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Pragmatist Scholz bridges political differences to become Germany’s heir to Merkel

Less than two years ago, Olaf Scholz was licking his own wounds after the heaviest defeat of his long career – defeat to two little-known left-backs in the contest for the leadership of the Democratic Party. Society (SPD) of Germany. His dream of one day becoming the prime minister of his country was dealt a near-death blow.

But on Wednesday, he marked one of the most notable comebacks in German politics. Removed for months as a candidate, from a waning party to no longer relevant, he stood in front of a packed hall as Angela Merkel’s hypothetical successor. .

The event was the launch of the coalition agreement negotiated by the SPD, the Greens and the Liberal Democrats, the culmination of nearly two months of intense negotiations after the national elections in September resulted in victory. close to the Social Democrats.

Scholz said his government would usher in a “decade of investment”, and “Germany’s biggest industrial modernization in more than 100 years”.

“We are united in our will to make this country a better place, push it forward and keep it together,” he said. “We want to make more progress.” The next government, he said, will “invest massively to ensure Germany remains a world leader” and make it “a pioneer in climate protection”.

The agreement envisages positive climate action and huge investments in improving Germany’s shabby infrastructure. But it also covers the main requirements of the SPD: an increase in the minimum wage, a commitment to a stable pension and more social housing.

The coalition brings together oddly cooperative members – a Green party that has lobbied to relax the country’s strict fiscal rules and invest billions of dollars in greening the economy, and an FDP that claims plan to quickly return to the pre-pandemic economic mainstream. Such ideological differences have been bridged – and much faster than many expected – a testament to Scholz’s negotiating skills.

It also vindicates Scholz’s approach – a pragmatism and moderation that often irks leftists in his party. Many in the SPD worry that he is too close to Mrs. Merkel and her Christian Democrats. Indeed, he campaigned unequivocally in this year’s election as a continuing candidate, claiming his long experience in government and his unifying, casual way of doing things make him a to be a worthy heir to Mrs. Merkel.

This message has resonated greatly when the public voted alarmed by Covid-19 and lacked the steady influence of a chancellor who has run Germany for 16 years.

But Scholz may soon be forced by circumstances to adopt a different style. “If he really wants to. . . Veit Medick writes in Der Spiegel.

In his youth, Scholz was much more passionate. When he joined the SPD in 1975, he initially identified with the more radical wing of the party, committed to “transcending the capitalist economy”. “I have definitely become more pragmatic over the years,” he said last August of his youth.

As a labor lawyer in the 1990s, he gradually climbed the ranks within the SPD, becoming secretary general in 2002. In that role, he gained attention on the left with his support. strongly against Chancellor Gerhard Schröder’s controversial labor market reforms. He’s also nicknamed “Scholz-o-mat,” a reference to his monotonous and often robotic delivery.

Olaf Scholz with Gerhard Schröder in 2002
Olaf Scholz with then-prime minister Gerhard Schröder in 2002 © Reuters

Scholz served as Merkel’s labor minister during the 2008-09 financial crisis and in 2011 was elected mayor of Hamburg, a job he held for seven years. While famous, his reputation was tarnished by violent clashes between anarchists and police during the G20 summit in 2017, turning parts of the city into a city. battlefield.

When Merkel appointed him finance minister in her last cabinet, he adhered closely to the strict fiscal orthodoxy of his predecessor at work, Wolfgang Schäuble, who became an icon for politicians. Europe’s post-crisis policy of austerity.

But that changed when the pandemic hit, and Scholz helped launch a 420 billion euro aid program for businesses and workers – one of Europe’s most generous emergency aid packages.

“This is the bazooka, and we will use it to do whatever is necessary,” he said in March 2020, echoing the words of former European Central Bank president Mario Draghi during the crisis. eurozone debt 2012.

Scholz took on a huge debt and suspended Germany’s “debt brake”, a constitutional limit on new loans. He also played a key role in promoting plans for the EU’s recovery fund, which will deliver loans and grants to countries to help them weather the pandemic.

Those expansionary fiscal policies made Scholz like the once skeptical leftists in the SPD and in August 2020 he was elected as a candidate for chancellor.

Few people imagine their chances: The SPD is languishing around 14% in polls, far behind the Greens and Merkel’s CDU. But Scholz benefited from the unwarranted errors of rival candidates and in the final stages of the campaign the SPD took the lead. When the results were available on September 26, it was clear that the side scored a narrow victory – and Scholz would become Germany’s next chancellor.

Scholz received sincere applause from Social Democrats on Wednesday but the warmest praise came from his opponent, Christian Lindner, leader of the FDP. Scholz appeared in the coalition talks, he said, as a “strong leader, with the experience and professionalism to lead this country into a good future”. “He will be a strong chancellor for Germany.”

The Union’s legislative priorities

Climate policy

  • Renewables account for 80% of electricity generation by 2030 (previous target was 65%)

  • Planning process for renewable energy projects accelerated, red tape removed

  • New ministry on economy and climate protection

  • Coal phase-out would happen ‘ideally’ by 2030 (the previous target was 2038).

  • The goal is to have at least 15 meters of electric cars on German roads by 2030

  • Set a minimum CO2 price of 60 €/ton

    Income / welfare

  • Minimum wage increase from €9.60 an hour to €12

  • The pension is kept stable: there is no reduction in the pension and no increase in the pensionable age

  • ‘Basic Income’ for Children Introduced

  • Cheaper energy for residential customers, thanks to the abolition of the renewable energy tax on electricity bills

    House

  • Germany builds 400,000 apartments a year, 100,000 of which are subsidized by the state

  • Control higher rents, especially in big cities with high demand; increase cap at 11% for three years (previously 15%)

  • Establishment of a construction ministry

    Social policies

  • Cannabis legalized for adults

  • The concept of ‘race’ will be removed from the German constitution

  • Refugees will be allowed to bring their loved ones to Germany.

  • Significant limitations on video surveillance and communication data storage.

    Privacy Policy

  • Armed drones will be introduced to better protect Bundeswehr soldiers when deployed abroad

  • Germany adheres to NATO target of spending 2% of GDP on military

    Public finance

  • Constitutional debt brake, currently suspended, to be reinstated in 2023

  • Relief for cities with high debt levels

  • State-owned KfW Bank to promote investment in green and digital transformation

  • ‘Super depreciation allowance’ for green and digital investments in 2022 and 2023

  • Gives state-owned companies like Deutsche Bahn more options for raising capital

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