BERLIN – For the first time in almost 16 years, Angela Merkel is not German Chancellor. His Social Democratic successor, Olaf Scholz, was sworn in at around noon local time on Wednesday after the Bundestag, Germany’s parliament, elected him.
He took an oath without reference to God, which is optional.
It has been a long road to get here. Merkel, a conservative Christian Democrat, has had the right to evictions, both formal and informal, at home and abroad. Despite four terms – a reign before the iPhone – Merkel remains within two weeks of the record for longest chancellery. It was Helmut Kohl, Merkel’s party mentor who oversaw German reunification in 1990.
She is the first German Chancellor to retire rather than lose, and one of the few heads of government planning her exit from politics. Merkel, from her seat in the parliament visitors gallery, Merkel received a long standing ovation from lawmakers and other officials before the vote began.
Otherwise, she kept a characteristic low profile on the last day of her tenure and was due to hand over the Chancellery to Scholz in the afternoon.
“Everything goes as it should in a democracy: smoothly, with respect and amicably,” said Steffen Seibert, Merkel’s spokesperson since 2010, in a video statement as he prepared to leave her office. office as well.
Scholz’s journey to become the most powerful leader in Europe has been strewn with pitfalls. He enjoyed the stature of vice-chancellor and finance minister in Merkel’s final and most turbulent government, but his center-left Social Democratic Party (SPD) struggled to stand out after years of support to Merkel’s conservative Christian Democratic Union (CDU). Faced with historically low poll counts, Scholz had an outside chance for much of the election campaign. But as his rivals fumbled, his prospects – and those of his party – improved.
“We started, when hardly anyone believed in us. Today I can elect Olaf Scholz as the next chancellor. What an honor. What a time. What a race,” tweeted SPD General Secretary Lars Klingbeil , before the vote.
Since the September elections, party leaders have worked hard to present a united front with their coalition partners – the Greens and the Liberal Liberal Democrats – as they struck a deal for their four-year term. The deal marked the first tripartite coalition in decades at the federal level and the first time that Germany has had this combination to try to rule the country.
While the SPD and the Greens are natural allies on the center-left of the political spectrum, the Free Democratic Party (FDP) has been more of the conservatives’ historic partner. The FDP’s views on limited state interference, low taxes and regulations, and a tight grip on public funds collide with the broader view of the government on the other side.
“The influence of the FDP is clearly visible, especially in key political areas,” Dietmar Bartsch, co-leader of the Left Socialist Party in parliament, told German television station Phoenix. “On fiscal policy, the Greens and the SPD had very different positions before the deal. That’s the whole FDP.”
The new coalition said it has found a way to invest in infrastructure, technology and climate change initiatives while adhering to strict debt limit rules and suspending new taxes. This adds to unprecedented spending during the coronavirus pandemic, as the federal government stepped in to support workers, businesses, and state and local governments.
There could be more spending ahead as the country struggles to break a fourth wave of infections and boost its vaccination rate.
Germany faces a long-term nursing shortage, an aging population and a housing crisis, which has exacerbated homelessness and put more pressure on the middle class. Climate advocates have recognized the new government’s tougher measures, such as phasing out ‘ideally’ coal by 2030 and almost double renewables by then, but also say they are insufficient to mitigate the worst effects of climate change.
Scholz could also face an immediate geopolitical crisis. With Russia again massing troops on the Ukrainian border, Germany faces further calls from its allies to kill the Nord Stream 2 gas pipeline project. that Russian gas cannot begin to flow.
After nearly 16 years of conservative leadership defined by crisis management, Scholz faces high expectations to keep his government’s promise to “dare more progress”.