German Chancellor Olaf Scholz: A Very Special Responsibility
As successor to Angela Merkel, Olaf Scholz is facing a wealth of challenges at home and abroad. In the coming days, he faces key international summits while a domestic energy crisis begins to spiral. Is the new Chancellor up to the challenge?
BERLIN — Forty years ago, Germany's Chancellor Olaf Scholz was elected vice chairman of the Young Socialists. It was the heyday of the peace movement; Scholz, too, demonstrated against the stationing of U.S. medium-range missiles on the soil of the Federal Republic.
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Back then, too, in 1982, there was a turning point.
The social-liberal coalition of Helmut Schmidt was entering its last year in government. At many demonstrations against rearmament, a song by the rock band Fehlfarben, which the chancellor probably still remembers and which he presumably once sang along to, was played over booming loudspeakers: "No pause for breathing, history is being made, we're making progress!"
This refrain is now highly topical again. Over the coming days, the chancellor will have no respite: He has to make history at four international summits.
G7 in Bavaria, NATO in Madrid
On Sunday and Monday, the chancellor will then host the G7 summit at the hermetically sealed Elmau Castle in Bavaria. And on Tuesday, the German head of government will fly to Madrid for the NATO summit.
The Chancellor tried to explain what he hopes to achieve at all these summits in a government statement in the Bundestag on Wed. June 22.
Before turning to world politics, he once again thanked "from the bottom of his heart" those in parliament who had approved the 100-billion-euro special fund for equipping the army earlier this month.
The reorientation of German policy has been met with "international recognition," said Scholz. Germany bears "a very special responsibility," he added. This sounds somewhat more pleasing than the demand thrown into the room by SPD party leader Lars Klingbeil at a conference of the Ebert Foundation: Germany must assume the role of a "leading power" in international politics. But in essence, the chancellor obviously meant the same thing.
European leadership in demand
And leadership is also in demand in Europe. The war in Ukraine has been raging for four months; Russian threats are now also massively directed against NATO member Lithuania, which is blocking deliveries of sanctioned goods to the Kaliningrad enclave.
The partnership with the Kremlin is history.
Scholz stressed he will not consider the defense of the alliance territory as mere words, but will "defend every square meter." In the meantime, hardly any debate in the Bundestag can be made without statements on the German military. He mentioned the "robust Bundeswehr brigade" stationed on NATO's eastern flank, promised to permanently strengthen the German presence there, and also to expand the presence of the German Navy and Air Force in the Baltic Sea region.
"With this commitment, we will go to the NATO summit next week," which will send a "signal of cohesion and unity" in the alliance. In contrast, the partnership with the Kremlin, which NATO had still presented as a strategic concept in 2010, is history. With "Putin's aggressive, imperialist Russia," that would be "inconceivable for the foreseeable future." The admission of Sweden and Finland to NATO, on the other hand, would be a "security gain" for Europe.
But this has to happen first; Turkey has so far blocked the two Scandinavian countries on rather flimsy grounds. The summit will be about making Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan an offer he cannot refuse, since the conflict has not been cleared yet.
It is quite possible that there will only be a declaration of intent in Madrid, followed by a drawn-out ratification process, as the decision on NATO admission must be unanimous.
Ukraine President Volodymyr Zelensky welcomes Olaf Scholz and French President Emmanuel Macron in Kyiv
Problems ahead at the EU summit
Even in Brussels, when the negotiation of accession of western Balkan states happens, not everything is likely to go smoothly. Countries like Northern Macedonia have been waiting for an OK from the EU for almost 20 years now, and they are facing resistance. Earlier this month, Scholz had to dispel concerns during his visit to Bulgaria.
The signals in Sofia were "very constructive," Scholz said in his government statement. But three hours after his appearance in the Bundestag, news agencies reported that the Bulgarian government with which he had recently been negotiating was overthrown.
For the chancellor, it is clear anyway that it will not be an easy summit with these countries.
Many countries would have to take the plunge and abandon their mutual animosities. He hopes that "everyone will settle their differences". But that has rarely been achieved in the Balkans.
Standing by Ukraine "today and in the future"
Scholz stressed once again that "Europe stands united at the side of the Ukrainian people".
The fact that seven German self-propelled howitzers have finally arrived in the war zone at least spares him the opposition's questions about where the promised heavy weapons are. "We are supplying them today and in the future," said the chancellor.
The chancellor also spoke of a Marshall Plan for reconstruction.
Scholz stressed that he had invited Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky to the G7 summit in Elmau. His country needs support not only now, but "for years to come," Scholz said.
The chancellor also spoke of a Marshall Plan for reconstruction, saying that Ukraine belongs to the European family. He made it clear that there is still a lot to be done in the fight against corruption, the legal protection of minorities and the guarantee of the rule of law in the country.
But Ukrainians want to take the path toward the EU "now," Scholz said. He concluded his speech by saying that the turn of events had given the German government "a mandate to act". The course would be set anew.
Trouble at home with energy supplies
The chancellor gave a speech about national, European and global issues. With so much on the agenda, opposition leader Friedrich Merz could not avoid congratulating the chancellor.
The head of the CDU/CSU parliamentary group praised the chancellor's trip to Kyiv as an "important sign of solidarity" and declared his support for the opposition's vote in favor of the special fund for the German armed forces. He said that they had voted in favor "out of conviction".
Green caucus leader Katharina Dröge said she was pleased that German howitzers had finally arrived in Ukraine and took the opportunity to warn against a "rollback into nuclear energy" when it came to energy supplies.
But Christian Dürr, head of the Free Democratic Party (FDP) parliamentary group, which is part of a ruling coalition with Scholz's SPD party, took up the topic indirectly anyway. He made clear that differences of opinion that still exist in the governing coalition: The emergence of an energy gap cannot be an option for Germany.
Perhaps the government coalition does need a pause for breathing after all to help clarify how they want to continue making history when it comes to energy supplies — and whether any progress is being made at all.
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