Olaf Scholz will become chancellor of Germany on Wednesday, turning the page on 16 years with Angela Merkel at the helm as a new centre-left-led coalition takes the wheel of Europe’s top economy.
Scholz, who will be formally elected by the Bundestag lower house of parliament and then sworn in by President Frank-Walter Steinmeier, has pledged broad “continuity” with the popular Merkel while making Germany greener and fairer.
The finance minister under Merkel led his Social Democrats to victory in the September 26 election — an outcome considered unthinkable at the start of the year given the party’s then festering divisions and anaemic support.
Scholz, 63, who turned to emulate Merkel in style and substance into a winning strategy, has now cobbled together Germany’s first national “traffic light” coalition with the ecologist Greens and the liberal Free Democrats, nicknamed after the parties’ colours.
Their four-year pact sealed late last month is called “Dare for More Progress”, a hat tip to Social Democratic chancellor Willy Brandt’s 1969 historic pledge to “Dare for More Democracy”.
“We have a chance for a new beginning for Germany,” Scholz told his party at the weekend as it gave its blessing to the coalition agreement with 99 percent support.
The alliance aims to slash carbon emissions, overhaul decrepit digital infrastructure, modernise citizenship laws, lift the minimum wage and have Germany join a handful of countries worldwide in legalising marijuana.
The incoming foreign minister, Annalena Baerbock, has also pledged a tougher line with authoritarian states such as Russia and China after the business-driven pragmatism of the Merkel years.
Greens co-leader Baerbock is one of eight women in Germany’s first gender-balanced cabinet.
“That corresponds to the society we live in — half of the power belongs to women,” Scholz, who describes himself as a “feminist”, said this week.
Scholz and his team promise stability just as France braces for a bitterly fought presidential election next year and Europe grapples with the enduring aftershocks of Brexit.
However, a vicious fourth Covid wave has already put the incoming coalition to the test.
“We have to make a fresh start while facing down the corona pandemic — those are the circumstances the new government is up against,” Scholz told reporters Tuesday, flanked by his designated finance and economy ministers, Christian Lindner and Robert Habeck.
More than 103,000 people have died with coronavirus in Germany while new infections have surged since the weather turned cold, filling intensive care units to the breaking point.
Scholz has thrown his weight behind Germany following Austria in making jabs mandatory to get the pandemic under control, as experts say the worst is still to come for the country’s struggling clinics.
He aims to have parliament vote on the issue before the year is out with a view to implementing the law in February or March.
Merkel, 67, Germany’s first woman chancellor, is retiring from politics after four consecutive terms, the first post-war leader to step aside of her own accord.
She leaves big shoes to fill, with large majorities of Germans approving of her leadership, even if her own party, the conservative Christian Democrats, often bridled against her moderate course.
“For 16 years, Angela Merkel defined the political centre,” columnist Nikolas Blome said.
“If she were running again, she would win a fifth term,” he added, saying it was nevertheless time for new blood.
Despite being from a rival party, Scholz tapped into that well of popular support in his bid to succeed her.
The left-leaning daily Tageszeitung recently joked about the similarities between the two politicians on its front page, with the pandemic-era headline “Merkel Variant Prevails” and a picture of a grinning Scholz.
Her successor has however pledged to tackle the widening gap between rich and poor under Merkel.
The independent Centre for European Economic Research (ZEW) said in an analysis of the coalition pact that lower-income Germans and parents stood to gain the most from its policy roadmap.
Meanwhile, Greens supporters are banking on billions flowing toward climate protection and renewable energy, even as the government pledges to return to a no-new-debt rule by 2023.
German Chancellor Angela Merkel discussed climate change and clerical abuse with Pope Francis Thursday in a farewell trip to Rome that included talks with Italian Prime Minister Mario Draghi.
Merkel, who is bowing out after 16 years in power, also visited St Peter’s Basilica and will lunch at a restaurant in central Rome before giving a speech at a peace conference at the Colosseum.
She was honoured with a ceremonial welcome by the Swiss Guards at the Vatican before meeting and exchanging gifts with the pope, whom she has met several times before.
She said afterwards they discussed climate change — an issue on which Francis has been outspoken — and the sexual abuse by children of clergy, a problem that has rocked the Catholic Church in Germany and elsewhere.
“We had important discussions about child abuse,” Merkel, the daughter of a Lutheran clergyman, told reporters.
“I wanted to underline with my visit that we think that the truth must come to light, and the topic must be dealt with.”
Earlier, Merkel visited the site of a new institute within the Vatican’s Gregoriana university dedicated to child protection and met with Hans Zollner, the Vatican’s leading expert on measures to safeguard minors.
She was later due to meet with Draghi, with whom she has worked closely for years, notably when he was head of the European Central Bank — and where they did not always see eye-to-eye.
Merkel will stay on in a caretaker capacity as her successors haggle over forming a coalition.
Germany is inching towards a government led by Olaf Scholz after the Greens and the liberal FDP party said Wednesday they would try for a three-way tie-up with his Social Democrats while shunning Merkel’s conservatives.
The two kingmaker parties’ decision sends the CDU-CSU bloc closer to the opposition, in a major shift for the country after a decade and a half of Merkel’s centre right-led government.
Germany’s outgoing Chancellor Angela Merkel has congratulated Finance Minister Olaf Scholz from the rival Social Democrats on his election victory, a government statement said Wednesday, as Merkel’s conservatives remain in disarray after the vote.
Scholz’s SPD won 25.7 percent of the vote in Sunday’s hard-fought general election, while Merkel’s centre-right CDU-CSU bloc slumped to a record-low of 24.1 percent.
“The chancellor congratulated Olaf Scholz on Monday on his election success,” the statement said.
Merkel’s would-be conservative successor Armin Laschet has yet to publicly do so.
Despite leading the conservative alliance to its worst result in its seven-decade history, the unpopular Laschet has insisted on trying to form the next German coalition government with him as chancellor.
But key conservative figures have increasingly distanced themselves from Laschet in recent days, raising doubts about his future.
Bavarian premier Markus Soeder, leader of the CSU sister party to the CDU, publicly congratulated Scholz in a press conference on Tuesday, illustrating a growing rift with Laschet.
“Olaf Scholz clearly has the better chance of becoming chancellor at the moment,” Soeder said, insisting the election result “must be accepted, it is a basic rule of democracy”.
Merkel herself is standing down after 16 years at the helm of Europe’s top economy.
But the veteran leader will stay on in a caretaker capacity until the new government is formed, expected to take weeks or even months.
With neither the SPD nor the CDU-CSU keen on teaming up again in a so-called grand coalition, the only way either can achieve a parliamentary majority is by partnering with the Greens and the pro-business FDP party.
Germany’s outgoing Chancellor Angela Merkel on Tuesday distanced herself from Finance Minister Olaf Scholz, saying there was “a huge difference” between her and the centre-left candidate seeking to take her crown.
Less than a month before a September 26 general election, Merkel’s CDU/CSU conservatives are slipping in opinion polls while Scholz’s Social Democrats (SPD) have taken the lead in a race still seen as wide open.
Germans do not directly elect their chancellor but surveys show Scholz would now be the favourite if they did — while the conservatives’ pick, Armin Laschet, has fallen behind after a string of gaffes.
“With me as chancellor there would never be a coalition with the (far-left) Linke, and whether this can be said of Olaf Scholz or not remains open,” Merkel told reporters in Berlin.
“So in that regard, there’s simply a huge difference for the future of Germany between me and him.”
Scholz, who is also the country’s vice chancellor, is presenting himself as the stability candidate and the natural heir to Merkel’s legacy despite hailing from a rival party.
He has even copied the famous “Merkel rhombus” hand gesture, pressing his thumbs and fingers into a diamond shape the same way the chancellor does.
Surveys suggest the September ballot could result in a three-way coalition government, potentially with uneasy bedfellows.
The latest Forsa survey for broadcasters NTV/RTL put the SPD at 23 percent, followed by the CDU/CSU at 21 percent and the Green party at 18 percent support.
While the Greens would be a logical partner in a possible SPD-led coalition, Scholz has come under fire for not explicitly ruling out a tie-up with the radical Linke party, which opposes NATO and is currently polling at around six percent.
The pro-business FDP party, polling at around 12 percent, would also be an option but they are traditionally wary of teaming up with the Greens.
Conservative politicians have accused Scholz of riding on Merkel’s coat-tails.
Bavarian premier Markus Soeder from the CSU welcomed Merkel’s pushback on Tuesday, saying she could not have been clearer.
“Everyone knows that Olaf Scholz wants to move to the left,” Soeder said.
Merkel herself is bowing out of politics after 16 years as chancellor.
Queen Elizabeth II will host German Chancellor Angela Merkel when she visits Britain this week, Buckingham Palace said on Wednesday.
The Queen, who has met the chancellor several times during Merkel’s 16 years in power, will host the German leader at Windsor Castle, west of London.
Merkel’s visit is expected to be her last to Britain after the announcement she will retire from politics after upcoming legislative elections.
The chancellor was also among leaders hosted at this month’s G7 summit in Cornwall, southwest England, which the 95-year-old Queen attended.
On Friday, the German leader will meet with British Prime Minister Boris Johnson at his Chequers country retreat northwest of London.
The pair are expected to discuss Britain’s fractious post-Brexit relationship with the European Union, which overshadowed discussions at the G7.
Checks on goods between Northern Ireland and the rest of the UK under a protocol, signed separately from the Brexit trade deal agreed in December, has proven a particular point of contention between London and other European capitals.
Merkel has led the charge for the 27-member bloc to quarantine travellers from Britain and stop the spread on the continent of a more transmissible Delta variant strain of the coronavirus first identified in India.
The leader of Angela Merkel’s CDU party on Monday pushed back against the chancellor’s criticism that some of Germany’s 16 states are straying from agreed Covid-19 measures, insisting they are taking the pandemic seriously.
In an interview with the ARD broadcaster on Sunday night, Merkel had called several states out for failing to impose “emergency brake” rules requiring renewed restrictions for regions with high incidence rates.
She also directly criticised the chief of her CDU party Armin Laschet, who is also state premier of North Rhine-Westphalia, for “choosing an implementation that carries too much room for manoeuvre”.
But Laschet on Monday hit back against the criticism, saying it “doesn’t help us if the federal government and states are pushing responsibility to each other”.
He insisted that all 16 state premiers are “taking this very seriously”.
“Everyone wants the number of infections to go down and everyone has taken the appropriate measures for their state, which are very different,” he said.
He also defended Tobias Hans, state premier of Saarland, who had been heavily criticised over his plans to end a shutdown as early as April 6.
– Plummeting support –
At a tense meeting last week, Merkel and the regional leaders had agreed to stick to national rules including strict shutdowns and curfews in areas with more than 100 new infections per 100,000 people over seven days.
But under Germany’s federal system, each state can ultimately decide its own rules and some have failed to impose curfews and gone ahead with reopening measures, despite fierce criticism.
The small southwestern state of Saarland has said it plans to end its shutdown completely and open leisure, sports and entertainment facilities after Easter to those who can provide a negative test.
Asked if Laschet’s actions in North Rhine-Westphalia went against what was agreed, Merkel said: “There are several states that have taken a very broad interpretation, and that does not fill me with joy.”
The rapid spread of the British coronavirus variant has led to an exponential growth in new cases in Germany in recent weeks, just as the country was taking first steps towards reopening.
The Robert Koch Institute (RKI) health agency reported 9,872 new cases in 24 hours on Monday and a national incidence rate of 134.4 per 100,000 people over the last seven days.
The spiralling infection rates and a sluggish vaccine rollout have led to plummeting support for Merkel’s CDU-CSU conservative alliance just six months ahead of a general election.
A poll for the Bild daily on Sunday placed the conservatives on just 25 percent, their lowest level for a year and well below the record low result of 32.9 percent they secured at the 2017 elections.
Chancellor Angela Merkel has summoned the leaders of Germany’s 16 states to an unexpected crisis meeting on Wednesday amid a backlash over pandemic measures, the chief of her CDU party said.
“The chancellor has invited the (regional leaders) at short notice for 11 o’clock today and I think that we will talk very critically there about what happened two days ago,” Armin Laschet told a regional parliament meeting in the state of North Rhine-Westphalia.
A government spokesman confirmed to AFP that a videoconference had been called on Wednesday morning “as a follow-up to Monday’s consultations”.
Merkel and the regional leaders have faced fierce criticism after agreeing to prolong shutdown measures and tighten them over Easter during marathon talks on Monday night.
As well as extending existing measures including keeping cultural, leisure and sporting facilities shut through to April 18, Merkel and the state premiers ordered a tougher shutdown between April 1 and 5.
Almost all shops will be closed during the five days, and religious services will be moved online over Easter. Only grocers will be allowed to open on Saturday April 3.
Media reports ahead of a Merkel press conference at 1130 GMT said that policy would now be scrapped.
Der Spiegel news magazine called the measures a “scandal”, claiming the government had “completely the wrong priorities” and should instead focus on improving its vaccination campaign and test strategy.
Daniel Guenther, the state premier of Schleswig-Holstein, told the DPA news agency Wednesday’s meeting would focus on “implementation problems” around the measures agreed over Easter.
The new restrictions come as infection numbers continue to rise in Germany, with 15,813 new cases reported in 24 hours on Wednesday by the Robert Koch Institute (RKI) health agency.
Patience is running thin in the country over a sluggish vaccine rollout, a delayed start to mass rapid testing and higher infection numbers despite months of shutdowns, with support for Merkel’s Christian Democratic Union party at its lowest level for a year.
German Chancellor Angela Merkel on Tuesday voiced support for EU chief Ursula von der Leyen’s threat to block AstraZeneca vaccines produced in the bloc from being exported, ahead of a crunch EU summit on the escalating row.
“I support Commission President Ursula von der Leyen,” said Merkel.
“We have a problem with AstraZeneca,” she added.
European officials are furious that AstraZeneca has been able to deliver its UK contract in full while falling short on its supplies to the EU.
In her tough warning to the Anglo-Swedish pharmaceutical giant last Saturday, von der Leyen said: “That’s the message to AstraZeneca: you fulfil your contract with Europe first before you start delivering to other countries.”
The warning comes as the European Union struggles to speed up its Covid-19 inoculation campaign, just as many member states are facing a third coronavirus wave and renewed curbs on public life.
Von der Leyen said AstraZeneca had delivered only 30 percent of the 90 million vaccine doses it had promised for the first quarter of the year.
German Chancellor Angela Merkel said she was “confident” a Brexit deal hammered out between the European Union and the United Kingdom on Thursday was a “good outcome”.
“We will quickly be able to determine whether Germany can support today’s result of the negotiations,” she said in a statement, adding that her cabinet would meet in a telephone conference Monday to review the accord.
Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny said on Monday that German Chancellor Angela Merkel visited him at a Berlin hospital where he was treated after being poisoned with a military-grade nerve agent.
“I am very grateful to Chancellor Merkel for visiting me at the hospital,” the anti-corruption campaigner wrote on Twitter following reports of the meeting in German media.
The 44-year-old Kremlin critic was discharged from Charite hospital in Berlin last week after receiving treatment over several weeks for exposure to Novichok.
He fell ill on a flight from Siberia to Moscow in August in what his allies say was a state-sanctioned attack — labs in France, Germany and Sweden confirmed he had been poisoned.
German magazine Der Spiegel reported on Sunday that Merkel had visited Navalny in what it described as a “secret” meeting at Charite hospital that underscored the Chancellor’s personal commitment to Navalny’s case.
Navalny confirmed the meeting but argued the label “secret” was not accurate, saying: “Rather, a private meeting and conversation with the family.”
The Kremlin has denied allegations of involvement in the poisoning and accused Western leaders of launching a disinformation campaign over the opposition leader’s illness.
Russia insists medical tests carried out by doctors in Omsk found no poison in Navalny’s body. It says it lacks grounds for a criminal investigation, despite international calls for a transparent probe.
Navalny’s spokesperson Kira Yarmysh has said the Kremlin critic plans to return to Russia but will remain in Germany until he has recovered.
Germany plans to take in 1,500 migrants currently taking shelter on Greek islands, government sources told AFP, in addition to around 150 unaccompanied minors from the burnt-out Moria camp.
Under a plan agreed by Chancellor Angela Merkel and Interior Minister Horst Seehofer, Berlin will take in migrants who have already secured refugee status, giving priority to families with children, the sources said.
Merkel’s right-left coalition government is in talks over the plan, with her junior partner Social Democrats expecting a deal by Wednesday.
After a fire laid waste to Greece’s biggest refugee camp Moria last week, pressure has grown on Merkel’s government to offer refuge to the 11,500 left homeless by the disaster.
While Berlin has voiced readiness to open its doors to more than the 150 minors, German media reported however that Athens opposed Germany taking in more asylum seekers from Moria.
Doing so may incite more migrants to set fire to their shelter in Greece in the hopes they would then be offered refuge by Europe’s biggest economy, according to Bild daily.