Olaf Scholz, the Social Democrat who this Wednesday became Germany’s Federal Chancellor, managed in a few months to turn around an electoral race that threatened to drag him and his party into irrelevance. In spring, the SPD seemed resigned to finish in third place, behind the Christian Democrats Angela Merkel and Los Verdes, who then cherished the dream of having the first environmental chancellor. Few bet on this discreet politician, with little charisma and a tone of voice close to whispering. The Germans were convinced by his promise to continue Merkel’s legacy and his reputation as an efficient and professional manager. He played the card of becoming the Chancellor’s successor without even being from her own party. She got to photograph herself on the cover of a magazine making with her hands the famous gesture of the rhombus for which Merkel is known. And in a pun on the female version of Chancellor (Chancellor) assured that he aspired to be chancellor.
During the campaign, Scholz concentrated on not making mistakes and sitting down and watching his opponents make them. Those who have dealt with him describe him as a pragmatic leader, fleeing from confrontation and seeking agreement through negotiations in which, in the end, no one has the feeling of having lost out. Like Merkel. Neither was she a charismatic leader or especially gifted in public speaking. No moving speeches or bombastic statements are expected from Scholz. “You cannot expect him to suddenly turn into Barack Obama or Emmanuel Macron. It will not. He is as he is, “says journalist Lars Haider, who has just published a biography about the politician, about his limited magnetism. It’s the first. The long political career of Scholz, who joined the SPD at the age of 17, has so far not interested any biographer.
Little is known of the adolescence and youth of the new chancellor. That he had long curly hair and that he was more on the left than now, says Haider in a meeting with foreign correspondents. Born in Osnabrück, in northwestern Germany, on June 14, 1958, Scholz studied law in Hamburg and specialized in labor law. He entered the Bundestag as a deputy at the age of 40, in 1998, the same year that he married his wife, Britta Ernst, also a Social Democratic activist with a long political career. The couple, who do not have children, have been moving their residence based on the positions held by one or the other. They now reside in Potsdam, half an hour from Berlin. Since 2017, Ernst has been Minister of Education in the State of Brandenburg. Of Scholz’s hobbies, as it happens with Merkel, hardly a couple of brushstrokes are known: he does sports – run or row – and reads a lot, especially politics.
The Social Democrat began to gain relevance for public opinion in 2002, when he became secretary general of the SPD. In those years he had to go out very often before the cameras to give explanations about the controversial reforms of the labor market of the Social Democratic Chancellor Gerhard Schröder, who in 2005 lost the elections to Merkel. In that first government of the Chancellor’s grand coalition, Scholz held his first ministerial portfolio, Labor and Social Affairs.
Then he returned to his city, Hamburg, where in 2011 he won the elections with 48.4% of the votes. He was mayor of the second German city, and a great European port, until 2018, when Merkel called him again. In the fourth and last government of the Chancellor, he emerged as a strong man of the Executive by occupying the second most important office in Berlin, that of the Minister of Finance. He replaced the Christian Democrat Wolfgang Schäuble, guarantor of budget orthodoxy and Greece’s black beast during the debt crisis.
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The G20, the great blur of his career
Scholz’s popularity began to grow as the head of Hamburg. As soon as he reached the mayor’s office, he proposed to improve accessibility to housing and to facilitate the reconciliation of families. Then, as now with the coronavirus crisis, he considered that it was necessary to relax fiscal rules and allow indebtedness to finance public investment. He managed to triple the number of homes built annually in the city, of which almost a third are subsidized for families with low incomes. During his tenure, the number of nurseries increased, which became public.
But from this time Scholz is left with what he considers a blur in his career: the G20 riots. Radical left and anti-establishment groups turned a protest against the meeting of world leaders in Hamburg into a multi-day pitched battle that left at least 190 police officers injured and 50 protesters arrested. His biographer says that recently he asked him if there was something he wanted to undo, which he still dreams of at night, and the chancellor confessed that it was those days of July 2017. Haider, editor-in-chief of the Hamburger Abendblatt and a great connoisseur of the politician, he assures that it was “his greatest political defeat”: “He did wrong everything that could be done wrong.”
The definitive boost to its public recognition came with the pandemic. Scholz knew how to react and took out the checkbook – the bazooka, he called it – in time to irrigate millions of companies and freelancers affected by the crisis. A relaxation in budgetary rigor – of which he is the biggest defender in good times – which was extended to the European context. Given the situation of some neighboring states especially hit by the virus, it boosted the historic European recovery fund.
Scholz belongs to the centrist current of the SPD. Two years ago, he ran for president of the party and lost to two contenders — Saskia Esken and Norbert Walter-Borjans — much farther to the left than he. His party sought to clearly identify with Social Democratic values after several legislatures being the junior partner in the conservative-led grand coalition. However, when a candidate had to be presented for the September 26 elections, the politician whom The mirror qualified as “the embodiment of boredom” was the chosen one.
Well known for his ministerial position, his sober style identified him with Merkel, the woman who had won four elections in a row. In the final stretch of the campaign, Scholz the automaton – his interventions with a small voice and his lack of gestures earned him the nickname of Scholzomat— skyrocketed in the polls. His victory, with 25.7% of the votes, and the subsequent negotiation of an unprecedented tripartite in the political history of the country, have now made him the ninth chancellor of the Federal Republic.
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