BERLIN, Germany (AP) — After Angela Merkel’s 16-year reign, center-left politician Olaf Scholz became Germany’s ninth post-World War II chancellor on Wednesday, ushering in a new era for the European Union’s most populous nation and greatest economy.
Scholz’s administration starts office with great ambitions of modernising Germany and tackling climate change, but the country has the immediate task of dealing with the coronavirus pandemic’s most difficult phase yet.
Scholz was elected by a vote of 395-303 with six abstentions, a strong majority but short of the 416 MPs his three-party coalition possesses in the 736-seat lower house of parliament. That is not uncommon when chancellors are chosen, and several parliamentarians were absent due to illness or quarantine.
Merkel, who is no longer a member of parliament, watched the vote from the spectators’ gallery. Members of the legislature gave her a standing ovation.
Scholz, 63, has served as Germany’s vice chancellor and finance minister since 2018. He offers a depth of expertise and discipline to an untested coalition of his center-left Social Democrats, ecological Greens, and pro-business Free Democrats. The three parties are framing the partnership of erstwhile adversaries as a progressive alliance that would provide fresh vigour to the country following Merkel’s near-record tenure.
“We are embarking on a new path, one that will address the main issues of this decade and well beyond,” Scholz said on Tuesday. If the parties are successful, he says, “it is a mandate to be reelected jointly in the next election.”
Scholz, an unflappable and extremely self-assured figure who has previously demonstrated his capacity to rapidly overcome setbacks, smiled as he was elected and formally appointed by President Frank-Walter Steinmeier.
The new chancellor was then sworn in before returning to parliament. Scholz, who has no religious affiliation, and Merkel’s predecessor, Gerhard Schroeder, both deleted the optional term “so help me God” from their oaths of office.
Merkel has stated that she will not pursue another political position. The 67-year-old hasn’t revealed any future plans, but she did say earlier this year that she’ll “read and sleep and then let’s see where I show up.”
Scholz’s manner has been compared to Merkel’s, despite the fact that they are from different parties. He, like the past chancellor, is not fond of public displays of passion or inspiring speeches. In recent months, the former labour minister and Hamburg mayor has painted himself as both her logical successor and an agent of change, and he presents himself as a strong leader.
The new administration intends to increase efforts against climate change by increasing the use of renewable energy and moving Germany’s withdrawal from coal-fired power generation from 2038 to 2030, “ideally.” It also wants to do more to modernise the 83 million-person country, such as improve its infamously inadequate cellular and internet networks.
It also intends more liberal social policies, such as legalising the recreational use of cannabis and simplifying the road to German citizenship, while committing increased efforts to deport non-asylum seekers.
In order to combat growing rental rates, the government also intends to raise Germany’s minimum wage and build hundreds of thousands of additional flats.
Scholz has emphasised foreign policy continuity, stating that the administration will fight for a strong European Union and maintain the trans-Atlantic partnership. According to the administration, he will make his first journey overseas on Friday, with a trip to Paris – a tradition for German chancellors – and plans to fly to Brussels the following day to meet with EU and NATO officials.
His three-party coalition presents both chances and hazards for all parties involved, probably most notably the Greens. After 16 years of resistance, they will have to demonstrate that they can achieve their main goal of reducing greenhouse gas emissions while collaborating with partners who may have different interests.
Scholz’s vice chancellor will be Green co-leader Robert Habeck, who will manage a restructured economics and climate ministry. Christian Lindner, the finance minister and head of the Free Democrats, will be the government’s No. 3 official, having pushed that the coalition reject tax increases and looser debt limits.
“It won’t be simple to keep three distinct parties together,” Schroeder, Germany’s last center-left chancellor from 1998 to 2005, told Phoenix television. “However, I believe Olaf Scholz has the patience, as well as the drive, to handle it.”
The next administration is presenting itself as a shift in both style and content from Merkel’s “grand coalitions” of Germany’s conventional main parties, which she led for all but four years of her term, with the Social Democrats as junior partners.
In those uneasy partnerships, the partners appeared to be chiefly concerned with thwarting each other’s intentions. Until the pandemic hit, Merkel’s final term witnessed constant infighting, some of it inside her own center-right Union coalition. She leaves a legacy defined mostly by her praised management of a number of crises, rather than any great ideas for Germany.
The agreement to establish a coalition government among three parties with considerable differences before to the election was reached very swiftly and in surprising harmony. That will now be put to the test by the realities of government; Scholz has admitted that dealing with the epidemic “will require all of our power and energy.”
Last Monday, German federal and state officials announced stringent new restrictions aimed mostly at unvaccinated persons. In the long run, parliament will consider enacting a general vaccination mandate. Daily COVID-19 infections in Germany reached record highs this autumn, but they appear to be levelling off, and hospitals are feeling the strain.
“People are expecting that you…will demonstrate leadership and take the necessary steps,” President Steinmeier addressed the newly created Cabinet. “What counts is not who shouts the loudest, but that the epidemic does not keep us securely in its grip for another year and that public life may once again become a matter of course.”