Unemotional, pragmatic and very, very self-confident: Hamburg’s incumbent mayor could become a formative figure of the German grand coalition. EURACTIV Germany’s media partner WirtschaftsWoche reports.
The man in front at the red desk radiated sovereignty and control. Critical questions? Were returned with cool sharpness, ironed out with ironic casualness, here and there even with a little smile. Nothing; nothing at all looked like wobbling or wavering. The message was clear: set the course – and hold it.
In the summer of 2017, one could already have guessed what SPD’s Olaf Scholz was all about. On that Monday in June, Hamburg First Mayor stole the show from his party leader and candidate for Chancellor, Martin Schulz. Back then, the two presented the party’s tax concept in the Willy Brandt House, the SPD headquarters, but it was clearly Scholz, not Schulz, who looked like he had the better grasp of the situation.
The head of the federal state on the river Elbe would not have expected anything less of himself. Scholz has a highly developed self-confidence, even on a top-level politician scale.
For many years he negotiated the reorganisation of the finances between the federal and state level as state minister together with former German Finance Minister Wolfgang Schäuble. Now, in the case of the formation of the new grand coalition, he is to succeed Schäuble in office: as finance minister and also as vice-Chancellor. Scholz, the strongman of the future German government.
When the WirtschaftsWoche met Scholz two weeks ago on the sidelines of an SPD party congress, he blocked any questions about his future. “You know that I like to be mayor.” And: Who deals with cabinet lists is unserious. At the same time, he made his claim more than clear.
The SPD must “occur in such a way that the citizens say: We can entrust them with the country”. Of course, Scholz also had himself in mind. He did not forget to mention that the tax reduction concept of the grand coalition “closely” follows the SPD concept – his concept. And he also had a clear opinion on a German reaction to Donald Trump’s aggressive tax policy: just do not get hectic.
Scholz will also soon want to radiate his tranquillity on Berlin’s Wilhelmstraße, the headquarters of the German finance ministry. But he will also have to get used to the brighter, more aggressive light of the leading capital media, which once stamped him as “Scholzomat”, the wooden-like SPD secretary general.
Scholz likes fine irony, cultivates a Northern German coolness and rarely feels inferior to his opponents – but all those qualities can quickly turn against him in Berlin.
In the city of Hamburg, “King Olaf” has so far ruled unchallenged – so undisputed that, however, it eventually became a problem.
Scholz’s flippant proverbs in the run-up to the 2017 G20 summit led him close to the abyss of resignation. In contrast to the civil war-like protests of the summit opponents, for a couple of days, Scholz did not look like the man who has everything under control, but rather like as a dolt. Too little political competition in Hamburg had made him careless.
Now, Berlin it is. Technically, it would be quite a surprise if anything else but a grounded, pragmatic, moderate-social democratic fiscal policy were to come from the 59-year-old Scholz.
A higher top tax rate is not doable with CDU/CSU, the inheritance tax is also taboo, and the dismantling of the solidarity supplements a decided thing. Should the economy collapse, Scholz will also have no problem in giving the spoilsport for too excessive budgetary demands.
The same applies to European politics. Although Scholz has close ties to the neighbouring country as a representative of the German government for Franco-German cultural cooperation, he will intensify the fight against multinational tax fraud, argue for a solidary Europe – and yet: he will follow Schäuble’s path in Brussels and not give up German financial solidity and clear fiscal rules.
Who orders leadership, Scholz once said, gets leadership. That is, indeed, a warning and a promise at the same time.