Narrow bridges

Pragmatist Scholz overcomes political differences to become Merkel’s German heir


Less than two years ago, Olaf Scholz was healing his wounds after the deadliest defeat of his long career – losing to two little-known leftists in the race for the leadership of the German Social Democrats (SPD). His dream of one day becoming chancellor of his country had been an almost fatal blow.

But on Wednesday he sealed one of the most remarkable comebacks in German politics. Struck off for months as a candidate as well, from a party that was losing its relevance, he presented himself to a full house as the alleged successor of Angela Merkel.

The occasion was the unveiling of the coalition agreement negotiated by the SPD, the Greens and the Liberal Liberal Democrats, the result of nearly two months of intense negotiations following the national elections in September which ended in a narrow victory for the Social Democrats.

Scholz said his government would usher in a “decade of investment” and “Germany’s greatest industrial modernization in over 100 years.”

“We are united by the will to make this country better, to move it forward and to keep it together,” he said. “We want to dare to make more progress. The next government, he said, “would invest heavily to ensure that Germany remains a world leader”, and make it “a pioneer in climate protection”.

The deal contemplates aggressive climate action and huge investments in improving Germany’s shabby infrastructure. But it also enshrines the main demands of the SPD: an increase in the minimum wage, a commitment to stable pensions and more social housing.

The coalition is bringing together strange bedfellows – a Green Party that has campaigned to loosen the country’s tough fiscal rules and invest billions in greening the economy, and an FDP that has insisted on a swift return to l pre-pandemic economic orthodoxy. The fact that such ideological differences were bridged – and much faster than many anticipated – is testament to Scholz’s skill as a negotiator.

It also justifies Scholz’s approach – a pragmatism and moderation that has often annoyed leftists in his party. Many in the SPD feared he was too close to Merkel and her Christian Democrats. Indeed, he explicitly campaigned in this year’s election as a continuity candidate, claiming that his long experience in government and his down-to-earth, non-ideological attitude made him a worthy heir to Merkel. .

The message resonated with a voting public alarmed by Covid-19 and already lacking the stabilizing influence of a chancellor who ruled Germany for 16 years.

But Scholz may soon be forced by circumstances to adopt a different style. “If he really wants to. . . tackle the big tasks of our time, climate change, growing social inequalities and digitization, he will be forced to do the opposite of what he is known for so far: he will have to fight, and fight with passion, ”wrote Veit Medick in the Spiegel.

In his youth, Scholz was much more passionate. When he joined the SPD in 1975, he first identified with the more radical wing of the party, pledging to “defeat the capitalist economy”. “I have definitely become more pragmatic over the years,” he said last August of his youth activism.

A labor lawyer in the 1990s, he gradually rose through the ranks within the SPD, becoming secretary general in 2002. In this post, he drew enmity from the left for his strong support for controversial labor market reforms. work of Chancellor Gerhard Schröder. He also earned his nickname “Scholz-o-mat”, a reference to his often robotic and monotonous childbirth.

Olaf Scholz with Chancellor Gerhard Schröder in 2002 © Reuters

Scholz was Merkel’s labor minister during the 2008-09 financial crisis and in 2011 was elected mayor of Hamburg, a post he held for seven years. Although popular, its reputation was tarnished by violent clashes between anarchists and police at a G20 summit in 2017 that turned parts of the city into a battlefield.

When Merkel appointed him finance minister in his last cabinet, he stuck to the strict budgetary orthodoxy of his predecessor in that post, Wolfgang Schäuble, who had come to symbolize Europe’s austerity policies. post-crisis.

But that changed when the pandemic struck and Scholz helped set up a € 420 billion business and worker support program – one of the most generous emergency aid programs in the world. Europe.

“It’s the bazooka, and we’ll use it to do whatever it takes,” he said in March 2020, echoing the words of former European Central Bank President Mario Draghi during the the euro area debt crisis in 2012.

Scholz contracted large debts and suspended Germany’s “debt brake”, the constitutional limit on new borrowing. He also played a key role in driving plans for the EU’s stimulus fund, which will channel loans and grants to countries to help them weather the pandemic.

These expansive tax policies endeared Scholz to once-skeptical leftists of the SPD and in August 2020 he was nominated for chancellery.

Few people imagined its chances: the SPD languished at around 14% in the polls, far behind the Greens and Merkel’s CDU. But Scholz benefited from unforced errors by rival candidates and in the final stage of the campaign the SPD got ahead. When the results fell on September 26, it was clear the party had won a narrow victory – and that Scholz was to be Germany’s next chancellor.

Scholz was warmly applauded by the Social Democrats on Wednesday, but the warmest praise came from a rival, Christian Lindner, the leader of the FDP. Scholz appeared in the coalition negotiations, he said, as “a strong leader, with the experience and professionalism to lead this country to a good future,” he said. “He will be a strong chancellor for Germany.”

The Coalition’s legislative priorities

Climate policy

  • Renewable energy will account for 80 percent of electricity production by 2030 (previous target was 65 percent)

  • Acceleration of planning procedures for renewable energy projects, elimination of administrative formalities

  • New Ministry of Economy and Climate Protection

  • The phase-out of coal is expected to occur “ideally” by 2030 (the previous target was 2038).

  • Target of at least 15 million electric cars on German roads by 2030

  • Set a minimum price for CO2 at € 60 / tonne

    Income / well-being

  • Increase in the minimum wage from € 9.60 per hour to € 12

  • Maintain stable pensions: there will be no decrease in pensions and no increase in the retirement age

  • “Basic income” for children to be introduced

  • Cheaper energy for individuals, thanks to the abolition of the renewable energy tax on electricity bills


  • Germany will build 400,000 apartments per year, 100,000 of which are subsidized by the state

  • Stricter rent control, especially in large cities with high demand; increases capped at 11% over three years (previously 15%)

  • Creation of a construction ministry

    Social policy

  • Cannabis legalized for adults

  • The concept of “race” will be removed from the German constitution

  • Refugees will be allowed to bring their relatives to Germany

  • Severe restrictions on video surveillance and storage of communication data

    Security policy

  • Armed drones will be introduced to better protect Bundeswehr soldiers during overseas deployments

  • Germany to meet NATO target of spending 2% of GDP on military

    Public finances

  • The constitutional debt brake, currently suspended, will be reinstated in 2023

  • Relief for heavily indebted municipalities

  • Public bank KfW encourages investments in green and digital transformation

  • “Super depreciation allowance” for green and digital investments in 2022 and 2023

  • Give public companies such as Deutsche Bahn more options to mobilize investments