Olaf Scholaz and the future of U.S.-Germany relations

Olaf Scholaz officially became Germany’s first new Chancellor in over sixteen years when he was sworn in on Dec. 7, 2021 — marking the end of Angela Merkel’s political reign in Germany. 

To understand the significance of Scholaz’s position as chancellor, it is important to examine Merkel’s relationship with German society and the political gap she leaves in her wake. While Merkel rarely maintained consistent domestic popularity, there has always been a high level of admiration for how she represented Germany in the international community. In particular, Merkel’s expansive public policy advanced the country’s technological capabilities and industries, and paved the way for German strength on the global stage.

But with the end of Merkel’s tenure as Germany’s prime minister, a new figure enters the scene. Olaf Scholaz inherits a government under severe pressure from the German people to expand on Merkel’s legacy. According to a report from Reuters, German citizens want Scholaz to mimic Merkel’s “steady hand” handling of foreign relations and domestic policies. Migration, COVID-19 and shifting toward renewable energy sources are some of the top priorities listed in the agreement that formed the new government. 

According to the Financial Times, Scholaz has already pushed for a large investment project that targets many of these key areas and helps Germany navigate the extended wave of the pandemic. The project revolves around restructuring the German government’s financial backing system, and leveraging it to target green development and the digitalization of the economy. This project is designed in a way that would allow large subsidies to occur without pushing the cap on the constitutional limit for borrowing. 

The power that gives him the backing to carry out this investment project is rooted in the new coalition arrangement. The German electoral process involves a parliamentary procedure that gives elected parties the ability to structure the hierarchy of the newly formed government in, what is referred to as, a coalition agreement. The coalition agreement is a negotiation between Germany’s major parties that frames the policy agenda and subsequent legislative debate. 

For Scholaz, his ability to entrench himself in the German political sphere, while maintaining a notable public presence throughout the years, was ultimately one of the largest factors in winning him the vote. Scholaz is a career politician and has worked at nearly every level of government, from local positions to serving as Merkel’s vice-chancellor. When he ran for the position, many members of the public viewed him as a staple of German politics. 

One of Scholaz’s most popular political platforms was centered around strengthening the transatlantic relation between Germany and the United States. The relationship with the United States was continually mentioned throughout the campaign. VOA reported that Scholaz often emphasized common values between the two powers.

But this special partnership took a hit in the past four years; Germany’s relationship with the United States was severely damaged during President Donald Trump’s time in office. Flashpoints of a rocky, tense relationship include the Trump administration’s inflammatory comments about the North Atlantic Treaty Organization. In March 2017, Trump insinuated that Germany owes the United States and the organization “vast sums of money” because of reasons regarding Germany’s financial commitment to NATO’s common defense mandate. And, notably, he referred to Merkel as “stupid.” 

But with President Joe Biden in office, the chance to strengthen relations between Germany and the United States is now. 

In his first address, Euronews reported that Scholaz outlined his plans to work together with the European Union and the United States in order to resolve various top-of-order global geopolitical issues. Perhaps the first important test of their cooperation is already here, as Russia is increasing its presence along the Ukrainian border. 

As confirmed by the White House: “The leaders discussed our work together on the full range of global challenges… and address Russia’s escalation of forces surrounding Ukraine.” 

Furthermore, as reported by the New York Times; In a joint address with the Vice Chancellor, Robert Habeck, Scholaz addressed resolving the issues of democratic principles in Poland. He also gave first indications of a position that will be “tougher on China for structural reasons”

While newly-elected Scholaz has shown certain leadership attitudes and characteristics similar to Merkel, there is no doubt that Scholaz will develop a unique style and create his own path towards his legacy as Germany’s new leader. 

Ultimately, the changing tides Germany’s politics is already ushering in a new political moment for the country. The country’s major parties are changing, new agendas are being pushed through coalition agreements and the U.S.-Germany relationship is at a new crossroads.

The relationship continues to be paramount to the development and success of Germany. Time will tell if Scholaz will prove himself as a strong transatlantic partner.

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