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 head of a coalition between Social Democrats, Greens and Liberals – will open a new chapter. Is more flexibility to be expected, or will Germany continue to act as a savings commissioner and demand strict adherence to debt and austerity rules?
Spaniards should keep a good memory of Scholz, since, after all, during his time as Angela Merkel’s finance minister, he promoted the European reconstruction fund from which Spain has benefited so much. But it should not be overlooked that the particular interest of Germany intervened in the establishment of the fund. The German export power, dependent on foreign consumption, benefits from state investments. The fund in response to the covid-19 pandemic was not only responding to an attempt to help, but it has also served to stimulate the economy, which for someone like Scholz means above all stimulating the German economy.
But isn’t Scholz a social democrat? Shouldn’t solidarity be inalienable for him? The Iberian Peninsula, the 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 world of economics. When the new chancellor became finance minister in Angela Merkel’s government, he appointed a Goldman Sachs executive as secretary of state, drawing harsh criticism from his party. In the end, the Social Democratic Party (SPD) only allowed him to run for chancellor because the party believed he had lost the elections.
However, he has now managed to win those elections. But not because you want to do everything differently. Scholz rather represents continuity, that is, the prolongation of Merkelism. That is what he has been chosen for. In Germany, you don’t get to the chancellery because you are a member of the SPD, but in spite of it.
That the Social Democrat Scholz embodied this continuity more strongly than Merkel’s party partner, the Conservative candidate Armin Laschet, is only paradoxical at first glance. Scholz has served the Christian Democratic chancellor loyally and effectively as finance minister for four years. In the election campaign he made it clear at all times that, in matters of European politics, he will insist on strict rules; and at the meeting of the ministers of Economy and Finance of the European Union in September he refused to relax the Stability Pact, which earned him a hard clash with France and Spain, who demanded more flexibility. “A German finance minister is a German finance minister” is the mantra he has repeated frequently. His government partners, the Greens and the liberals of the FDP, share this line with the chancellor, as can be inferred from the reading of the coalition agreement. The Stability and Growth Pact has proven its flexibility, the text says, which means that no major changes are necessary.
However, when it comes to personal treatment, southern Europe can expect a new style. During a visit to Madrid in 2019, as finance minister, Scholz praised Spain’s achievements rather than just pointing out its shortcomings, as did the Swabian apostle of austerity Wolfgang Schäuble. As Chancellor, the Hanseatic Scholz will act with more skill and empathy than his predecessor from the Uckermarck district of eastern Germany, who often seemed inhibited and stubborn. But, when push comes to shove, “the SPD’s Mr. Cool,” as the magazine once called him. SternHe will probably remain tough, practical, and reserved, just as Germans like their chancellors to be.
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