Press play to listen to this article
New German Chancellor Olaf Sholz may not have delivered his first major speech to parliament, but he is already saying what to expect from his government.
As a new era dawns in Germany, with Angela Merkel stepping down after 16 years in power, attention has turned to the soft-spoken 63-year-old. The former finance minister will lead a one-of-a-kind coalition government, bringing together center-left Social Democrats (SPD), green environmentalists and pro-business Free Democrats. The arrangement left the government somewhat shrouded in mystery.
“The start of your government is accompanied by curiosity and hope by many,” German President Frank-Walter Steinmeier told Scholz’s new cabinet on Wednesday in a speech.
Just hours into Scholz’s tenure, here are seven early signs of what’s to come.
No pandemic honeymoon
Scholz has already set a goal for his first weeks on the job: to administer 30 million additional doses of the coronavirus vaccine by Christmas.
The deadline is one of necessity. As a fourth wave of coronavirus sweeps the country, the Omicron variant is looming and intensive care units may run out of beds, the vaccination rate in Germany is still too low to achieve herd immunity. In addition, those who were vaccinated now need booster shots.
So there isn’t much of an option for the government when it comes to picking its first project in the coalition’s 177-page deal: it’s all about the pandemic.
Become tougher on the unvaccinated
The new government will soon make life harder for the unvaccinated, putting Germany on the same lines as large neighboring countries like France and Italy.
These restrictions are necessary, Scholz told reporters on Tuesday, to fight the pandemic. This is a clear signal that Scholz is not accepting warnings that more restrictions will simply radicalize vaccine skeptics.
“The company is not divided, but rather a majority of one opinion,” he said.
Minister by popular demand
“Many wanted him,” said Scholz, referring to the hashtag movement – sometimes trending on German Twitter – #wirwollenKarl, or “we want Karl,” which has spurred Karl Lauterbach to become the new health minister.
Lauterbach is a physician, epidemiologist and ubiquitous advocate for tough measures to fight coronavirus in TV talk shows. His appointment is another indicator of the direction of the new government.
As Steinmeier said: “In the acute emergency, it is important not to listen to the loudest but to ensure that the pandemic does not hold us firmly in its grip for another year and that public life can. become possible again. “
While Scholz had no say in who his coalition partners chose for the new cabinet, he showed great strength in choosing ministers for his own party.
Its roster of ministers is gender balanced, but that’s about it. No SPD minister has a migratory background and all are middle-aged. Scholz also avoided regional balance, usually an important criterion in German politics – there is only one East German SPD minister.
Recruit talent, train skills
Only one government minister, Hubertus Heil of the SPD, retained his post in the previous government. Three others will remain in place while changing ministries, responsibilities and portfolio, even if they have not shown a particular closeness to their new domain.
In short, this all means that the SPD team is the Scholz team, and their potential mistakes will be their own.
Friends will be friends
After just two days in power, Scholz will travel to Paris and Brussels on Friday, a first trip that follows his pro-European message repeated during the campaign.
In his speech on Wednesday, Steinmeier informed Scholz that keeping Europe in mind can help keep Germany united, especially during times of significant change that can overwhelm people.
“Germany is not an isolated island … we are at the center of Europe” Steinmeier said, saying it is in Germany’s interest to take into account the interests of its neighbors.
The usual courtesy visit to Germany’s closest friends is also a signal that Scholz does not want to give French President Emmanuel Macron much time to indulge in Nostalgia merkel. Macron appeared ready to move forward on Wednesday: “See you Friday!” he tweeted, adding that the two leaders “will write the next chapter together. For the French, for the Germans, for the Europeans.
Ready for work
Scholz is proud to be the father of the EU’s huge coronavirus recovery fund during his last post as German Finance Minister. And on Wednesday, he indicated he would keep Europe and its finances intertwined as chancellor, appointing his close associate Jörg Kukies to a dual role spanning both economic policy and European affairs.
Kukies – a former Goldman Sachs banker who was Scholz’s EU advisor to the finance ministry – was also behind the EU’s stimulus package, earning considerable credit for helping negotiate the mega-deal. From now on, he will assume a leading role as Scholz’s super advisor, helping shape government fiscal strategies and preparing Scholz for EU summits and international gatherings like the G7.
It’s a powerful position that sends a message both to EU partners and to Scholz’s own foreign and finance ministers: his office will have a say in all (expensive) European affairs.