While taking over as German Chancellor, Olaf Scholz already has a full baccalaureate.
Whether it’s moving foreign policy away from a crisis with Russia, the existential threats of climate change and an ongoing pandemic, he will have to take the lead.
“I think his baccalaureate is huge,” says Dr Constanze Stelzenmüller, who is the Fritz Stern Chair in Germany and Transatlantic Relations at the Brookings Institute.
“He and his coalition partners want to have a real impact on the transformation and politics of the German economy and society and at the same time they have pressing political issues, like the accumulating crisis at the border from Ukraine, due to Massive troop movements and threats from Russia. “
Commenting on the matter in one of his first television interviews yesterday, Chancellor Scholz said there would be consequences if Ukraine’s borders were violated by Russia, but he said Germany and other countries were doing everything possible to prevent this from happening.
Concerned about the Russian military build-up, the United States wants Germany to use its pending approval of the near-completed Nord Stream 2 pipeline from Russia as a lever for the deadlock with Moscow over Ukraine.
“We have a very clear vision. We want everyone to respect the integrity of the borders,” he said.
“Everyone understands that there will be consequences if this does not happen, but the thing is to do everything to make sure they stay intact,” he said.
In another interview with ZDF television, Mr Scholz sidestepped questions of whether Germany would join the United States, Australia and Britain in a diplomatic boycott of the Winter Olympics in Beijing.
Engaging in a three-way coalition with the environmentalist party of the Greens means that action on climate change will also be high on the new chancellor’s agenda.
The coalition parties have agreed to a goal of net zero greenhouse gas emissions by 2045 at the latest and to place the expansion of renewable energy at the heart of their work.
“I think it’s high on the agenda of every government ministry in Berlin,” says Constanze Stelzenmüller.
Transforming the economy in a socially acceptable way to meet this agenda will be one of its biggest challenges, she said.
The Covid-19 pandemic is also a major stumbling block which means that the new chancellor could hardly start the implementation of his ambitions, in particular with the arrival of the potentially more infectious Omicron variant.
Germany, which was initially praised for dealing with the first wave of Covid by keeping infections relatively low, recorded 527 deaths yesterday, in a fourth wave that has strained hospitals.
This has led to questions on how to tackle the country’s relatively low vaccination rate compared to other EU members.
It currently stands at just over 69% and there are plans to pass legislation in the national parliament to make vaccination compulsory from February next year.
Olaf Scholz has already made it clear that he believes vaccinations should be made mandatory for targeted groups and that the fight against the coronavirus would be his government’s priority.
Speaking at the end of last month, he said: “Vaccination is the way out of this pandemic. In institutions where vulnerable groups are taken care of, we should make vaccination compulsory.”
The creation of the EU’s € 750 billion coronavirus recovery fund earlier this year was seen as a watershed moment for the bloc, with a deal reached despite resistance from outgoing Chancellor Angela Merkel.
Member countries have agreed for the first time to increase their common debt to ensure that countries worst affected by the pandemic will be able to tackle some of the worst effects on their economies by investing in stimulus packages for growth .
Dr Stelzenmüller says this is something in which Mr Scholz played a major role as Dr Merkel’s finance minister.
“Her greatest achievement, which somehow earns her a place in the history books, is to get Angela Merkel and her conservative, center-right Christian Democrats to agree to the European stimulus package, which has largely been designed by the Scholz Ministry of Finance, “she said.
On other latent topics like Brexit, Dr Stelzenmüller said Mr Scholz would likely take a pro-European approach in line with that of his predecessor.
In September, he was quick to blame Brexit and the end of free movement for the UK fuel crisis, made worse by the lack of truck drivers.
“The free movement of workers is part of the European Union and we have worked very hard to convince the British not to leave the Union”, he said, while affirming that the good relations between the Great Brittany and the EU should be maintained.
“Ireland can expect Chancellor Scholz to be very pro-European, very defender of the rights of European member states and I think this will also be true for Ireland vis-à-vis the UK.
“We need to find a working relationship with the UK on many issues including defense, security and trade… but I think EU Member State status under EU law is for Berlin , even with this new government, non-negotiable, ”she said.
Having served as German Chancellor for 16 years, Dr Merkel was always going to be big shoes to fill.
However, while some have called the 63-year-old Mr Scholz “boring”, Dr Stelzenmüller believes he will bring some of the same skills as Ms Merkel to the job, perhaps with even more ambition.
“He has a lot of the same inclinations as her of negotiating consensus, building bridges, generally not being excited or rhetorically ambitious, which is probably how the Germans like him.
“Having said that, he said he would be much more ambitious in his government program, and I think his Green and Liberal coalition partners strongly agree with him on the ambition of the program, if not entirely. fact about how to implement it, which will likely be the subject of litigation, ”she said.