Will everything be better now? This Wednesday the German government took office and after the traumatic experiences of the Merkel era, Southern Europe wonders if Olaf Scholz – in his capacity as leader of a coalition between Social Democrats, Greens and Liberals – will open a new chapter. Should we expect more flexibility or will Germany continue to play the role of savings commissioner and demand strict compliance with debt and austerity rules?
Spaniards should have fond memories of Scholz, because after all, during his tenure as Angela Merkel’s finance minister, he promoted the European reconstruction fund from which Spain has benefited so much. But we must not forget that the particular interest of Germany intervened in the constitution of the fund. The German exporting power, dependent on foreign consumption, benefits from state investments. The covid-19 pandemic response fund was not only responding to an attempt to help, but it also served to stimulate the economy, which for someone like Scholz means above all to boost the German economy.
But isn’t Scholz a Social Democrat? Shouldn’t solidarity be inalienable to him? The Iberian Peninsula, a Gallic village of European social democracy, clings to this hope. There is no doubt that Scholz is superbly connected internationally. However, he is more Helmut Schmidt than Willy Brandt. In his party, he is considered a representative of the wing close to the economic world. When the new chancellor became finance minister in Angela Merkel’s government, he appointed a Goldman Sachs executive as secretary of state, drawing sharp criticism from his party. In the end, the Social Democratic Party (SPD) only allowed him to run for chancellery because the party believed he had lost the elections.
However, he has now managed to win these elections. But not because you want to do everything differently. Scholz represents rather the continuity, that is to say the prolongation of Merkelism. This is what he was chosen for. In Germany, you can’t get to the chancellery because you are a member of the SPD, but despite that.
That the Social Democrat Scholz embodied this continuity more strongly than Merkel’s party partner, the conservative candidate Armin Laschet, is only at first glance paradoxical. Scholz served the Christian Democratic Chancellor loyally and effectively as Minister of Finance for four years. During the electoral campaign, he always made it clear that in matters of European politics, he would insist on strict rules; and during the meeting of the European Union’s economy and finance ministers in September, he refused to relax the Stability Pact, which brought him a tough clash with France and Spain, which demanded more flexibility. “A German finance minister is a German finance minister” is the mantra he has repeated over and over again. Her government partners, the Greens and the Liberals of the FDP, share this line with the Chancellor, as we can deduce from reading the coalition agreement. The Stability and Growth Pact has proven its flexibility, says the text, which means that no major changes are necessary.
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However, when it comes to personal treatment, Southern Europe can expect a new style. On a visit to Madrid in 2019, as finance minister, Scholz praised Spain’s achievements rather than simply pointing out its shortcomings, as the Swabian austerity apostle Wolfgang Schäuble did. As Chancellor, the Hanseatic Scholz will act with more skill and empathy than his predecessor from the Uckermark district in East Germany, who often seemed inhibited and stubborn. But when the going goes right, “Mr. Cool of the SPD,” as Stern magazine once called him, will likely remain tough, practical and reserved, just as Germans like their chancellors to be.
Sebastien schoepp He is a journalist and writer.
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