of Merkel’s 16 years in power.

Critics accused Merkel of putting the country’s export-dependent economy at the forefront of international relations.

Nonetheless, she is still so popular in Germany that she likely would have won a fifth term had she applied for one.

The seasoned politician is also widely admired abroad for her steadfast hand guiding Germany through a myriad of crises.

She lobbied again for Germans to get vaccinated and thanked those who adhered to the restrictions, saying: “You demonstrate the civic responsibility which is so wonderful for our country, without which no chancellor or government can do anything. “

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