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6 December 2021

Merkel bows out but don’t expect drastic change in Germany

The incoming chancellor Olaf Scholz is likely to maintain Angela Merkel’s pragmatic style of governing.

By Ido Vock

BERLIN – Five thousand, eight hundred and 60 days: that’s how long Angela Merkel, the chancellor of Germany, will have served when she leaves office on Wednesday 8 December following a vote to confirm her successor, Olaf Scholz. Merkel will miss out becoming the Federal Republic of Germany’s longest-serving leader by a mere ten days (Helmut Kohl’s stretch in office lasted 5,869 days).

Last week, Germany bade farewell to Merkel with a surreal ceremony consisting of German soldiers carrying flaming torches (a Prussian inheritance) to the sound of a military band playing a song by the East German punk Nina Hagen. Merkel said the unusual choice was a nod to her childhood in the GDR.

Yet the playlist was also a means for her to undermine the optics of the military tradition, which dates back to the 19th century and is deeply at odds with the modern Germany Merkel has sought to build, observes Deborah Cole, a longstanding Berlin correspondent.

The outgoing chancellor will cede power to Scholz following the agreement of a “traffic light” coalition between the centre-left Social Democrats, Greens and conservative-liberal Free Democrats. The new government takes office promising a raft of generally progressive reforms, including a hike in the minimum wage, an early end to coal power and a rise in house-building – though on a personal level, Scholz has emphasised that his leadership will not represent a drastic break with Merkel’s style. (For more on the agenda the new German government will pursue, Jeremy Cliffe covered the first tripartite coalition agreement in over half a century last month.)

Scholz takes office in tough circumstances. The fourth wave of Covid-19 currently gripping Germany has seen the country record its highest daily cases of the pandemic by far, even if vaccines are rendering the disease significantly less deadly than in previous surges. Scientists still know little about the Omicron variant now spreading around the world, which could be resistant to vaccines and set back progress in beating the pandemic.

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As Jeremy observed in a profile of the next chancellor, Scholz is likely to govern the country as he did his home city of Hamburg, offering leadership that is “recognisably social democratic but pragmatic, big-tent and loyal to German traditions of fiscal conservatism”. He will be a continuity chancellor at the helm of a government promising change.

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