Olaf Scholz signed the deal of a lifetime this week. Less than two months after leading his Social Democrats to a close victory at the polls, the outgoing German finance minister has equipped himself with the coalition he needs to be sworn in as chancellor, probably within two weeks. Angela Merkel’s 16-year-old era is over. The Scholz years are about to begin.
This success is a well-deserved justification. Just two years ago, his career seemed almost dead when Scholz, a technocrat by temper, lost to left-wing brandons in a campaign to lead his own party. When the SPD later nominated him for chancellery, he seemed to have no chance. But then his rivals spontaneously self-destructed and things fell into place. And here it is.
His government will be an experiment for Germany. For the first time at the federal level, the Social Democrats – who produced only three of the eight chancellors of post-war Germany – will rule with both the Green Environmentalists and the pro-business Free Democrats. Social Democrats descend from 19th century Marxism, Greens from the 1970s counterculture, and Free Democrats in their current embodiment of neoliberalism. Just making this trio sing won’t be easy.
Scholz’s goal in this situation wasn’t to force his own party’s campaign manifesto down the throats of both partners – which is just as good, as he probably doesn’t care much anyway. Instead, it was to ensure that each party could claim enough victories for its base to ratify the coalition agreement. And Scholz seems to have done it.
Here is my tentative summary of the roles each party will play.
The SPD will get the Chancellery, of course, and a few other portfolios – no ministerial posts have been confirmed yet. Overall, the party and Scholz will try to play the role that the Christian Democrats and Merkel had, as non-ideological but competent administrators in times of crisis.
To satisfy the left wing of his party, Scholz will quickly fulfill his biggest campaign promise: an increase in the minimum wage from 9.60 euros (10.76 euros) to 12. The party will also try to build more housing. . He will use any semblance of success in these efforts to loudly proclaim himself the defender of the working classes and social justice. Then he’ll sit down and try to keep the other two parties from fighting.
The Greens had to concede a lot in the negotiations but saved their perceived basic competence. Robert Habeck, one of the party’s two leaders, seems on the way to becoming a “super-minister” in charge of several portfolios, from the economy to energy to the climate. As agreed in the coalition contract, it will try to increase the share of solar and wind generation in the power grid, move out of coal power by 2030 instead of 2038, and phase out cars on the grid. combustion engine at about the same time. Whether they succeed or break, the Greens finally have the “green”.
They will also take on the Foreign Office, which probably goes to co-leader Annalena Baerbock. She made an unfortunate figure as a green candidate for chancellor, but she could make a good chief diplomat. She and her party have been the most direct in calling on China and Russia on human rights, and the most enthusiastic about strengthening the European Union.
Free Democrats have the most to boast about. The smallest of the three partners, the FDP, however, sold at a high price. He blocked the SPD and the Greens’ demands for a wealth tax and an increase in income taxes. He also defended the principle of balanced budgets in the country and budgetary restrictions in the EU. Party boss Christian Lindner even seems to have wrested the Ministry of Finance from the Greens, who should have had it. For better or worse, he too now owns his brand category and will be judged accordingly.
All three, of course, will do their best to point out whatever they can find in common. It could be the legalization of cannabis – popular with young voters, though no longer the defining issue of our time – or the much more urgent digital transformation of an economy that is surprisingly still paper-based.
The spoiler is Covid-19, of course. This was not much of a problem during the campaign as the pandemic seemed to be under control in the summer. Free Democrats, in particular, have promised to quickly restore citizens’ freedoms. Now, however, Germany, like much of Europe, is in the throes of its worst outbreak yet – and in need of further restrictions.
To make matters worse, Merkel, as acting chancellor with no real power during the interregnum, tried to enlist Scholz to take more drastic measures against the upsurge in infections. But he pushed her away, perhaps because he was concerned about the coalition talks. According to a new poll by Forsa, a polling firm, Scholz’s approval ratings have already fallen, to only around 50%.
And the Covid-19 is just a crisis to be managed. In the east, Russia has massed its troops near the Ukrainian border and Belarus has fabricated a new migratory crisis. Inflation is skyrocketing, gas reserves are low, supply chains are clogged, the economy is sick.
What Scholz and her new partners might find out sooner than they had hoped is what Merkel experienced in her four terms: You might start by thinking that you will rule and shape, but eventually you will be ruled. and shaped by the crises you’ve been through I don’t even know you would have.
Andreas Kluth is a columnist. He is the author of “Hannibal and Me”.