Olaf Scholz is set to become post-World War II Germany’s ninth chancellor, crowning a career that has seen him serve in a string of top government posts, after leading his party to an election comeback that appeared hugely unlikely just a few months ago.
The 63-year-old on Wednesday sealed a deal for his Social Democratic Party (SPD) to lead Germany’s next government in a coalition with the Greens and the Free Democrats.
The agreement followed relatively quick talks that were disciplined and discreet, qualities that reflect Scholz’s own image.
Scholz has a terse, no-nonsense approach typical of his home city of Hamburg, where he once worked as a lawyer — an even more sober style than that of German Chancellor Angela Merkel.
He joined the SPD at age 17 and was first elected to parliament in 1998. He is unflappable and unshakably self-confident, but no master of rhetoric.
During a turbulent stint as the SPD’s general secretary in the early 2000s, he earned the nickname “Scholzomat” for what critics said was a habit of constantly repeating the same phrases in support of then-German chancellor Gehard Schroeder’s welfare-state trims and economic reforms, which faced dissent within the party.
Scholz’s experience, attention to detail and sometimes technocratic image became an asset during this year’s election campaign, in which he led the long-struggling SPD from third place in polls to a narrow win in the Sept. 26 election.
SPD’s stock rose as Scholz, the finance minister and vice chancellor in Merkel’s government, calmly ran through a largely accident-free campaign and turned in unspectacular but solid performances in three televised pre-election debates.
He also appeared to portray himself as Merkel’s natural successor, although he belongs to a different party.
At one point, he posed with the outgoing chancellor’s trademark “Merkel diamond” folded-hands gesture in an “interview without words” for the daily Sueddeutsche Zeitung.
Scholz first served in the national government from 2007 to 2009 as Merkel’s labor minister, during the global financial crisis. Germany kept down unemployment, notably by using a government-backed salary support program to keep people on companies’ payrolls. The same device served it well during the COVID-19 pandemic, in which Scholz has helped guide Germany’s economic response as finance minister.
As finance minister, Scholz was a driving force behind moves to place a global minimum tax of at least 15 percent on large companies and led efforts to cushion the pandemic’s financial impact.
However, he also drew criticism over the collapse last year of payment processing company Wirecard.
The pragmatic Scholz ran for the SPD’ leadership in 2019, but was spurned, but the party put that contest behind it and had no hesitation in turning to him last year as its candidate to succeed Merkel.
Christian Lindner, the leader of the Free Democrats and Scholz’s designated successor as finance minister, on Wednesday said that negotiators “experienced him as a strong leadership personality who has the experience and professionality to lead this country.”
“Olaf Scholz will be a strong chancellor for Germany,” Lindner said.
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