He has ruled for five and a half months. That’s not long. But his negative image as chancellor solidified, especially after the state elections in Schleswig-Holstein and North Rhine-Westphalia, where the SPD slumped enormously. Here is a small, incomplete list of terms used to characterize Olaf Scholz: hesitant, hesitant, monotonous rhetoric, Scholzomat, Merkel imitation, impassive, without facial expressions, sentence module reader.
A chancellor has to endure that. Nobody pushed him into this position. But aren’t there primarily posture and style marks? Scholz, the bore – a public that is fixated on headlines doesn’t like that. Is Germany badly governed because the chancellor lacks charisma? It is noticeable that the content of his policy gets surprisingly good marks. Justice for Olaf Scholz? One try.
In his “Zeitenwende” speech, just three days after the start of Russia’s war of aggression against Ukraine, Scholz announced a radically new security policy. It included arms deliveries, tough sanctions, a 100 billion euro special fund for the Bundeswehr, armed drones, and modern fighter jets carrying nuclear weapons. It was a break with decades-old Federal Republican tradition.
Since then, Germany has played a central role in the Ukraine war in terms of financial support, taking in refugees and arms deliveries within the framework of the European Union. In some areas there are problems – just think of the delivery of protective helmets or the search for suitable ammunition for the “Gepard” tank – but hardly anyone doubts the fundamental solidarity of the federal government with Ukraine. This includes accepting higher inflation due to rising energy prices. Federal Economics Minister Robert Habeck is eagerly looking for ways to stop the import of coal, oil and natural gas from Russia. That too would be a turning point.
Putin wants division. That is why the West must respond with unity. Scholz is noticeably anxious to involve as large a part of German society as possible, including social democracy and the opposition, in his course. There is a fear of an escalation of the conflict, of the use of nuclear weapons, documented not least by open letters. Scholz’s attitude of shouting at her in response to Putin’s aggression would have caused internal discord.
The Chancellor formulated his style of government during his first visit to the Bundeswehr Operations Command in Potsdam: “It is important to keep a cool head, to be clear and decisive and to remain cautious.” In his eight-minute TV speech to the nation on the evening of 8 On May 1, he then defined the four principles of his Ukraine policy: no German solo efforts that will preserve their own defense capability, do nothing that harms us more than Russia, and do not make any decisions that turn NATO into a war party. “It stays that way.” What’s not to understand about that?
In order to cushion many of the hardships of inflation, the government decided on financial relief packages each amounting to tens of billions. The FDP finance minister must share responsibility for this, although liberal media are already warning of a “fully comprehensive republic” by distributing “social bonuses”. But at the traffic light, all parties have to swallow toads. That is why the SPD and the Greens could not prevail against the FDP with the introduction of general vaccination requirements.
The traffic light coalition at federal level is a novelty in Germany. Very different interests and strands of tradition collide here. The actors were not prepared for the double crisis of Corona and war. Germany is chairing the G7 this year, Scholz is in intensive consultation with Emmanuel Macron and is on the phone regularly with Putin and Volodymyr Zelenskyj. It may be that he didn’t have enough time for regular coalition meetings.
That would also explain why the trio of FDP Defense Minister Marie-Agnes Strack-Zimmermann, the Green Europe expert Anton Hofreiter and Michael Roth from the SPD massively reinforced Scholz’s procrastinating image after their visit to Ukraine. Foreign policy and secondary foreign policy often do not get along.
Scholz has to explain himself and his politics better, they say. But as a reminder: During his inaugural visits to Joe Biden in Washington and Vladimir Putin in Moscow, the Chancellor showed himself to be quick-witted and well informed. In an interview on the American TV channel CNN, he clearly and unequivocally distanced himself from Gazprom lobbyist Gerhard Schröder. At the press conference in Moscow, he joked smugly about the likely different lengths of Putin’s and his tenure. That was before his war of aggression and conquest.
Scholz is Hanseat, rather lazy, rather deliberate in his choice of words. He learned from Merkel to react quickly to the situation, but otherwise to remain as vague as possible so as not to block any options. He wants to avoid coming across as a driven man whose course depends on opposition, public opinion, or research by coalition members.
His weakness is the defiance that sometimes results. Scholz may justify sticking to Defense Minister Christine Lambrecht with loyalty. But he may have long since realized that this personality was a mistake.