Brussels (Brussels Morning) The German Bundestag today confirmed the Social Democrat Olaf Scholz as the country’s new Chancellor, ushering in the end of former Chancellor Angela Merkel’s era and the start of a new three-party government, the first in the nation’s democratic history.
Scholz is only the ninth person to become the German Chancellor since the end of the Second World War, with three figures more or less dominating for decades. These were the Christian Democrats Helmut Kohl and Angela Merkel, who between them ruled for just over 32 years, and the Social Democrat Gerhard Schröder, who ruled for more than seven years.
The 63-year old Scholz spent the last four years as a junior partner in coalition with the Christian Democrats, serving as Merkel’s vice-chancellor and Finance Minister. He used the position ahead of the September elections to present himself both as an experienced continuity candidate, but also as a social democrat aiming to lessen income inequality and repair the country’s social safety nets.
As Finance Minister, Scholz suspended the balanced budget policy and enabled record new borrowing to lessen the economic impact of the coronavirus pandemic on businesses and common citizens. On a European level, he cooperated with France and managed to persuade Merkel to support the European Recovery Fund, the first instance of debt-financed subsidies in the Union.
During his swearing in ceremony today, Scholz pledged to devote his energies to the welfare of the German people. In doing so, he omitted to ask for God’s help, a break from the often followed tradition featured in the oath of office as used by Merkel.
He faces a number of difficult domestic and foreign policy challenges. These include redefining European and German relations with Russia and China, resolving the various crises between Poland and Brussels, solving the migration burden thrown up by Belarus, deciding on the ultimate fate of the Nord Stream 2 pipeline as part of the country’s energy strategy and relations with the Ukraine, as well as fighting the ongoing coronavirus pandemic.