Scholz to become German chancellor after securing coalition deal

Three parties agree to form a ‘traffic light’ coalition government following parliamentary elections in September.

Christian Lindner, leader of the Free Democratic Party (FDP), far right, Olaf Scholz, SPD member and likely next German chancellor, third from left, Annalene Baerbock, left, and Robert Habeck, second from left, co-leaders of the Greens Party, arrive to present their mutually agreed upon coalition contract in Berlin [Michele Tantussi/Getty Images]

German Social Democrat Olaf Scholz said he has reached a coalition deal to form a new government that will try to modernise Europe’s largest economy and bring the curtain down on the Angela Merkel era.

Scholz’s centre-left Social Democrats (SPD), the ecologist Greens and the libertarian Free Democrats (FDP) want to accelerate the transition to a green economy and digitalisation while maintaining fiscal discipline, according to a 177-page agreement.

The alliance – named a traffic light coalition after the three parties’ respective colours – has a majority in the lower house of parliament and hopes the government will be sworn in early next month after the parties ratify the coalition pact.

The first alliance at a federal level between the ideologically disparate parties will end 16 years of Merkel-led conservative government, marking a new era for relations with Europe and the rest of the world.

Olaf Scholz of the German Social Democrats (SPD) will be the next German chancellor [Sean Gallup/Getty Images)

At a news conference in Berlin on Wednesday, flanked by the FDP and Greens leaders, Scholz recalled that when the first traffic light was erected at the city’s Potsdamer Platz in 1924, many questioned whether it could work.

“Today, the traffic light is indispensable when it comes to regulating things clearly and providing the right orientation and ensuring that everyone moves forward safely and smoothly,” he said.

“My ambition as chancellor is that this traffic light alliance will play a similarly groundbreaking role for Germany.”

Merkel leaves big shoes to fill. She has navigated Germany and Europe through multiple crises and been a champion of liberal democracy in the face of rising authoritarianism worldwide.

Her critics say she has managed rather than solved problems and leaves her successor tough decisions on many fronts.

Scholz’s incoming government faces immediate challenges, with Europe grappling with the fallout from Brexit, a crisis on the European Union’s border with Belarus and surging COVID-19 cases.

While Germany’s electoral campaign was largely focused on domestic issues, the coalition pact shed light on the next government’s foreign policy priorities.

The parties agreed to strengthen the EU’s economic and monetary union and signalled an openness to reform the bloc’s fiscal rules, also known as the Stability and Growth Pact.

They also agreed Germany would remain part of NATO’s nuclear sharing agreement, a move that will prevent a rift in the Western military alliance at a time of rising tensions with Russia.

Female foreign minister expected

Greens co-leader Annalena Baerbock, 40, is expected to become the country’s first female foreign minister. While the parties have yet to announce the cabinet lineup, Scholz has already said he wants a gender-equal government.

FDP leader Christian Lindner, 42, is set to take over at the finance ministry and Greens co-leader Robert Habeck, 52, is widely expected to take on a newly expanded economy and climate change ministry.

The incoming coalition will have to balance the Greens’ calls for a tougher line on Russia and China on human rights with Scholz’s likely preference not to risk a confrontation with the two countries over issues such as Taiwan and Ukraine.

Underscoring its socially liberal bent, the coalition agreed to allow multiple citizenship and legalise the sale of cannabis for recreational use at licensed shops.

Al Jazeera’s Dominic Kane, reporting  from Berlin said the new government was broadly taking shape.

“Olaf Scholz, in all likelihood within the next 10 days or so, is going to be ratified and voted in as chancellor in parliament. The Social Democrats will get him as chancellor, and six or seven other cabinet posts, and they get their key pledge Scholz referred to in the campaign: raising the minimum wage in this country,” he said.

“The Greens will get control of a powerful new ministry, the economy ministry, which will be boosted and become a combating climate change ministry as well. And the Free Democrats, the centre-right party called the liberals in Germany, will get the finance ministry and three other key ministries in the new cabinet.”

“This has got to be voted on by the respective parties internally, but they are all sounding as if this is pretty much a done deal. By agreeing this new coalition, they are effectively consigning Merkel’s Christian Democrats to opposition,” he said.

Presiding over what could be her final cabinet meeting, Merkel bade her colleagues farewell earlier in the day, and Scholz presented the EU’s longest serving leader with a tree to plant in her garden.

As finance minister and vice chancellor in the outgoing “grand coalition” of the SPD and conservatives, Scholz, 63, was seen as a competent rather than a charismatic politician who, like Merkel, has moderate views and is adept at dialogue.

He now needs to build and maintain a consensus between the Greens and SPD, which are widely seen as natural centre-left partners, and the fiscally hawkish FDP, which has historically been closer to Germany’s conservatives.

Merkel did not seek re-election after four terms as chancellor.

Her personal popularity ratings remain high, but her party is in disarray and facing a leadership contest after achieving its worst results in a federal vote following a gaffe-prone campaign by its candidate for chancellor.

Source: Al Jazeera, Reuters