An appearance under dramatic circumstances – with dramatic words. At his press conference on Friday, Olaf Scholz once again chose the element of surprise, as he did when he announced the turning point after the start of the Ukraine war, when he decided to upgrade the Bundeswehr, including a 100 billion special fund, in a kind of lonely decision from the center of power brought on the way.
And now a concentrated load of decisions that the Chancellor announced alone – Scholz makes use of the authority of the office in his own way.
But obviously he felt compelled to act surprisingly and swiftly. The rescue of the gas supplier Uniper by the state could not be postponed. And the chosen solution with the allocation to gas customers could not be done without a signal for further relief for the population. Just now while hiking in the Allgäu – then suddenly on the Berlin stage in breaking news mode: the chancellor as doer.
Along with a slogan that should be remembered: “You’ll never walk alone”. It’s an old Broadway hit, popularized in England sixty years ago by Gerry and the Pacemakers, and has long been the supporters’ anthem of Liverpool FC and other clubs – not really a song about government support.
The slightly sappy lyrics: “If you’re going through a storm, keep your head up and don’t be afraid of the dark. After the storm’s over, a golden sky and the sweet, silvery song of a lark. Keep walking, with hope in your heart, you never walk alone.”
In view of the energy crisis and the associated high inflation, the chancellor had actually only promised further relief measures for the period after the political summer break. Before that, he wanted to hold further talks with unions and employers, i.e. to continue his “concerted action”.
In addition, parts of the first two relief packages have not even reached the citizens – the energy price flat rate, for example, will not be paid out until autumn, the fuel discount and nine-euro ticket are still running. There was a kind of agreement in the coalition to wait and see with new measures.
But then the debate about further relief quickly continued at full speed. The surveys also indicate that the displeasure among the population is still muted but growing. In the Politbarometer, 76 percent of those surveyed said that the measures decided so far were not sufficient. Only a fifth considered the packages with fuel discount, nine-euro ticket and other relief announced in March to be sufficient.
And the approval ratings of the government and its leaders are falling. Whether Scholz, Christian Lindner, Robert Habeck, Annalena Baerbock, Hubertus Heil, Karl Lauterbach – the political barometer generally registered a minus in the assessment.
However, this did not apply to his own party supporters – with one exception: the chancellor also fell significantly among the SPD supporters, his minus of 0.6 points was remarkable. And the SPD has been behind the Union and the Greens for a long time on the Sunday question.
The state elections in Lower Saxony on October 9 could also play a certain role in the chancellor’s calculations. There is a lot at stake for the SPD. The popular Stephan Weil has been Prime Minister since 2013, and he currently governs with the CDU.
The polls currently point to 30 percent for the Social Democrats, six points less than in the 2017 election, three points ahead of the CDU. Because has been insisting for weeks that the traffic lights in Berlin take more relief steps. So also after the Scholz appearance on Friday. According to Weil, he expects “that the federal government will also live up to its social responsibility and relieve the burden on citizens as quickly as possible”.
The fact that Scholz pulled off a small coup with his solo appearance could also cause trouble in the traffic light coalition when the budget for 2023 is soon to be discussed in the Bundestag. After all, the chancellor on Friday timed two SPD issues on the side.
On the one hand, the citizens’ benefit, which is a major project of the SPD in the coalition agreement and is intended to replace unemployment benefit II. So far there has been no launch date. It has been fixed since Friday: January 1, 2023. It was not previously included in the government’s draft budget. The housing benefit reform mentioned by Scholz is only hinted at in the coalition agreement, but the SPD in particular wants to score points with this project – also on January 1, 2023.
The Scholz solo was not uncoordinated. The chancellor’s press conference was followed by a joint press statement by the government, in which two other measures were announced in addition to citizen benefit and housing benefit reform.
The “review” of the protection against dismissal rules so that “tenants who are overwhelmed will not have their rental contract terminated or energy customers will not have their supply contract terminated” is the moratorium that the Greens had called for. And the FDP can sell the “protective shield for companies that get into trouble because of high energy prices” as a personal contribution.
But the Greens and FDP will not be satisfied with that alone. The Scholz appearance was too much a social democratic individual performance for that. The Greens parliamentary group leader Britta Haßelmann had already heard that. She then spoke of “first suggestions” that were a “good basis” for “deepening these measures in the further proceedings in Parliament”. That means that the coalition partners Scholz and his family could soon remind them: You never walk alone.