Olaf Scholz to be voted in as German chancellor as Merkel era ends

Scholz to lead coalition government after agreement was signed by party leaders on Tuesday

Olaf Scholz is to be voted in as chancellor by the Bundestag on Wednesday, opening a new chapter in German and European politics as the Merkel era comes to an end.

Scholz, the outgoing deputy chancellor and finance minister, will lead a government composed of his Social Democrat party, the business-friendly Free Democrats and the Greens, a coalition of parties never tried before at the federal level in Germany.

The alliance brings to a close 16 years of rule by Angela Merkel, who chose not to run again. During her turbulent time in office, spanning eurozone crises, more than a million refugee arrivals and Brexit, there have been four French presidents, five British prime ministers and eight Italian premiers.

The 177-page coalition agreement, entitled Dare More Progress, was signed by the party leaders at a ceremony at Berlin’s Futurium Museum on Tuesday. It was “the moment the post-Merkel era begins for real”, tweeted the political editor of Deutsche Welle’s international channel, Michaela Kuefner.

The agreement had already received strong backing from the three parties, clearing the way for Scholz to be voted in by Germany’s lower house on Wednesday.

Chancellor: Olaf Scholz (SPD)

The 63-year old former mayor of the northern port city of Hamburg served as finance minister under Angela Merkel as part of the "grand coalition" between his SPD and her conservatives.

He engineered a multibillion-euro rescue package for the economy during the coronavirus pandemic.

He said his first foreign trip as chancellor would be to France, a nod to the importance of a functioning Franco-German alliance to reforming the eurozone and strengthening the European Union.

Vice-chancellor and minister for economy, climate protection, digital transformation and energy transition: Robert Habeck (Greens)

The 52-year-old environmental party co-leader will head a beefed-up ministry that has overseen both the distribution of financial lifelines to businesses affected by lockdown and implementing a strategy to develop large-scale green hydrogen. In future, it will also have responsibility for the climate issues that are the Greens' raison d'etre.

Finance: Christian Lindner (FDP)

The 42-year-old leader of the liberal and fiscally conservative FDP has said he will keep in place strict limits on new public borrowing and not raise taxes to finance ambitious investments to wean the economy off fossil fuels and upgrade Germany's infrastructure for the digital age.

His championing of austerity and strict budget rules in the eurozone could set him on a collision course with counterparts in southern EU states such as Italy and Spain.

Foreign affairs: Annalena Baerbock (Greens)

Baerbock, 40, will be Germany's first female foreign minister. The Greens' co-leader will have to balance her party's demands for a tougher line on human rights in Russia and China against Scholz's likely preference not to risk a confrontation with the two countries over issues such as Taiwan and Ukraine.

Defence: Christine Lambrecht (SPD)

Lambrecht, 56, who currently serves as justice minister, will become the third successive female defence minister after the current minister, Annegret Kramp-Karrenbauer, and Ursula von der Leyen, now president of the European Commission.

Lambrecht, who has been outspoken against rightwing extremism, would be in charge of the German army, which has been plagued by a series of reports in recent years about radical elements within its ranks.

Health: Karl Lauterbach (SPD)

The 58-year-old, trained as a doctor, has been an outspoken proponent of tougher coronavirus restrictions throughout the pandemic, and will become the next health minister.

Lauterbach, who studied epidemiology at the Harvard School of Public Health, has advocated for mandatory vaccinations, stricter restrictions on the unvaccinated and the closure of all bars and clubs until the fourth wave of infections is over. Reuters

The new government has a full in-tray, from Germany’s spiralling number of coronavirus cases to Russian troop movements on the Ukrainian border, on top of its priorities to overhaul the German economy by modernising creaking infrastructure and sharply reducing fossil fuels.

Scholz said any moves by Russia to cross the Ukrainian border would be unacceptable. “It is very, very important that no one rolls through the history books to draw new borders,” Scholz told reporters after signing the coalition agreement.

He was less firm when asked about China, skirting questions on whether Germany would join a diplomatic boycott of the 2022 Winter Olympics in Beijing.

The new chancellor, an architect of the EU’s coronavirus recovery fund, said his first trip outside Germany would be to Paris and Brussels, as he seeks to ensure that “Europe is secure and sovereign”.

Scholz’s approach to EU discussions will differ from that of Merkel, who grew up in East Germany. The outgoing chancellor was credited with a special understanding of EU members from the former Communist bloc, but also criticised for failing to tackle the threat to democratic values in Hungary and Poland.

Hungary’s autocratic prime minister, Viktor Orbán, who quit Merkel’s centre-right European People’s party grouping, said when Merkel leaves office “a piece of the life of the central Europeans will go with her”. In an article to mark her departure, he criticised Merkel’s decision to open Germany to Syrian refugees in 2015, while revealing his suspicion of what he called “the new, leftwing German government’s pro-immigration, pro-gender, federalist, pro-German Europe agenda”.

“One thing is for sure: the era of ambiguity, stealth politics and drifting has ended with Merkel. We now prepare for battle with our eyes wide open.”

Germany’s incoming government has agreed that EU authorities should act more urgently to defend the rule of law, including withholding EU funds if necessary.

The unity of the coalition could be tested by the Nord Stream II pipeline, which is to transport gas from Russia to Germany, bypassing Ukraine. The incoming vice-chancellor, Robert Habeck, a co-leader of the Greens, which campaigned to abolish the project, said the pipeline had not received approval and political discussion would continue.

Habeck, a former translator of British poet Ted Hughes, also said it would take two to three years to see the result of investment in renewable energy.

By 2030 the new government wants to have phased out coal and have 15 million electric cars on the roads.

Christian Lindner, the Free Democrats’ leader and next finance minister, said: “We have no illusions we face great challenges.”


Jennifer Rankin and agencies

The GuardianTramp

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