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In Germany, the Beginning of a New Era

Olaf Scholz took over for Angela Merkel on Wednesday
By Newser Editors and Wire Services
Posted Dec 8, 2021 5:51 AM CST
Updated Dec 8, 2021 6:55 AM CST
In Germany, the Beginning of a New Era
Angela Merkel arrives at Germany's Bundestag in Berlin on Wednesday.   (Photo/Markus Schreiber)

(Newser) – Olaf Scholz became Germany's ninth post-World War II chancellor Wednesday, opening a new era for the European Union's most populous nation and largest economy after Angela Merkel's 16-year tenure. Scholz's government takes office with high hopes of modernizing Germany and combating climate change but faces the immediate challenge of handling the country's toughest phase yet of the coronavirus pandemic. Lawmakers voted by 395-303 to elect Scholz, with six abstentions—a comfortable majority, though short of the 416 seats his three-party coalition holds in the 736-seat lower house of parliament, per the AP. That's not unusual when chancellors are elected, and some lawmakers were out sick.

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Scholz exchanged fist bumps with lawmakers from across the political spectrum before German President Frank-Walter Steinmeier formally appointed him as chancellor. He was due to be sworn in by the speaker of parliament later Wednesday. Merkel, who's no longer a member of parliament, looked on from the spectators' gallery as parliament voted. Lawmakers gave her a standing ovation as the session started. Scholz, 63, Germany's vice chancellor and finance minister since 2018, brings a wealth of experience and discipline to an untried coalition of his center-left Social Democrats, the environmentalist Greens, and the pro-business Free Democrats.

The three parties are portraying the combination of former rivals as a progressive alliance that will bring new energy to the country after Merkel's near-record time in office. "We are venturing a new departure, one that takes up the major challenges of this decade and well beyond that," Scholz said Tuesday. The new government aims to step up efforts against climate change by expanding the use of renewable energy and bringing Germany's exit from coal-fired power forward from 2038, "ideally" to 2030. It also wants to do more to modernize the country, including improving its notoriously poor cellphone and internet networks; plans more liberal social policies, including legalizing the sale of cannabis for recreational purposes and easing the path to German citizenship; wants to lower the voting age in national elections from 18 to 16; and plans to increase Germany's minimum wage.

Greens co-leader Robert Habeck will be Scholz's vice chancellor, heading a revamped economy and climate ministry. The government's No. 3 official will be Christian Lindner, the finance minister and leader of the Free Democrats. Merkel has said she won't seek another political role after shepherding Germany through a turbulent era. The 67-year-old hasn't disclosed any future plans, but she said earlier this year that she'll take time to read and sleep, "and then let's see where I show up."

(Read more Olaf Scholz stories.)

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