Germany’s staid but steady new chancellor
Germany has a new chancellor!
On December 08, the German Bundestag elected Center-left Social Democrat Olaf Scholz as the country’s new Chancellor, marking an end to the long tenure of Angela Merkel who has now bowed out from the political stage. Chancellor Scholz will head a coalition government with the Green Party and the neoliberal Free Democrats.
He was born in the western German city of Osnabrück in 1958 but has, for several years now, lived in Potsdam, just outside Berlin, together with his wife, Britta Ernst, who is education minister in the state of Brandenburg. The 63-year-old Scholz served as the Labor and Social Affairs minister in Merkel’s first coalition government in the late 2000s. In 2011, he was elected as the mayor of Hamburg, a position he held – with high levels of support – until 2018. Since then, he has served as the vice-chancellor and finance minister in Merkel’s grand coalition government, a powerful position in German national politics. His pragmatic handling of the Covid crisis won him much praise and high approval ratings. As finance minister, Olaf Scholz oversaw the emergency €750bn funding package put together by the federal government to help German businesses and workers survive the pandemic. He even chaired cabinet meetings when Chancellor Merkel went into self-isolation as a precaution.
Although Scholz has a lot of experience with political top jobs, he lacks charisma. But critics say that he has often been underestimated. He displays unwavering self-confidence. In his decades-long political career, he has experienced a number of upsets, none of which have been able to throw him off course in the long term. Because of his repetitive and technocratic way of speaking, he was nicknamed “Scholzomat” at that time, a play on the German word for a machine.
Scholz has always been seen as belonging to the more conservative wing of the SPD. That made it all the more surprising when left-leaning chairpeople Saskia Esken and Walter-Borjans nominated him as the party’s chancellor candidate in August 2020. In the end, the SPD opted for Scholz as a chancellor candidate although it had not wanted him as party leader.
When he was chosen as the candidate, Scholz said he and the party leadership worked together closely and harmoniously. “We actually started cooperating closely with each other right after the election of the SPD chairpersons, and a very close trust grew from that so that at some point I felt like the two of them would propose me, and the two of them also felt very early on that they should propose me,” he said.
Such a sentence exemplifies how Scholz deals with crises: he gets up, continues undeterred, and never doubts himself. He seems blessed with unshakable self-confidence. In his decades-long political career, he has experienced many a blow, but none that threw him off course for long.
But he is working on changing his demeanor, well aware that he also needs to be able to get his political message across. A week before the German election, he appeared on a popular TV show to make an urgent appeal for people to get vaccinated against Covid-19. His appearance triggered a great deal of response on social media. Users said Scholz seemed more animated than usual and appeared much more approachable.