Brexit will have 'consequences' for the UK says Olaf Scholz
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The race to succeed Chancellor Angela Merkel is well under way and wide open. Every candidate currently battling it out faces the same problem in standing out against Mrs Merkel’s colossal 16 years in charge. In that time, Germans have grown used to a pair of safe hands guiding their political ship, both domestically, within the EU and on the world stage.
Several politicians are currently leading the way to replace her: Armin Laschet, who succeeded Mrs Merkel in becoming leader of the Christian Democratic Union party (CDU) earlier this year; Annalena Baernbock of the Greens; and Olaf Scholz, leader of the Social Democratic Party (SPD).
Mr Scholz’s SPD has soared in the polls in recent weeks, at 26 percent in Politico’s Poll of Polls.
This makes him four points clear of the nearest party, the CDU/Christian Social Union (CSU).
The Greens come in third at 17 percent.
Mr Scholz is no stranger to the German people: he has had a succession of senior posts in politics, currently acting as finance minister and Mrs Merkel’s deputy as part of the CDU/CSU-SPD coalition.
He also has the benefit of having served as an MP from 1998 to 2011 — an impressive reelection campaign under his belt.
Yet, others are less sure of his credentials, many citing a lack of solid leadership from Mr Laschet and a wariness over his rhetoric surrounding Russia and China.
In a comment and analysis piece for Euro Intelligence, journalist Wolfgang Münchau wrote that Mr Scholz had been “at the centre of the worst economic policy decisions in Germany over the last 20 years”.
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He noted that there was a “sense of excitement in the air about Olaf Scholz,’ with a “majority of German voters [having] made up their mind that they like him better than the alternatives.”
However, he added: “But don’t kid yourself: elections are zero-sum games.
“During the second term of the Schröder government, between 2002 and 2004, Scholz was general secretary of the SPD, responsible for selling the Agenda 2010 of labour market and welfare reforms to the SPD’s reluctant grassroots. The German labour reforms happened without coordination with the rest of the euro area.
“It consisted of cuts in subsistence payments to the long-term unemployed and a series of other reforms that had the combined effect of reducing Germany’s wage costs – relative to the rest of the world but also relative to other euro area countries.”
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Mr Münchau said Mr Shcholz was the “co-architect” of the policy that resulted in Germany’s large current account surpluses and the sovereign debt crisis.
He went on to add that Mr Scholz was also a “vocal supporter” of the policy that “almost ripped the euro area apart”, after voting in favour of the constitutional debt brake.
And while the SPD leader later changed his mind on the debt brake, Mr Münchau warned: “Scholz has a history of supporting ordo-liberal, conservative economic policies.
“As chancellor, he may do the same, just like his mentor, Gerhard Schröder.”
Despite this, Mr Scholz has a proven track record of turning dire situations around.
His successful stint as mayor of Hamburg from 2011 to 2018 saw him rebalance the city’s troubled finances, shortly afterwards returning to the Bundestag.
He is also likely popular among the population having overseen the emergency €750bn (£647bn) funding package put together by the federal government to help German businesses and workers survive the pandemic.
And, he may be helped by Mr Laschet.
The CDU leader has foundered, mostly as a result of his own unforced errors.
He has been accused of inconsistencies on COVID-19 policy as premier of the heavily industrial North Rhine-Westphalia (NRW).
And, in July, he was caught on camera laughing as the president of Germany made a speech in a town which had been largely destroyed by catastrophic flooding.
As a result his reputation took a hit in Germany.
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