Germany marches to the Left as new socialist Chancellor takes over from Merkel today

Olaf Scholz says 'The free movement of labour is part of the EU'

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In economic terms, new German Chancellor Scholz will be in overall charge of the EU’s largest economy by far, and the single largest net contributor to EU funds. In 2020 Germany represented over 25 percent of the EU27’s entire economic output, according to the EU’s official figures. It has taken more than 11 weeks of political wrangling for the new government to be formed, since the German federal elections of September 26. During this time Chancellor Merkel has continued to be in charge of what has been in effect a caretaker administration. 

And since the departure of the United Kingdom, Germany is now set to shoulder an even higher proportion of EU funding.

French President Emmanuel Macron is expected to be among the first to congratulate the new Chancellor, with whom he will have to negotiate the EU’s responses in its troubled relationship with Boris Johnson’s Government in the United Kingdom.

Mr Scholz has already declared that his first foreign visit will be to the Elysee Palace in Paris, where the subject of Mr Macron’s fisheries dispute with the UK is expected to be raised, in addition to the question of the Northern Ireland Protocol.

In a press conference in Berlin yesterday the new Chancellor focused mainly on domestic issues and specifically on the German economy, which is under pressure as a result of supply-chain shortages, rapidly growing inflation, and low growth projections.

According to the OECD, Brexit Britain’s growth this year is expected to be nearly two-and-a-half times higher than that of Germany.

On foreign policy Mr Scholtz chose to talk about US President Joe Biden’s initiative at the end of this week, bringing together 100 countries in a summit about democracy. Yesterday Mr Scholz said: “It is now clear what binds us together.”

Mr Scholz’s inauguration today will lack the pomp of the US president’s ceremony in January, however. The process starts with a vote by the 736 MPs in the lower house of the German Bundestag.

This is now a formality after a coalition agreement of 177 pages was signed yesterday in Berlin by his Social Democratic Party, by the Greens, and by the Free Democratic Party.  Together the three coalition parties represent 417 votes – comfortably surpassing the 369 votes necessary.

He will then go to the German President’s residence where he will formally be appointed. There are constitutional differences but in some ways, this resembles the system where Boris Johnson proceeded to Buckingham Palace to be invited by Her Majesty the Queen to be Prime Minister following the UK General Election of 2019.

Chancellor Scholz will then return to the Bundestag where he will be sworn in, in front of all the representatives. For the first time for a German Chancellor, it has been announced he will omit the words “so help me God” during his oath.

Germany is the largest country in the European Union by population and by the size of its economy. Accounting for 83.2 million out of the EU’s total population of 447.3 million, it comfortably outranks second-placed France with its 67.3 million inhabitants.

While Germany’s economy is a major concern for Mr Scholz, in 2020 German GDP was recorded as €3,368billion – a highly significant 25.1 percent of the total GDP for the EU27 countries.

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Mr Johnson and his Government will undoubtedly study the contents of the new German Chancellor’s post-inauguration speech in the Bundestag today, when he is expected to set out the priorities of his administration.

The speech is likely to be of even greater interest for Ursula von der Leyen and her European Commission, as it will contain key messages in relation to Germany’s membership of the EU and the direction it is taking.

For Germans today, the official swearing-in of the new Chancellor will not be a major event, as it has been clear for some time that Mr Scholz would become Chancellor after his SPD party won the most votes in the federal elections almost three months ago.

The three coalition partners in the new German government garnered a total of 52 percent of the votes cast. The SPD of Mr Scholz received 25.7 percent – their best result since 2002.  The Greens received 14.8 percent and the FPD won 11.5 percent.

Germany’s procedures for the inauguration are deliberately low-key and are set out in its Basic Law, adopted in 1949 after the Second World War.

Nevertheless, today’s events in Berlin will give the European Union a new leader for its largest member state. With Germany having a new Chancellor and a new government, a new era is dawning.

Angela Merkel, the largest figure in European politics in half a generation, will relinquish her role today in Germany’s capital. The whole of Europe – and the rest of the World – will be watching how her successor fills her shoes.

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