The coalition agreement between the traffic light parties has been signed, nothing stands in the way of Olaf Scholz’s big day: The somewhat aloof, thoroughbred politician will be elected ninth Chancellor of the Federal Republic of Germany on Wednesday. From someone who first conquered himself and then everyone else.
On Wednesday evening, the previous Vice Chancellor celebrates his promotion to Federal Chancellor, but Olaf Scholz is unlikely to mutate from workhorse to party stallion. If something is currently mutating, it is called Sars-CoV-2. Because of the virus, the new head of government has at most time to toast his election as Federal Chancellor in a small group. Then he will get to work. His closest colleague also says that Scholz always goes on when something is done. “His gaze is directed more towards the future,” testifies the upcoming head of the Chancellery, Wolfgang Schmidt, in an interview with ntv.de.
That might explain why Scholz could go on and on, even after political defeat, until he finally reached the highest government office in the republic. If a hardware store hadn’t already leased the slogan for itself, Scholz’s motto could also be “There is always something to do”. So he does.
The end of a stage
The traffic light coalition has big plans: the largest industrial restructuring in Germany for more than a hundred years, far-reaching social reforms. And the SPD, as designated party chairman Lars Klingbeil announced, wants to use the victorious federal election as a start into a “social democratic decade”. For Scholz, being sworn in is not the goal of his journey, but only the end of a stage.
Where does he want to go? Scholz regards himself as a lawyer for the common people, which he explains with his experience as an employment lawyer. And because it is an old SPD school, work is the focus for him: not the abolition or reduction of working hours, not the expansion of the welfare state. For Scholz, work is a necessary condition for a self-determined and dignified way of life. This fits in with the fact that in the traffic light talks the increase in the minimum wage to 12 euros was non-negotiable for Scholz – not the increase in the basic security rates that had also been promised or the higher taxation of high incomes and assets.
Dedicated life to politics
Beyond such convictions, Scholz remains an intangible personality, even for reporters who only meet and accompany him personally from time to time. One reason is that Scholz has been a full-time politician for more than 23 years and this profession – if you completely devote yourself to it like Scholz – requires an immense amount of self-discipline, perseverance and toughness towards yourself and others. Long-standing top politicians move around the world in their own capsule. Private connections – family and friends outside the political arena – can help grounding this. If the childless Scholz and his wife, the Brandenburg Education Minister Britta Ernst, should be family people or appreciate socializing, this has not yet become public.
Private moments of relaxation are when he and Ernst cook for each other on the few evenings together; when he finds time to jog or to go for a walk together, Scholz once reported in the interview podcast “Hotel Matze”. It is also known that Scholz reads a lot and passionately. The 63-year-old relaxes with books, also from the fields of philosophy, sociology and economics. He has not disclosed much more private information, and it could be that there is not much more interesting. Given the workload of a federal minister and top representative of a German people’s party, there is no time for hobbies and escapades.
Not a buddy
This focused, sober political existence, lived by a politician who always appears focused and argues soberly, gives Scholz the aura of an unemotional and unapproachable. In his time as SPD parliamentary group manager from 2005 to 2007, Scholz was so often a professional and so rarely in person when speaking in public that he was nicknamed “Scholzomat”. According to reports, he hated the name. He doesn’t do Scholz justice either, because he can actually work with “normal people”. He can listen to you, respond to what is being said, and smile. Your problems do not leave him indifferent, on the contrary. But chatting, speaking their language, drinking beer with them, as Gerhard Schröder liked to do in front of the camera, that’s not Scholz’s case.
Scholz sees himself more in the tradition of Helmut Schmidt, the former Hamburg Senator for the Interior and later SPD Federal Chancellor, who was also emphatically matter-of-fact. The parallels are obvious. Schmidt, too, could not do anything with utopias or fatalists, which is why Schmidt struggled with the then new Greens just as much as Scholz recently in a dispute with two climate activists. As heads of government – Schmidt in Bonn, Scholz in Hamburg – both of them sometimes let their parliamentary groups know who is a cook and who is a waiter. Scholz enjoys his own certainty that he is the smartest person in the room – or at least it exudes it. He doesn’t get loud when he’s sharply criticized or personal. Both are also reported on Schmidt.
Real successes and rightly criticized
What both have in common: their hands-on pragmatism. Scholz can look back on successes, he brought things to an end that he set out to do. In Hamburg, the Elbphilharmonie project, which had run out of steam, became a success after all, and when it comes to housing, the city got a lot right that practically all other German metropolises failed to do. As labor minister, Scholz put the minimum wage on track, from his time as federal finance minister, above all, the EU loans to jointly deal with the corona crisis and the agreement on a global minimum rate for corporate tax should remain. With the signing of the coalition agreement, Scholz’s project of a 12-euro minimum wage is as good as on dry cloth.
During the federal election campaign, the SPD cleverly declared that Scholz’s career path also paved mistakes and defeats as an inevitable bycatch if politicians are to bring experience and competence with them. There are mistakes that he himself has publicly regretted, such as his handling of the G20 summit in Hamburg. There are affairs like the CumEx scandal, in which the accusation is in the room that he was the first mayor to have contributed to the fact that the city’s tax authorities spared the Warburg Bank despite fraudulent deals. There are not only indications in favor of the accusation, but also that, from Hamburg’s point of view, it was a plausible location policy to prevent a possible bankruptcy of the influential financial institution.
In the SPD years of long knives, Scholz was also not a child of sadness when power and influence in the federal party were sometimes brutally fought out. The brutally overthrown Andrea Nahles, with whom Scholz was good, he apparently wants to rehabilitate with a proper office. Scholz was also long hated on the left because of the use of controversial emetics by the Hamburg police, with which small dealers were supposed to throw up drug packets that they had swallowed. One can assume that Scholz did not see some mistakes as such and learned from others. Experience and competence are the keywords, not only in the SPD’s federal election campaign.
Scholz comes into office ready
If the comparison with Angela Merkel is repeatedly drawn before Scholz’s election as Chancellor, it should be noted that the comparison only holds up against the late, experienced Merkel. Scholz is already ready for office. When she was elected Chancellor, Merkel was not only poorer in terms of years than Scholz. In 2005 she had experience as a federal minister and parliamentary group leader in the Bundestag. Unlike Scholz, however, the Protestant who grew up in the GDR had always remained a little alien to her own party; was still considered an outsider in her party and a curiosity in federal politics at her election to the Chancellery.
Scholz, on the other hand, had a prototypical, West German SPD career: a former head boy in a party full of former head boy, from rebellious lawyer to labor lawyer to member of the Bundestag and then up the ladder; unwavering party soldier even in the SPD’s many difficult years of crisis since 2004. He hit him all the more when other social democrats agreed to be “truly social democrat” – such as co-chair Saskia Esken after she and Norbert Walter-Borjans in Scholz Membership decision had snatched away the party chairmanship.
His best move
It could have been the most important decision in Scholz’s political career that he did not stubbornly withdraw in late autumn 2019, after his significant defeat in the race for party leadership, or wait for the first opportunity to overthrow the two newcomers. Instead, he got involved with the Eskens, Nowabos and Kevin Kühnerts, who followed a grassroots course to the left of their own agenda. That this camp finally found a trusting cooperation with Scholz, so much so that they put Scholz up for the candidacy for chancellor, originally seemed at least unlikely. And it would probably not have worked in the long term if Scholz’s approach to the party left had been of a purely tactical nature.
Scholz has remained true to himself in his objectivity, his passion for work and also in his ambition. He likes to lead from the beginning because he has the irritating and necessary self-confidence for it – and goes ahead to give up himself. “Whoever orders a tour will also get it,” announced Scholz. But that doesn’t mean that he alone can set the direction. Scholz understood that he had to give others room to shine. Management based on the Basta principle works less and less in politics too; To just let things develop, however, also not.
However, the coalitionaries are led by no less self-confident alpha animals who have their own convictions and their own pressure to succeed. Lindner and Habeck, for example, only ask for moderation and do not order a tour. It can be assumed, however, that neither the size of the tasks nor the looming coalition dispute deter Scholz. You irritate him.