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Friday, December 3, 2021

He convinced voters that he would be like Merkel. But who is Olaf Scholz?

BERLIN. Olaf Scholz has succeeded in his campaign to become Germany’s next chancellor, primarily by convincing voters that he will be very much like the tall and long-serving figure he will replace: Angela Merkel.

Brief, well-informed and refraining from any solemn gesture, Mr. Scholz not only resembled the departing chancellor, but also perfected the art of embodying her aura of stability and tranquility to such an extent that he crossed his arms in her trademark diamond shape.

“He’s like a footballer who studied videos with another player and changed his game,” said Robin Alexander, a longtime political columnist for both Ms Merkel and Scholz. “From temperament and political style to facial expressions, Scholz is now guiding Merkel. If Scholz were a woman, he would wear pantsuits. “

As Mr Scholz presented his new government on Wednesday and prepares to take office next month, one question for Germany and for all of Europe and the world: can he create and replace Ms Merkel’s very large shoes?

Rarely has a German leader come to power with so many acute crises.

Once he is sworn in as chancellor in early December, Mr. Scholz will have to deal with a growing pandemic, tensions on the Polish-Belarusian border, a mobilization of troops on Ukraine’s eastern border by the Russian president, a more confrontational China and a less reliable United States.

“The pressure is tremendous,” said Yana Pulierin of the European Council on Foreign Relations. “The new government is taking office in a situation that is heating up in many directions. And when it comes to foreign policy, Olaf Scholz remains a mystery. “

Indeed, the fact that Olaf Scholz will appear as chancellor in two weeks has been the subject of intense speculation. The Social Democrat, Mr Scholz, 63, has been a familiar face in German politics for over two decades and has served in Ms Merkel’s two governments, most recently as finance minister.

But he was also something of a political chameleon, a pragmatic politician who swings left and right so easily that it is sometimes difficult to know where he is.

Mr. Scholz was born in Osnabrück, in northern Germany, and grew up in Hamburg, the city of which he later became mayor. His grandfather was a railroad worker, his parents worked in textiles. He and his brothers were the first in the family to go to university.

He was still in high school when he joined the Social Democrats. An ardent young socialist, he spent ten years as a labor lawyer defending workers threatened with factory closures. Then, as general secretary of his party under Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder’s last center-left administration, he defended painful labor market reforms with machine efficiency, earning him the nickname “Scholzmat”.

When he was first elected to parliament, he was a left-wing supporter of his party. Today, he is believed to stand to the right of most of her base, not unlike President Biden in the United States, to whom he is sometimes compared.

But, as with Biden, some see some left-handed reflexes.

Mr. Scholz lost his party’s leadership battle to a pair of leftists two years ago, but surprised and impressed some of his fiercest critics in his own party when he pulled out a bazooka of hundreds of billions of euros in government aid to help the struggles. workers and businesses during a pandemic.

Some hope it is – and his campaign theme, centered on respect for the working class, was proof that the young idealist who had turned into a post-ideological centrist might become more radical again in his 60s.

“The bazooka was a big deal,” said Kevin Kuehnert, an outspoken leftist and one of the deputy leaders of the Social Democrats. “It was a belated peace with his party. And that was the beginning of the deeper social transformation that he hopes for. “

Mr. Scholz, who reportedly lost 12 kilograms, about 26 pounds, and stopped drinking alcohol ahead of the election, has long been underestimated. He always played the long game. According to a close ally, his aspirations to become chancellor date back to 2011.

Even political opponents admire his political instincts, his resilience and calm self-confidence. Three years ago, with his party’s approval rating close to an all-time low, he told The New York Times that the Social Democrats would win the next election.

Like Ms. Merkel, he has a reputation as a reliable helper and decent person with a bipartisan aura.

“Merkel is outside of party politics, she is the voice of reason,” said Alexander, who has written a best-selling book about the end of the Merkel era. “Being the center of politics as an individual is what Merkel has done so masterfully, and this is what Scholz is striving for.”

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This political flexibility could now make him the ideal leader to tackle what may be his constant challenge as chancellor – keeping the peace in an unusual and untested trilateral coalition with two ideologically divergent parties: the progressive greens, who are looking to spend 50 billion euros. , or about $ 56 billion, in the transition to a green economy, and pro-market Free Democrats who will control the Treasury, and with it the wallets.

But it also risks not satisfying anyone. Observers say the extent to which Mr Scholz is preoccupied with balancing conflicting demands at home could affect his ability to push his government’s ambitious agenda to prepare Germany for a carbon-neutral future and digital age.

It will also determine how big a role Germany can play abroad. Analysts predict that if Mr Scholz is too distracted by internal tensions, Europe and the world will surely feel the loss of Ms Merkel’s leadership.

But if all goes smoothly, Scholz’s Germany could prove to be a central force for European unity, for greater transatlantic unity in the fight against climate change and for confronting strategic rivals such as China and Russia, and, with some hope, for a revival of social democracy. in different parts of the world.

Foreign policy was hardly discussed in the election campaign, but with the pandemic it could well end up dominating the first months of the new administration. Germany takes over presidency of the Group of 7 in January, and Mr. Scholz will immediately draw attention on a myriad of pressing international issues.

He has a seeming center-left ally in President Biden. Not once since the second term of former President Bill Clinton has both the White House and the German Chancellery been in the hands of center-left leaders.

But nobody in Berlin relies too much on Washington.

“We don’t know how reliable the Biden administration is, and we don’t know how long it will be in power,” said Ms Poullierin of the European Council on Foreign Relations.

One of Mr. Scholz’s advisers put it more bluntly: “Biden is America first of all, only more polite.”

As a result, Mr. Scholz will focus his efforts on strengthening the European Union, his advisers say. His first overseas visit will be to President Emmanuel Macron in France, who faces a difficult election campaign next year. Supporting Mr. Macron, who is replacing the presidency of the European Union in January, is one of the goals.

“We will talk much more about European sovereignty. We will speak more French. But in reality, it will be difficult to turn this into real politics, ”said Ms Poullierin.

Few analysts expect the new chancellor to substantially change course from Ms Merkel, who took him with her to her last G-20 meeting last month and introduced him to a number of world leaders, including President Biden.

“Don’t expect too big a change” This was announced last weekend by the spokesman for the Social Democrats Niels Schmid.

For those of Germany’s allies hoping for a much tougher stance on China and Russia and more military spending, this promise of continuity can only be partially reassuring.

But with so many international fires and some structural geopolitical shifts, circumstances – and his more aggressive coalition partners – could force the new chancellor to take his hand, said Thomas Kleine-Brockhoff of Germany’s Marshall Fund.

One of the first tests Mr Scholz will face is how to deal with Poland, which has violated some of the democratic principles of EU membership, but is also under pressure from neighboring Belarus, a Russian ally, which is sending migrants to the Polish border in a clear attempt to destabilize the bloc.

Scholz’s Social Democrats have traditionally treated Russia like a dove, supporting projects such as the controversial Nord Stream 2 gas pipeline. But if Moscow launches another offensive in Ukraine, it will be another serious test.

For China, the picture is more complex.

The Social Democrats made it clear that Scholz would not become aggressive overnight and would close ranks with the United States.

“If you look at Merkel’s China policy, I think Olaf Scholz will be more like this policy than the US policy toward China,” said Lars, Social Democratic secretary general and close ally of Mr. Scholz, last month. Klingbeil.

But as Beijing becomes more confrontational and German industry increasingly reveals its dependence on the Chinese market, Germany’s China policy is ripe to evolve from the mercantilist soft touch of the Merkel era, analysts say.

“Scholz has influence and will gain even more influence in his position,” said Holger Schmiding, chief economist at Berenberg Bank. “He has the potential to become a strong leader with international credibility – as long as he maintains his coalition.”

World Nation News Deskhttps://www.worldnationnews.com
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