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31 January

Olaf Scholz’s dithering on Ukraine is paying off at home

His SPD party has seen a bump in the polls.

By Wolfgang Münchau

It is common to see the media – myself included – poke fun at Olaf Scholz, and his scholzing. In Germany, scholzing works politically. The German media were very tame during the period when the chancellor came under pressure to deliver Leopard 2 tanks to Ukraine, but criticised the foreign minister Annalena Baerbock’s comment: “We are fighting a war against Russia.” It was an unwise comment, and created tensions between Baerbock and Scholz.

The polls show that over the last six months Scholz’s Social Democratic Party (SPD) has regained its pole position over Baerbock’s Greens, though both are trailing the CDU/CSU, the conservative party of Angela Merkel. In the Insa/Gov polls the Greens led the SPD all through the summer until October, but the SPD is now 4.5 percentage points ahead. The CDU/CSU is relatively stable at around 28 per cent, a level it has been lingering at since May last year. At these levels, whether the present coalition maintains a majority would depend only on the fate of the Left Party. The Left Party polls at the exact threshold for representation in parliament of 5 per cent. Last time it didn’t meet the hurdle, but got in because it met the qualifying criteria for an exemption: at least three directly elected MPs. The party’s performance is too close to call.

From a purely electoral point of view, Scholz’s dithering is paying off. The Greens, CDU and Free Democratic Party (Scholz’s other coalition partners) are all pushing for greater German engagement in Ukraine. The SPD is the only large establishment party that speaks to the half of the population whose position on support for Ukraine ranges from the sceptical to the outright hostile. The only party that is vehemently opposed to aid for Ukraine is the right-wing populist Alternative for Germany, which is now polling at 15 per cent, up from an election result of 10 per cent.

These numbers are telling us that the scholzing will go on. Where I disagree with the consensus among political observers abroad is the view that Scholz will always cave in after initially dithering on sending aid to Ukraine. On that, I’m not so sure.

Wolfgang Münchau is a New Statesman columnist. The piece originally ran on his website EuroIntelligence.

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[See also: Germany is isolated once more – and no one now trusts Olaf Scholz]

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