Scholz to lead Germany as Merkel era ends

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German Chancellor Angela Merkel (left) and her designated successor Olaf Scholz after a meeting at the Chancellery in Berlin last Thursday. AFP

Germany’s parliament will officially elect Olaf Scholz on December 8 as the country’s next chancellor, bringing the curtain down on Angela Merkel’s 16-year reign and ushering in a new political era with the centre-left in charge.

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

Together with the Greens and the liberal Free Democrats, Scholz’s SPD managed in a far shorter time than expected to forge a coalition that aspires to make Germany greener and fairer.

“I want the 20s to be a time of new beginnings,” Scholz told Die Zeit weekly, declaring an ambition to push forward “the biggest industrial modernisation which will be capable of stopping climate change caused by mankind”.

The centre-left’s return to power in Europe’s biggest economy could shift the balance on a continent still reeling from Brexit and with the other major player, France, heading into presidential elections in 2022.

But even before it took office, Scholz’s “traffic-light” coalition – named after the three parties’ colours – was already given a baptism of fire in the form of a fierce fourth wave of the coronavirus pandemic.

No red lines

With intensive care beds running out in some regions and a rampant rise in infection numbers showing no signs of abating, Scholz and his new team have been pressed – including by Merkel – to agree new curbs even before they are sworn in by parliament.

After Austria set the example and with Germany struggling to boost stagnating vaccination numbers, the parties also came under pressure to make an about-turn on a pledge made earlier in the pandemic not to make vaccinations compulsory.

Scholz has since spoken out in favour of mandatory vaccination, saying he wanted MPs to vote on the issue before year’s end with a view of implementing it in February.

“For my government, there are no red lines on what must be done. We’re ruling nothing out,” he told Die Zeit.

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

Dubbed “the discreet” by left-leaning daily TAZ, Scholz, 63, is often described as austere.

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

An experienced hand in government, Scholz was labour minister in Merkel’s first coalition from 2007 to 2009 before taking over as vice-chancellor and finance minister in 2015.