Little charisma, a lot of study; increased public spending to address the pandemic; mistakes of opponents. Olaf Scholz the current Minister of Finance and Vice-Chancellor
FROM OUR CORRESPONDENT
BERLIN When in early summer, while its Spd still sailed in the abyss of 15%, they asked him why he didn’t try to be more emotional, trying to excite the voters, Olaf Scholz replied: I am running for chancellor, not for circus director. The sentence sums up the character of theman who could succeed Angela Merkel at the helm of Germany (here the live broadcast of the count).
Always so serious and zen, so much so that he deserved the nickname of Scholzomat, precisely because of the boring and almost robotic chant with which twenty years ago he defended the unpopular reforms of Gerhard Schrder. He never shone for charisma, Olaf Scholz. And above all he was never a favorite of the Social Democratic base, which has always distrusted his centrism and still in 2019 had preferred to elect two complete strangers to the presidency of the party and not him, too. Minister of Finance and vice-chancellor.
All of this took place in another geological era. When the German social democracy seemed irremediably overwhelmed by an existential crisis, emptied of themes and consensus by the omnivorous and insatiable chancellor. Today the SPD is back and points to the stationery again. And the miracle of a rebirth that no one had foreseen and in which no one had believed, largely the work of Scholz.
Reliability, competence, pragmatism, down to earth, long breath were the ingredients of a personal recipe, to whose success also the structural weakness and the mistakes of his opponents, the Christian Democrat Armin Laschet and the green Annalena Baerbock. But the not secret secret of Olaf Scholz in this election campaign was that of having managed to embody in the eyes of the Germans, frightened and made uncertain by the departure of the woman who protected them for 16 years, a substantial continuity with Angela Merkel, as if she were her natural heir.
In the rallies, in the televised duels, in the interviews, Scholz did not speak as someone who wants to become chancellor, but as one who already is. And after all, despite coming from two opposite personal histories and belonging to two different political universes, he and Merkel are similar: same absence of rhetoric, same intellectual approach, same caution in government action. Who Olaf Scholz? Who recommends it? What would you do if you became the ninth chancellor of the Federal Republic of Germany?
The Social Democratic candidate born in 1958 in Osnabrck, one of the two German cities where the Peace of Westphalia was signed, the treaty that in 1648 closed the Thirty Years War and defined the European order for the next three centuries. grew up in Hamburg, where his father was a textile trader and where he graduated in law, then passing the bar exam and specializing in labor cases. He began to engage in politics very young: he was not yet twenty when in 1975 he joined the Jusos, the young social democrats who have always been on the left of the party, convinced with them that it was necessary to overcome the capitalist system. Public commitment was a total passion for him, to the point that it also coincides with his love life: in the party that Olaf Scholz met Britta Ernst, also a Social Democrat leader, whom she married in 1998, choosing together not to have children. Today Ernst is Minister of Education in Brandenburg, the Land where the couple moved after the Hamburg years.
But very little is known about Scholz’s private life, even in this very similar to Angela Merkel: she has in fact erected a wall to defend her personal sphere. It is known that he does a lot of sport: rowing and running. Who loves cooking and cultivates passions such as literature, cinema and art. Few politicians are capable of discussing Musil and the Mann brothers as thoroughly as he. You don’t miss an arthouse film, which you see as soon as it hits the theaters. And he would not give up for anything in the world to travel to Kassel, for the five-year appointment with Documenta, one of the most important international exhibitions of contemporary art. Last detail, loves fast cars: Currently the owner of a BMW SUV, although he has been unable to drive it since the Finance Minister.
Like other former young Social Democratic rebels, from Gerhard Schrder to Heidemarie Wieczorek-Zeul, Over time Scholz became one of the champions of the centrist wing and moderate of the SPD and precisely for this reason he was never particularly loved by hard and pure militants. His cursus honorum in the party was in fact contrasted: general secretary in 2000, re-elected with just 52% of the votes three years later, Scholz was sensationally defeated in the battle for the presidency of the party in October 2019, when the members preferred the two. carneadi of the left, Norbert Walter-Borjans and Saskia Esken. But so much internal distrust did not prevent him from being one of the leading men of the SPD in the government of the country: Minister of Labor in the first Great Coalition led by Merkel, Burgomaster of Hamburg and finally, from 2017, Minister of Finance and Vice-Chancellor. Above all, it bears the signature of Scholz, even before that of Merkel, the 353 billion euro bazooka, deficit funded, which allowed the German economy to survive the pandemic tsunami.
Scholz has zero charisma, but he radiates stability and is seen as the person who he distributed the money during the economic crisis, explains political scientist Andrea Roemmele of the Hertie School of Government. Experience and generally positive judgments are the extra card he was able to show in the election campaign compared to his opponents. But they are also his weakness. Different political thuds in fact marked Olaf Scholz’s public career: the riots that set Hamburg to fire and sword during the 2017 G20 and that the then burgomaster could neither foresee nor prevent, the scam and bankruptcy of the financial services company Wirecard which took place under the nose of the federal authorities and his role never clarified in the Cum-Ex scandal when as mayor he met the executives of the Warburg bank, which had defrauded the city tax authorities for 47 million euros. Scholz has always declared himself a stranger to the facts and has never actually been investigated.
But so far, despite Armin Laschet’s attempt to use them in the fire of the electoral, these episodes do not seem to have weighed on popular judgment. The key word in Olaf Scholz’s message was Respect. The pandemic – he said – has shown us which shoulders our society rests on: those who work hard but receive little benefit from economic growth. The political philosophy that inspires him is that outlined by Michael Sandel in The Tyranny of Merit, an indictment against the world of privileged meritocratic progressives, accused of undermining social cohesion. Anyone who does not have a degree or a job in the creative industries is considered a loser, Scholz wrote in an essay published in March. Recently, however, Scholz discovered another source of intellectual inspiration. In fact, during this summer’s short vacation, he brought with him the book by Marianna Mazzuccato, Mission Economy, where the Italian-American economist points to the example of the Apollo program, the one that took man to the moon, to theorize a more state activist, but in a new virtuous cooperation with the private sector, public hand and business: Innovation only emerges from this intelligent interaction, Scholz said in several interviews. The central proposal of its program, the increase of the minimum wage from 9.60 to 12 euros per hour, which Scholz has indicated as indispensable condition for any government directed by him, as well as the increase in the rates for the higher income brackets: With my salary as a deputy, I too would have to pay more taxes, he repeats. Furthermore, Scholz proposes a public building program of 400,000 new apartments a year, of which 100,000 at fair rent, and a reform aimed at stabilizing pensions.
In Europe, Scholz is more cautious. He hailed the approval of the Next Generation Eu as a Hamiltonian moment of the Union, but continues to argue that sooner or later it will be necessary to return to the rules of the Stability Pact, while it is said opposed to removing the brake on the budget, written in the Constitution, which limits Germany’s annual structural deficit to 0.35% and is currently suspended due to the pandemic, which its probable future allies, the Greens, would rather cancel. But the ease with which he argued deficit spending against the pandemic, suggests that they are tactical cautions. On the climate, Olaf Scholz shares many of the Greens’ views, but he does not want the country to phase out coal-fired power plants before 2038. Apart from his wife Britta, Scholz’s closest person Wolfgang Schmidt, finance ministry official, strategist, confidant and true eminence gray of the Social Democratic candidate. Its public image in the hands of Stefgen Hebestreit, his spokesperson, while two undersecretaries, Rolf Boesinger and Joerg Kukies, also belong to the magic circle. Outside this homogeneous group, and hermetic according to critics, Olaf Scholz maintains a privileged relationship with Andrea Nahles, former leader of the SPD, resigned and retired from politics after the party’s historic defeat in the 2019 European elections. Many argue that Nahles could return to a role under Chancellor Scholz.
September 26, 2021 (change September 27, 2021 | 08:31)
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