Often described as austere and even robotic, Social Democrat Olaf Scholz nevertheless managed to inspire German voters in this year’s election with a campaign that played on his reputation as a reliable henchman.
Scholz, 63, will now take up her post as Germany’s ninth post-war chancellor, replacing Angela Merkel who is leaving politics after 16 years.
The Social Democrats (SPD) had started the election campaign low in the polls, with many completely nullifying Scholz’s chances of leading the next government – so much so that he didn’t even have an official biography before that. week.
But Scholz managed to stage an astonishing upheaval, defeating Merkel’s conservatives by positioning himself as the best candidate to continue her legacy, even adopting her famous “diamond” hand gesture on a magazine cover.
Unlike his rivals, he also managed not to make embarrassing mistakes in a campaign that built on his reputation as a silent workaholic, using the slogan ‘Scholz will sort it out’.
After a shorter-than-expected post-election coalition bargaining period, Scholz succeeded in forging an alliance with the Greens and the liberal FDP.
Once described by Der Spiegel magazine as “the embodiment of boredom in politics”, Scholz has slowly risen through the ranks since the 1970s.
Born in the western town of Osnabrueck, he joined the SPD youth movement in 1975 and has been photographed at various peace protests sporting woolen sweaters and an unruly cut of long hair.
He became vice-president of the movement in the 1980s but failed to become its leader because he was seen as too leftist, although he later aligned himself with a more centrist course.
After training as a lawyer and setting up his own law firm specializing in labor matters in 1985 – now hairless – Scholz was elected to the national parliament in 1998.
During his 2002-2004 tenure as secretary general of the SPD, he earned the nickname “Scholzomat” for his dry but tireless defense of the unpopular labor reforms of then Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder.
While not thrilled with the nickname, Scholz admitted in a recent interview with Bunte magazine that “it certainly wasn’t an entirely false description.”
“I have always been asked the same questions and I have always given the same answers,” he said, adding that he “laughs more often than you think”.
As Minister of Labor in Merkel’s first coalition government from 2007 to 2009, Scholz helped avoid mass layoffs during the financial crisis by convincing companies to cut workers’ hours with the state supplementing their wages – a policy also used during the coronavirus pandemic.
He was mayor of Hamburg from 2011 to 2018, overseeing the development of the beloved but extremely expensive Elbphilharmonie concert hall, which he saved thanks to a controversial multi-million euro bailout.
For Scholz, whose motto is “I can only distribute what I have”, the expenses were justified by the sound finances of the city-state.
As finance minister and Merkel’s vice-chancellor from 2018, he also suspended the brake on Germany’s constitutional debt to trigger a trillion euro “bazooka” to counter the effects of the pandemic of coronavirus on the economy.
However, he is generally viewed as budget conservative and has insisted on a return to no-new debt policy by 2023 – a rule included in the coalition deal.
This cautious approach has at times left him marginalized within his own workers’ party, ignored in a 2019 leadership vote in favor of two relatively unknown leftists.
But the SPD managed to unite behind him as chancellor candidate in this year’s election campaign.
Scholz lives in Potsdam, a suburb of Berlin, with his wife Britta Ernst, also a politician of the SPD. They don’t have children.
He has seen his fair share of scandals as finance minister, including the Wirecard fraud debacle and allegations that the FIU’s anti-money laundering authority under his auspices failed to report potential wrongdoing to authorities. competent.
But his calm demeanor helped him through turbulent times and find favor with his political colleagues, including FDP leader Christian Lindner, who described him as a “strong leader”.
“He has the experience and the professionalism to lead this country to a good future,” said Lindner.
Merkel also said she would be able to “sleep soundly” with Scholz as a replacement.
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