Olaf Scholz condemns Covid ‘truth denial’ in inaugural speech

German chancellor promises to defeat pandemic, tackle extremists and speed up switch to renewable energy

The German chancellor, Olaf Scholz, has used his inaugural address to parliament to promise to defeat the pandemic and to tackle a “minority of hate-filled extremists” trying to overturn the government’s coronavirus measures.

In a wide-ranging speech in which he said there was “a lot to do” and “no time to lose”, Scholz also acknowledged the huge challenges Germany faced in tackling the climate emergency, including the fears many had about the impact a transition to climate neutrality might have on their lives.

He promised a “fair distribution” of the costs and said everyone would benefit from the “safety and security” of switching to renewable energy. But he said a wide majority of the population would have to support the government’s promise to bring forward by seven years the withdrawal from fossil fuels – on which 250 years of German prosperity was based – for the transition to be able to work. Private investment supported by government subsidies would also be at the heart of encouraging climate neutrality innovations, he said.

Scholz, whose three-party coalition government of his Social Democrats, the Greens and the pro-business FDP took office a week ago, also paid tribute to his predecessor, Angela Merkel. He thanked her for enabling a smooth transition of power from her government to his, due to her “calm manner”, and praised her for her “modesty and lack of affectation”. He said the civility of the transition had been “admired worldwide and earned the respect of many around the world”.

Scholz opened his 90-minute address by urging Germans to get vaccinated so that the country could “return to normal”, and stressed the joint effort that was needed to defeat the virus.

So far just under 70% of Germans have been double-jabbed, while 26% have received a booster dose.

He spent the first 10 minutes of his speech condemning the “truth denial, absurd conspiracy theories, wanton disinformation and primed-for-violence extremists” that had contributed to Germany’s low vaccine rate, in a tone markedly sharper than that ever used by Merkel during the pandemic. Scholz said he lacked understanding as to why it was that despite every adult in Germany having access to two jabs, and those most vulnerable having access to a booster jab, so many had yet to take up the offer.

“If they had we would have the pandemic under control by now,” he said. “Then we could experience a meaningful Christmas with our old freedoms.”

He attacked in particular protesters who have attempted to derail the government’s measures to curb Covid-19 just as focus on Wednesday was on the emergence of reports of a plot by coronavirus deniers to murder the leader of the state of Saxony, which led to police raids on Monday. There have also been recent torch-lit parades outside the home of Saxony’s health minister as well as a stream of death threats sent to mayors and other public figures across Germany.

Scholz said he would not allow a “small minority of extremists to try to impose their will on our entire society”, stressing that “our democracy is ready to defend itself and knows how to do it”.

Scholz stressed his government’s determination to look beyond the pandemic, laying out his transport plans including an increase in the number of trains, bringing disused railway stations back to life, and encouraging the use of electric cars.

More affordable housing is also high on his agenda, including an increase in new builds and introducing a cap on rent increases.

He called Germany a nation of immigration and said in future it would be easier for people to become German citizens and to be able to vote, and multiple citizenship would also be made a possibility, to reflect “the reality of many people”.

A minimum wage of €12 an hour was due to be introduced from next year, he said, stressing how the pandemic had increased awareness of the importance of every type of worker.

He also announced an increase in the effort to tackle organised crime, political extremism and tax evasion, but said the biggest threat to German democracy came from rightwing extremism.

Among an array of foreign policy issues, including China and Nato, in line with his predecessors he said the success of the European project remained Germany’s “most important national concern”. European unity he said was vital to act against the “highly concerning” gathering of troops on the Ukraine-Russian border.


Kate Connolly in Berlin

The GuardianTramp

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