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Krautsource #10 - Mr Scholz, Now You Have Two Problems

Jannis Brühl
Jannis Brühl
This week’s Krautsource is about a historic moment. A new, long yearned for change in German government, overshadowed by another Covid-19 escalation at least the naive had not seen coming a few weeks ago. What a winter.

Merkel is out
Angela Merkel is gone. The military honors (you might remember them from that time German troops came home from Afghanistan) presented to her on Thursday were the farewell to the German chancellor after being in charge for 16 years. Her successor Olaf Scholz has been sworn in on Wednesday. Conditions for his start are not enviable. Merkel is still by far the most popular German politician, something Scholz, who seems to live surprisingly free of any charisma, might never become. But most importantly, Covid is filling up the intensive care units of the country, which limits his wiggling room for any political plans his Social Democrat-Green-Liberal has. As the nerds say: Now you have two problems.
While expectations aimed at the new government are high when it comes to modernizing the country, few know what to expect from Scholz - even though, as finance minister and Merkels deputy, he has been part of the government for three years (and also, for two years in the Aughts when he was work minister, in one of the earlier Merkel cabinets). Maybe the only thing people associate with Scholz is what also made Merkel so popular: trust in him that he is going to keep things stable, somehow. At the same time, Scholz is going to have a hard time surfing the historical wave the way Merkel did, even though, in sober hindsight, the recipe to her success sometimes seems almost too simple: Universally acclaimed for putting the men of the conservative party (and some macho leaders of other European countries) in their place, she had some sort of a cool which blinded many people to the contents of her politics. Maybe her true genius was in realizing that society has liberalized to a point where it did not make sense to maintain an old-fashioned conservative party in the 21st century: This included leaving behind nuclear power (a decision that is today causing a rift between Germany and nuclear-friendly France when it comes to fighting climate change), allowing her party members to vote for same-sex marriage and abolishing the conscription army (Margarete Stokowski sums up the bizarre love of some leftists/progressives for Merkel in this piece, which is - sorry - written in German).
If you want to read more on the phenomenon of Angela Merkel as Europes most powerful person, I recommend this New Yorker piece from 2014, which also sheds light on the brillant way she won over many German journalists.
Scholz is in, and the pandemic is on
Usually governments are judged after 100 days (at least that is what journalists and opposition politicians do). Olaf Scholz’ next 99 days are going to be tougher than most German chancellors’. The plan is to give 30 million doses of vaccine out to people in Germany until the end of the year - which is in 22 days. New health minister Karl Lauterbach has made clear that he does not even know how many doses are at his disposal. A new crisis team is going to be convened in order to bring down the numbers of infections which are keeping the health system in some parts of the country on the edge of a breakdown. Most important, in February, Scholz’ government plans to make Germany one of the few countries with mandatory vaccination, a decision that is politically extremely risky given the high number of people opposed to vaccination.
All the while, the radical, nutty part of Germanys many vaccination critics is distracting politicians and the public with increasingly violent behavior. Journalists are threatened, as is Michael Kretschmer, the conservative governor of the state of Saxony, after he abolished his line of appeasement against the far-right, which is especially strong in his state. On the weekend, anti-vaxxers rallied in front of his health minister’s house with torches - a new level of intimidation in German politics. The first murder justified by a mask mandate has already happened, and any possible escalation in the course of the adoption of mandatory vaccination would throw German politics into a chaos I think we have not seen in years. My hope is that reason will prevail, as it has so far. But I do not want to be in Scholz’ shoes, or Merkels footsteps right now.
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Jannis Brühl
Jannis Brühl @jbruehl

This is my newsletter about German politics and history for an international audience. Why stay national and not take journalism to the global stage? Expect a lot of Realpolitik, plenty of Zeitgeist and maybe even some Schadenfreude.

I have been a journalist for more than a decade, working in New York City, Berlin and Cologne, and now head the technology news team at a major German media house in Munich. I hold a Masters degree in Political Science and American Cultural Studies. And I like rap music.

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