The former finance minister’s coalition is getting ready to take office, with the uphill task of addressing challenging issues while his predecessor still enjoys broad support.
Two months after federal elections in Germany, Olaf Scholz, 63, is readying himself to replace the country’s second-longest serving leader, Angela Merkel.
It’s a tough job considering Merkel is still considerably popular among Germans after 16 years — but he has proven trust in tough missions already.
For two years, he has served as vice-chancellor in the current governing coalition consisting of the union parties the Christian Democratic Union (CDU) and Christian Social Union in Bavaria (CSU) and Social Democratic Party of Germany (SPD), as well as the centre-left’s finance minister.
It meant leading Europe's strongest economy as the Covid-19 pandemic triggered the deepest economic recession in nearly a century.
To battle the pandemic ravages to the economy, as an experienced negotiator, he pushed through Germany’s generous Covid-19 stimulus package and the EU’s €750bn ($886bn) recovery plan.
For years he was called by not-so-flattering nickname "Scholzomat" in reference to his so-called mechanical looks and the efficiency of his politics.
In 1975, Scholz joined the Social Democrats as a highschool student with a youthful ambition: “overcoming the capitalist economy.”
Though he may have drifted away from his youthful radical goals, maybe it was that same ambition that kicked off his career: first as a lawyer defending worker’s rights, then as secretary-general of his party, pushing through more labour-friendly market reforms. Predictably, the radicalism softened during his time as mayor of Hamburg between 2011 and 2018.
Some blame Scholtz for standing on the conservative corner of the Social Democratic Party. But despite not being particularly popular within his party he managed to convince Germans that he could continue providing Merkel’s stability, even though he belonged to the outgoing chancellor’s rival party.
Traffic light coalition
After weeks of coalition talks between the SPD, the Greens and the Free Democratic Party (FDP), a three-way coalition deal was announced on November 24.
Also dubbed as "traffic light" coalition in reference to their party colors of red, green and yellow, SPD, the Greens and the Free Democratic Party will govern together for the first time.
Doubters, though, are questioning the efficiency of the alliance.
“The first traffic light [in Germany] was erected in Berlin in 1924 in Potsdamer Platz. At that time, it was still an unusual technology. ‘Can it work?’ people asked skeptically,” Scholz was asked during a press conference in Berlin on Wednesday.
“Today, the traffic light is indispensable when it comes to regulating things clearly and providing the right orientation and ensuring that everyone moves forward safely and smoothly. My ambition as chancellor is that this traffic light alliance will play a similarly groundbreaking role for Germany,” he added.
His quiet confidence, some say, comes from channeling Merkel's energy.
“From temperament and political style all the way down to facial expression Scholz now channels Merkel. If Scholz was a woman he would wear pantsuits,” a long-term political observer of both Merkel and Scholz, Robin Alexander told the New York Times.
However, he’ll be facing multiple challenging issues that he might address differently than Merkel. Covid sweeping Germany, a fresh migration crisis at the Polish-Belarusian border and environmental responsibilities are only few of those that will clarify Scholtz’s style of governance.
Progressive post-Merkel era reforms
Under Scholz’s leadership, the coalition has already introduced some reforms with a 177 page policy agenda covering the next four years.
The coalition pledged to phase out coal use by 2030, announced plans to legalise cannabis in licenced premises, lowering the voting age from 16 to 18, and scrapping bans on doctors from advertising information about abortions.
The three-way coalition also aims to ease some immigration and citizenship rules. Citizens with foreign origins will be allowed to possess dual citizenship and immigrants will be allowed to apply for a German passport after three years.