The Brief — Parties that wanted a ‘departure’ chose a true veteran to lead them

DISCLAIMER: All opinions in this column reflect the views of the author(s), not of EURACTIV Media network.

The Brief is EURACTIV's evening newsletter. [EPA-EFE/CLEMENS BILAN]

As 16 years of Angela Merkel finally came to an end today, with Olaf Scholz sworn in as the new German chancellor, the sense of departure that had been in the air was no longer truly felt.

The “traffic light” coalition of the social democrats, the Greens and the liberal FDP, with Scholz at the helm, was meant to signify a break with the “stale” Merkel years and finally set about getting things done.

The Greens and the FDP were clamouring for a “departure” throughout their election campaign and young voters voted for them in droves, hungry for a change and fresh faces.

Still, the new leadership of Germany is barely any younger than that of the past legislature (on average 50.4 years instead of 51.2). And at its helm now is a man who can truly be called a ‘senior’ politician.

Nearly twenty years ago, Scholz was SPD secretary-general under Chancellor Gerhard Schröder. Generally, in Germany, one is regarded as senior once they leave the position of secretary-general.

Scholz, who had campaigned on a platform of continuity beyond the Merkel era, going so far as to imitate her famed “rhombus” hand gesture, is unlikely to bring the fresh wind that young voters may have sought.

He is not new to power, not new to responsibility, and far from untainted: He has been at least indirectly implicated in several financial scandals. First, a tax fraud scandal by a Hamburg bank, which cost the state €47 million, followed by the infamous Wirecard scandal under his aegis as finance minister.

At his first press conference after the signing of the coalition treaty, Scholz already started to disappoint those who had hoped for a clearer voice on China and Russia.

His predecessor had always been reticent to comment on the atrocities and ready to turn a blind eye to the genocide of the Uyghurs in China or the occupation of Crimea.

Scholz, given the continuity platform he had campaigned on, was unsurprisingly reluctant to commit to the US-led diplomatic boycott of the 2022 Winter Olympic games in China.

Journalists attempting to find out what position he would take on these issues were stonewalled for a solid hour before the press conference was finally called to an end.

While government infighting has already started over who leads the country on foreign policy, Chancellor Scholz, or the Greens’ foreign minister Annalena Baerbock, Scholz is likely to follow in Merkel’s footsteps and have the last word.

Those who had hoped for Germany to become a more active force for good in the world, participate more actively in UN peacekeeping operations and speak out clearly on human rights issues are likely to be bitterly disappointed.

Scholz is, for good and ill, a true pragmatist. He had championed Schröder’s controversial social reform Agenda 2010 and knows where German business interests lie.

He will not seek a direct conflict with China or Russia, nor will he oppose the Nord Stream 2 pipeline and that is something we have known all along.

We may have lost sight of this in the face of the surprising social democrat victory in September, but reality is creeping back in. The clock signalling the end of the new government’s honeymoon period is now officially ticking.


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The Roundup

The European Commission proposed a powerful new trade instrument on Wednesday that would give it more leeway to impose sanctions on third countries.

The family of murdered Maltese journalist Daphne Caruana Galiza, as well as several EU lawmakers, has called on the EU not to fund a gas pipeline project between Malta and Sicily that will link to a power station part-owned by Yorgen Fenech, who has been charged with conspiracy in her murder with a car bomb in October 2017.

US officials have told members of Congress they have an understanding with Germany about shutting down the Nord Stream 2 natural gas pipeline if Russia invades Ukraine. The White House said Germany had made commitments about the Nord Stream 2 pipeline that runs from Russia to Germany under the Baltic Sea in the event of aggressive acts by Russia.

In India, the head of armed forces was among 13 people killed on Wednesday when the military helicopter they were travelling in crashed, the air force said. General Bipin Rawat, 63, was appointed as India’s first Chief of Defence Staff by Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s government in late 2019.

British Prime Minister Boris Johnson faced intense pressure Wednesday after a video emerged of his senior aides joking about holding a Christmas party at Downing Street last year when social gatherings were banned under COVID-19 rules. The leaked video appears to contradict more than a week of denials by Johnson and his ministers that a party took place in December 2020.

Patient involvement in research on dementia has shown to be mutually beneficial, both to the quality of medical studies and to people’s rights to be involved in relevant research about their own condition, according to health experts. A dedicated panel at this year’s Alzheimer Europe Conference on 29 November dug more into how the research on dementia would benefit from public involvement.

Meanwhile, stakeholders are calling on the European Commission to stop prioritising home-grown phosphates high in cancer-causing cadmium over imports of cleaner products from non-EU countries, but others warn that this risks sacrificing EU autonomy.

In the agricultural sector, a number of female entrepreneurs are not able to tap into their potential and scale up their businesses due to an unconscious bias among investors, according to Lukxmi Balathasan, business creation manager for EIT Food, who said that this results in a worse outcome for all.

Like every Wednesday, check out our Green Brief for a roundup of weekly news.

Look out for…

  • Commission President Ursula von der Leyen participates in summit for Democracy, hosted by US President Joe Biden via videoconference
  • Health Commissioner Stella Kyriakides delivers speech via videoconference at European Health Summit 2021
  • Justice Commissioner Didier Reynders opens via videoconference the International Conference on Rule of Law.

Views are the author’s.

[Edited by Zoran Radosavljevic]

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