Germany: Scholz presents a parity government focused on fighting the pandemic | International

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The next chancellor, Olaf Scholz, left, together with the future Minister of Health, Karl Lauterbach, during the presentation of Social Democratic positions in the new coalition government, this Monday in Berlin.
The next chancellor, Olaf Scholz, left, together with the future Minister of Health, Karl Lauterbach, during the presentation of Social Democratic positions in the new coalition government, this Monday in Berlin.HANNIBAL HANSCHKE (Reuters)

Germany is preparing to have an unprecedented coalition government this Wednesday led by the Social Democratic party and with two partners, green and liberal, of often opposite positions but who have managed to agree to inaugurate the post-Merkel era together. Two days after his debut as German Chancellor, Olaf Scholz revealed on Monday the composition of his Executive. The ministers elected by the Greens and the FDP were known, but the seven Social Democrats were missing. Finally there will be four women and three men, which leaves a joint cabinet (eight and eight), if the chancellor himself is not counted. It is, in any case, more egalitarian than the last government of Angela Merkel, with nine ministers and six ministers.

The government agreement, a 177-page text negotiated in just one month, two after the federal elections, already has the approval of the three parties. The Greens submitted it to their bases, 125,000 members, and this Monday they communicated the result: 86% approval. Social Democrats and Liberals held two virtual congresses during the weekend and their leaders endorsed the pact with 98.8%, in the case of the SPD, and 92%, of the FDP. “Ours will be a government of three parties that want more progress for Germany,” said Scholz, calling it a “new beginning” and committed to thinking in the long term. His intention, he said, is for the Germans to give their confidence back to the traffic light coalition – by the colors with which the three parties are represented – within four years.

The pandemic is the most urgent task of the new cabinet. The pressure for the government to get to work is at its highest after weeks of criticism for the inaction of the transitional period between governments. The appointment of the Social Democratic deputy Karl Lauterbach as Minister of Health, a key position for the management of the fourth wave, responds to that priority. It was speculated that a woman could occupy it so that the Executive would be completely equal, but finally Scholz has appointed this epidemiologist, trained at Harvard, who has been one of the most common faces in the media since the beginning of the pandemic .

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Lauterbach defends mandatory vaccination and has been warning for months that without restrictions and with a low vaccination rate the fourth wave in Germany would be disastrous, as it is happening. He is one of the characters most attacked by the anti-vaccines and the self-described Querdenker (lateral thinkers) who protest against the measures to prevent the spread of infections. If it were up to him, discos and bars would already be closed throughout the country. “We will fight the pandemic with all our might,” Scholz promised this Monday. Last week the next chancellor tasked General Carsten Breuer with the creation of a crisis team – made up of representatives of the federal and state governments and experts – to manage what the current government has described as a “national emergency.”

Three portfolios are held by ministers who have already served as such in Merkel’s grand coalition government. Besides Lauterbach, the appointments of the socialists are Hubertus Heil, who repeats in Work; Christina Lambrecht, who was in Justice and now goes to Defense; Nancy Faeser, in Interior; Klara Geywitz, in the new Ministry of Housing; Svenja Schulze, who changes from Environment to Cooperation and Development, and Wolfgang Schmidt, as Minister of the Chancellery. The Greens have appointed three women and two men, while the Liberals have only one woman at the helm of their four ministries. “That women have half the power is in tune with the society in which we live”; Scholz said during his team’s presentation in Berlin.

For the first time in the history of the Federal Republic, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and the Ministry of the Interior are headed by women. Annalena Baerbock, co-leader of Los Verdes and candidate of this party in the elections, will be the face of Germany in the world. At 40 years old, she is the youngest of the Executive, along with Anne Spiegel, also from Los Verdes, Minister of Family. Nancy Faeser, 51, head of the Interior, is a lawyer little known outside of her land, Hesse, which has distinguished itself by tackling right-wing extremism, which is currently considered the main threat to the country’s security. Faeser takes the reins days after some thirty people intimidated the Minister of Health of Saxony, Petra Köpping, carrying torches and shouting slogans in front of her home against the restrictions in this leading state in infections and with the worst vaccination rate in the country. “Security in this government will be in the hands of strong women,” said Scholz, referring to the fact that Defense will also be led by a woman, Christine Lambrecht.

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The most powerful posts, however, remain in the hands of men: Scholz himself at the Chancellery; the leader of the Liberals, Christian Lindner, as Finance Minister, and Robert Habeck, co-leader of Los Verdes, who will occupy a super-ministry that includes Economy and Climate with powers in Energy. The Finance position was the most disputed during the negotiations. The Greens were eager to hold the key to the billion dollar investments that Germany needs to make over the next four years to advance the energy transition and modernize and digitize the economy. Finally they gave in and Lindner, defender of fiscal orthodoxy and determined not to raise taxes, will be the one who controls finances and negotiates with the environmental party the financing of green policies.

Another of the relevant names that have been known this Monday is that of Scholz’s main economic adviser, Jörg Kukies. He will replace Lars-Hendrik Röller, who has been Angela Merkel’s right-hand man on financial and economic policy issues and has prepared the G-7 and G-20 summits with her for a decade. Kukies, a former investment banker with Goldman Sachs, already worked with Scholz as Secretary of State for Finance. Now, with the portfolio in the hands of the Liberals, the next chancellor keeps him close as an adviser. Kukies is thus ruled out as a successor to Jens Weidmann, outgoing Bundesbank president. The name that circulates these days in the capital to preside over the organization is that of the economist Joachim Nagel.

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The names of Los Verdes became known last week. To Baerbock, Habeck and Spiegel, we must add Environment, which will be for Steffi Lemke, and Agriculture, for Cem Özdemir. In addition to their leader, Lindner, the Liberals have in the Government their Secretary General, Volver Wissing, as Minister of Transport; Marco Buschmann in Justice, and Bettina Stark-Watzinger in Education.

After the ratification of the agreement in the three parties, it is expected that on Tuesday it will be signed and formalized, so that on Wednesday Scholz will submit to his investiture in the Bundestag, the lower house of the German Parliament. The tripartite has 416 seats of the 736 that make up this legislature. On Wednesday, therefore, Angela Merkel will be a former chancellor after 16 years at the head of the German government. For a few days, he will not exceed the record of permanence of the also conservative Helmut Kohl.

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George Holan

George Holan is chief editor at Plainsmen Post and has articles published in many notable publications in the last decade.

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