Olaf Scholz is set to become post-WWII Germany’s ninth chancellor, crowning a career that has seen him hold a series of high-level government posts, after leading his party to a comeback in the election which seemed extremely unlikely just a few months ago.
On Wednesday, the 63-year-old sealed a deal for his center-left Social Democrats to lead Germany’s next government in a coalition with Green Environmentalists and pro-business Free Democrats. The agreement follows relatively quick, disciplined and discreet talks, qualities like Scholz.
Scholz has a terse and pragmatic approach typical of his hometown of Hamburg, where he once worked as a lawyer – an even more understated style than that of outgoing Chancellor Angela Merkel. He joined the Social Democratic Party at age 17 and was first elected to parliament in 1998.
He is imperturbable and unwavering, but not master of rhetoric. During a turbulent stint as General Secretary of the Social Democrats in the early 2000s, he earned the nickname “Scholzomat” for what critics said was a habit of constantly repeating the same phrases in support of the cuts to the welfare state and the economic economy of then Chancellor Gehard Schroeder. reforms, which faced dissent within the party.
He was helped by a series of blunders and slips from his two opponents – Armin Laschet, the leader of Merkel’s center-right Christian Democrats, and Annalena Baerbock, who was making the Greens’ first chancellery run.
Social Democrats’ actions increased when Scholz, finance minister and vice-chancellor of the Merkel government, calmly ran an accident-free campaign and delivered unspectacular but solid performances in three pre-election televised debates.
He also appeared to present himself as Merkel’s natural successor, despite being from a different party. At one point, he posed with the clasped hand gesture of the outgoing Chancellor, the “Merkel Diamond”, in a “wordless interview” for the daily Sueddeutsche Zeitung.
Scholz first served in the national government from 2007 to 2009 as Merkel’s Minister of Labor, during the global financial crisis. Germany has cut unemployment, including using a government-backed wage support program to keep people on corporate payrolls. The same device served him well during the coronavirus pandemic, during which Scholz helped guide Germany’s economic response as finance minister.
Scholz became mayor of Hamburg, Germany’s second largest city, in 2011. He reclaimed the traditional stronghold of the Social Democrats after years of center-left disarray in Hamburg, saying his party knew that “if you order me the direction, you will understand it. . “
A low point was Hamburg’s hosting of the Group of 20 summit in 2017, which is largely remembered for the widespread riots by far-left protesters. Scholz had previously dismissed concerns about the event.
The following year he was elevated to number 2 in Merkel’s government after his party reluctantly gave up on a pledge to go to the opposition. As finance minister, Scholz has been a driving force behind initiatives to impose a global minimum tax of at least 15% on large corporations and led efforts to cushion the financial impact of the pandemic. But it also drew criticism over the collapse of payment processing company Wirecard last year.
The pragmatic Scholz ran for the leadership of the Social Democrats in 2019, but was rejected by members in favor of a left-wing duo, Saskia Esken and Norbert Walter-Borjans. However, the party put this contest behind it and did not hesitate to look to it last year as a candidate to succeed Merkel.
Political opponent-turned-ally Christian Lindner, the leader of the pro-business Free Democrats and designated successor to Scholz as finance minister, said on Wednesday that negotiators “knew him as a strong leadership figure who had experience and the professionalism to run this country “.
“Olaf Scholz will be a strong chancellor for Germany,” he said.
Follow AP’s coverage of Germany’s transition to a new government at https://apnews.com/hub/germany-election.