Sunday 1/23/22
GERMANY

Social Democrat Olaf Scholz takes Germany into post-Merkel era

Known as workaholics, Scholz and his wife Britta Ernst enjoy few distractions from politics, according to observers

Acting German Chancellor Angela Merkel (L), and Olaf Scholz, Acting German Minister of Finance, take part in a press conference at the Federal Chancellery following the Chancellor's video conference with the Minister Presidents. Photo: Michael Kappeler/dpa POOL/dpa.
Acting German Chancellor Angela Merkel (L), and Olaf Scholz take part in a press conference at the Federal Chancellery. Photo: Michael Kappeler/dpa.

Olaf Scholz, a veteran Social Democrat with a reputation as a steady pair of hands in government, is taking the reins of Europe's largest economy and leading Germany into the post-Merkel era as chancellor.

The 63-year-old succeeds conservative leader Angela Merkel thanks to an election campaign earlier this year that focused on his personal popularity with the electorate, driving his Social Democratic Party (SPD) ahead of its conservative rivals.

Many argue however that Scholz's victory was fundamentally down to his years-long determination to become chancellor - right down to his physical fitness. With plenty of sport and no alcohol, the unflappable moderate was as personally disciplined as his election campaign was solid.

He took criticism in his stride before and after the election, and still refuses to be drawn into heated debates either with his peers or the media - much, observers say, like Merkel herself.

"I am running as candidate to be chancellor, not to be circus ringmaster," he said.

He is sure to be tested from the start: the coronavirus pandemic has already forced action from his fledgling coalition government, comprised of three parties that have never ruled together at national level: the SPD, the Greens, and the liberal Free Democrats.

Part of his popularity is down to the fact that he became the face of Germany's multibillion-euro response to the coronavirus crisis, referring to a massive package of measures as the "oomph" required to pull Europe's largest economy out of recession.

First elected in 1998

Although he started his political career far on the left, the now firm moderate will also have to control the more left-wing members of his party over the next four years.

He joined the SPD in 1975 and was first elected to the Bundestag national parliament in 1998.

From 2002, he served a two-year stint as SPD secretary general, when he was dubbed the 'Scholzomat' for his rather mechanical-sounding delivery as he attempted to explain former SPD chancellor Gerhard Schroeder's far-reaching labour and welfare reforms to an at-times sceptical public.

A trained lawyer, Scholz served in 2007 as labour and social affairs minister in Merkel's first coalition government with the SPD.

Four years later he headed to Hamburg, where he became the city's mayor. His term there was overshadowed in 2017 by violent demonstrations launched by anti-capitalist protesters at the G20 summit.

He became the calm face of a party in crisis following the 2017 general election, including a two-month tenure as interim SPD leader.

'Workaholic'

Known as workaholics, Scholz and his wife Britta Ernst enjoy few distractions from politics, according to observers.

Ernst has been education minister in the state of Brandenburg since 2017. The couple has no children.

The first published biography of Scholz - 'Olaf Scholz - the path to power' by Lars Haider - paints a picture of man with little tolerance for show-offs or small-talk, who knew he wanted to be chancellor and did not divert from that goal, despite the doubts of others.

"Anyone who demands leadership from me will get it," he once said in an interview.

With fears that his untested three-way coalition will falter when it comes to steadfast leadership - an area in which Merkel abundantly succeeded over the past 16 years - the expectations on Germany's new chancellor are high indeed.

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