How will the advent of a center-left government in Germany affect Britain, Europe and the world? Yesterday Olaf Scholz (second from left), the newly elected Chancellor, introduced his ministerial team, which includes Green co-leaders Annalena Baerbock (middle) as Foreign Minister and Robert Habeck (third in from the right) as Minister of Economy and Climate Change. He also announced a liberal reform program, with the motto âDare more progressâ. The “traffic lights” coalition will now seek the approval of members for the agreement reached between its three constituent parties, before taking office in a little over two weeks. After 16 years of Angela Merkel, a new era of German politics is opening.
In British terms, Scholz is more of a Gordon Brown than a Tony Blair. He was a reliable Minister of Finance, who guided the Federal Republic through the pandemic with his reputation intact. Even so, his successor in that role, Christian Lindner (above, far left), will have his work cut out for him to appease the German anguish about the climb
at 6 percent
– higher than at any time since the 1970s. It is a shrewd maneuver by the new chancellor to make the leader of the most right-wing party in the coalition responsible for the nation’s finances. He will resist measures to raise taxes or lose control of public spending – but the Radicals will blame Lindner rather than Scholz.
Germany will therefore continue to be a powerful force for economic stability and orthodoxy in the concert of Europe – with one exception. On climate change, the new coalition has agreed to spend unprecedented amounts to accelerate the transition to a net zero economy. Coal will be phased out by 2030, much sooner than expected, and the sale of new gasoline or diesel vehicles will be banned soon after. Germany, which was once the pioneer in environmental policy but which in recent years has fallen behind on carbon emissions, will now redouble its efforts to lead Europe towards a green utopia.
However, there is a worm in the apple. Merkel’s fateful decision to abandon nuclear power after the Fukushima disaster means that in the short to medium term, in the absence of sufficient renewable energy supplies to replace fossil fuels, the world’s largest economy Europe will be even more dependent on Russian gas. Regulators’ approval of the crucial Nord Stream 2 pipeline has been put on hold, but Vladimir Putin is pushing to start pumping. It’s hard to see how Scholz can resist this pressure, despite warnings from Joe Biden and other Western leaders that it will allow Russia to bypass Ukraine and Belarus, making both more vulnerable to aggression. of Putin.
Yesterday’s press conference offered little clue about the Scholz government’s foreign policy. The new chancellor simply declared that he would focus on “our friendship with France, our partnership with the United States and our defense of peace and prosperity in the world”. Notable for its absence, Britain, still blamed for Brexit, which added to Germany’s burden of paying for the EU. Scholz can safely praise his French and American allies as long as they are led by liberal Presidents Macron and Biden. What if they were to be defeated in the elections as early as next year? With a right-hander at the Elysee Palace and a lame duck in the White House, Scholz would need other allies to continue his progressive agenda while maintaining “peace and prosperity.” It would be wise to pick up the phone in London as soon as possible.
Brexit or no Brexit, the Anglo-German relationship remains crucial for Europe. Our two countries have shown during the pandemic that they are in a different league from others when it comes to medical innovation, developing new vaccines and treatments on a par with the United States. But Germany still relies on the hard power of the United Kingdom as well as on its soft power. While the French still flirt with the idea of ââleaving NATO, most Germans know how exposed they would be without an alliance in which the British still do much of the heavy lifting. It was no accident that when Poland needed help securing its
recently he turned to the Royal Engineers – not the Bundeswehr.
Like his Social Democratic predecessor during the Cold War, Helmut Schmidt, Olaf Scholz is a natural anglophile, born and raised in Hamburg. Like another great chancellor of the time, Willy Brandt, he hopes to provide strong moral leadership. He too must never forget that attitudes towards Germany across Europe are still laden with the Nazi past. Half a century ago, the famous brand of Brandt Kniefall (“Falling to his knees”) at the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising Memorial set a standard for the German statesman, simultaneously showing courage and humility, which the new Chancellor would do well to emulate. In defending peace, Scholz will have to challenge those who threaten it, from Moscow to Beijing. It means hugging its main allies.
For most of history, the North Sea has been a unifying rather than dividing factor: Hamburg’s prosperity was built on trade with London. The British and the Germans have more in common than with any other European nation. If Scholz sees France as a friend and the US as a partner, he should see the UK as both. Indeed, we are more like brothers or sisters – with the usual sibling rivalries. Boris Johnson should make a serious effort to put these rivalries behind us – no jokes about Tommy and Jerry, please – and hug his new counterpart in Berlin. They might both surprise each other.