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Olaf Scholz seals the deal drawing a close to the Merkel era

Scholz doesn't do charisma. True to form, he delivered his address seriously and without needless bumbling or theatrics.

Germany’s chancellor-to-be Olaf Scholz. Photo: Michele Tantussi/Getty Images.

Olaf Scholz, in the best traditions of German politics, doesn’t do charisma. The best he could offer, in announcing the historic three-party coalition, was to point out that in Berlin in 1924 the first traffic light was erected. And now they have another. Red, yellow, green: the Social Democrats at the helm, with the Greens and the liberal Free Democrats alongside.

It took just shy of two months to hammer out the deal. It’s not the fastest of modern times, but it was impressive none the less. And, in the age of social media, the three parties did it without a single leak of note.

The word of the moment is ‘modernisation’. With broadband speeds slower than Albania’s, with big infrastructure projects the butt of jokes and frustration, Germany needs radical domestic reform. On that the disparate groupings easily agreed. On much else – particularly on tax – they sparred.

The compromise provides something for all. The FDP, whose leader, Christian Lindner, will become the all-important Finance Minister, will hold the keys. The Greens get a super-ministry encompassing the economy and environment, as well as the Foreign Ministry. Scholz’s SPD will run the show.

‘Dare to forge ahead’, is the less-than-snappy title of the coalition agreement. All the parties pledged that their differences wouldn’t lead to fudges. On the social front, big change is promised: dual citizenship as part of significant changes on migration (Priti Patel eat your heart out), legalisation of cannabis, more trans and other minority rights.

Governments around the world will be wondering whether Merkel’s ultra-caution will be jettisoned. There is much talk of human rights in the documents, and oblique warnings to Russia and China. Alongside that support for the values of disarmament. A German version of having your cake…

Ultimately, events will provide the sternest test. Scholz kicked off his address by tackling head on the growing fourth wave Covid crisis in Germany and across Europe.

What set the occasion apart, giving it a very German imprimatur, was its deliberativeness and seriousness. There were no theatrics, there was no hubris or bluster. Peppa Pig was not mentioned. Nor was Boris Johnson.