Friedrich Merz is at peace with himself, he once again gave the Chancellor a good drink. He accepts the applause of his Union MPs with a satisfied smile. “Put down your ready-made speech from the Chancellery,” the CDU/CSU parliamentary group leader Olaf Scholz asked to finally answer a few questions.
What weapons is Germany actually supplying to Ukraine and what additional weapons does it intend to supply? “Why don’t you say very clearly that Ukraine must win the war?” Is there a second agenda?
Why is he on the phone for 80 minutes with Vladimir Putin? He quotes a FAZ text: “Scholz is ruining Germany’s reputation,” reads the title. “You’ve been talking a little more than usual lately, but you’re still saying nothing.” Merz obviously expects a typical Scholz speech again, without clear answers, a victory on points in this speech duel for himself and even more criticism of the Chancellor in the days that follow.
Olaf Scholz listens in a relaxed manner, he knows his speech, which he is about to give. Three months after the turning point speech, he wants to clear up some crooked images today in the general debate on the chancellor’s budget for 2022. His people have been urging him for days to speak publicly as he can do it internally.
You know he has to give clear answers now. And on that day, the chancellor escaped from the role of presidential chancellor, who simply ignored Merz’s attacks. He is no longer willing to give up the shooting gallery figure, which some people are working on loudly without knowing things – that’s how Scholz sees it.
And he does something unusual for him, he answers directly to Merz, freely, he actually puts the manuscript aside for the time being. “Dear Mr. Merz, you have put a lot of effort into the manuscript and the text that you have prepared.” However, Merz only asked questions without being specific himself. “More beef (more meat) would have been very sensible.” Big applause from the SPD, Greens and FDP, they would apparently like to hear something like that from Scholz more often.
But the counterattack continues. Merz rarely positions itself. “And if you do it, it will be embarrassing.” He criticizes that he, Scholz, calls the Russian President and says that he should rather coordinate closely with the French President. However, he had the last phone call with Putin together with Emmanuel Macron. It was “a European action”. It is always coordinated at European level what is presented there.
And then Merz suggested that taxes should be increased for almost all citizens in order to pay for better equipment through a Bundeswehr solo. “What a strange idea.” The Union had conducted an entire federal election campaign with the fact that the solos also had to go for top earners in order to reintroduce the solos now.
“That’s not a good idea,” says Scholz. “That’s the way it is,” is shouted in the plenum, Minister of Finance and FDP leader Christian Lindner nods with a grin in the direction of Merz, the attack lifts the mood among traffic light groups and on the government bench. Incidentally, he will soon answer the other questions, “or they have already been answered”.
But one thing is still important. As an opposition leader of the CDU/CSU, one must also mention that the defense ministers in recent years have been from the CDU and the CSU, and the chancellor from the CDU. “You could have at least said a word about that, Mr. Merz.”
The bad times for the Bundeswehr had begun when “a minister zu Guttenberg, with an affinity for the press, who communicated a lot and who was rarely in office,” began to save heavily and abolish conscription. “Sometimes technical work is really useful, Mr. Merz,” says the Chancellor, then he picks up the manuscript. And here, too, he sets a different tone. For the first time since his government declaration with proclamations of a turning point, the chancellor did not start the war.
His message: It must not happen to the government that everything else is secondary to the war. He also addressed that later to Merz, who only spoke about it. The SPD has intensively studied the reasons for the heavy defeat in the state elections in North Rhine-Westphalia and understands that the huge price increases are the even greater concern for many citizens.
“Millions of citizens ask themselves every day: Can I get there with my money? Is it enough at the end of the month? Scholz explains the relief for 20 minutes, the tank discount and the nine-euro ticket are by no means the only ones in the 30 billion package. But he also emphasizes that the debt brake should be complied with again from 2023.
The reason for the inflation is the war instigated by Russia. Laughter at the AfD. Scholz ignores that, now he stops and looks in their ranks. “What are you laughing at?” And repeated in the direction of the AfD: “The war instigated by Russia.”
And he emphasizes that the restructuring of industry and business towards more climate protection, for him a new industrial revolution, expansion of wind power, hydrogen, digitization, away from Russian gas and oil, everything will be done as promised. Just like this week, a minimum wage of 12 euros would be decided in the Bundestag. “This year is the year of decisions.”
And Scholz takes up an idea from Economics Minister Karl Schiller (SPD) from 1967, when it was also in a difficult economic phase. He wants a new edition of the “Concerted Action”, unions and employers at one table to discuss joint measures against high inflation.
This is not about wage negotiations. “Here we have to stand together again and find out how we want to deal with this price development?” Scholz refers to the chemical industry, which has chosen an interesting path with a one-time special payment for the employees.
Merz has to wait a long time until Scholz has worked his way to page 26 in his manuscript. He does not forget to thank the Union for approving the 100 billion special fund for the Bundeswehr, he smugly points out that Merz was not present in the final negotiations.
Then Scholz comes to one of the questions raised by Merz. A lot is asked about his war aims. “Our goal is that Putin does not win. Our goal is for Ukraine to be able to defend itself and be successful with it.”
But he also wanted to say expressly that “it is arrogant and inappropriate, and it is completely out of place when there is a discussion in this country about what Ukraine has to decide”. Like US President Joe Biden, he says: “Ukrainians decide on Ukraine and nobody else.”
And then Scholz’s voice becomes very quiet, the most surprising part comes, the speech by Friedrich Merz, who again expected a standard speech from Scholz, is now slowly collapsing like a soufflé.
Yes, and then there is the issue of weapons. “Germany doesn’t have to hide,” he emphasizes. “And because you danced questioningly through the landscape, Mr. Merz”: The fact that Germany was delivering weapons to a warring party for the first time in a war like this was a breach of long-standing German state practice.
Was there such a turnaround under CDU leadership? “I don’t understand how you can claim that nothing happened.” How amazed he is at some talk shows, what is said without his knowledge. “Totally white” would be the claim that Ukraine doesn’t want that at all. “Where do we actually live?” asks a visibly angry Chancellor. Everywhere people should “tell this stuff”.
The problem is that he doesn’t want to communicate too aggressively about many things. He recommends Merz to read the article by US President Biden in the New York Times that appeared on the day, which describes very precisely where the limits lie.
Vladimir Putin is assured that there will be no war party and that Ukraine will not be given weapons to attack Russian territory. Ultimately, the aim is to use the deliveries to strengthen Ukraine’s negotiating position in the event of an end to the war.
Scholz can sign all of that, he keeps in close contact with Joe Biden. And then he lists for the first time in detail what is being delivered: anti-aircraft missiles and anti-tank weapons, more than 15 million rounds of ammunition, 100,000 hand grenades, over 5000 anti-tank mines, extensive explosive material, machine guns.
“Together with Denmark, we delivered 54 modernized, armored troop transporters to the Ukraine at their request.” A ring exchange with the Czech Republic would give the Ukraine familiar Soviet-style equipment – initially 20 T 72 battle tanks.
Greece is supplying infantry fighting vehicles from former NVA stocks and is also getting German tanks as replacements. In addition, 168 Ukrainian soldiers who were particularly badly wounded were flown out and cared for in Germany.
The contract for the delivery of Gepard anti-aircraft tanks to the Ukraine has now been signed, and enough ammunition will also be procured. By the way, that was also wrongly insinuated, Ukraine explicitly wanted the cheetah for anti-aircraft defense. The training of Ukrainian soldiers on twelve tank howitzers 2000 will soon be over – if all this isn’t heavy equipment, he doesn’t know it either.
With a view to the difficult situation in the Donbass, he also announced something new: the company wants to deliver the IRIS-T system from the manufacturer Diehl, which according to the Chancellor is the most modern air defense system that Germany has. “We’re putting Ukraine in a position to protect an entire city from Russian air attacks.”
And an agreement with the USA is very fresh, Scholz only hints at it in the speech, later it becomes known that four MARS II multiple rocket launchers from the armaments group Krauss-Maffei-Wegmann also want to be supplied from their own stocks. But it should be ensured that these are not used for attacks on Russian territory.
Of course, many questions remain unanswered, especially when all this will really take off and whether Ukraine is really happy with it. And what will become of the 100 Marder armored personnel carriers desired by Ukraine, he again said nothing about that. Does he only want to take these for the ring exchanges? Ukraine would rather have Marder tanks than the old Soviet tanks, with the T-72 the 72 stands for “1972”.
But for Merz, he took some of the attack surface today. At least the end of the speech is then again very Scholz-classic. “Thank you very much,” says the Chancellor, closes the speech folder, goes back to the Chancellor’s Square, grins at Robert Habeck and Christian Lindner. He nods his thanks several times because of the great applause.