Olaf Scholz, who won the ballot in Germany's lower house parliament with 395 of 707 votes on Wednesday, became Germany's ninth post-World War II Chancellor on Wednesday, opening a new era for the country after Angela Merkel’s 16-year tenure.
Scholz, who was nominated by the Social Democratic Party (SPD), was formally appointed by Germany's president, then returned to parliament to be sworn in. He took the oath of office in the chamber of the Bundestag lower house of parliament from speaker Baerbel Bas, after his election by members of parliament.
His center-left Cabinet made up of eight male and eight female ministers will be the first coalition of its kind at the federal level in Germany.
Merkel, who is 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. Merkel has said she won’t seek another political role. The 67-year-old hasn't disclosed any future plans but said earlier this year that she will take time to read and sleep, "and then let's see where I show up.”
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 (FDP). 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. If the parties succeed, he added, "that is a mandate to be reelected together at the next election.”
Scholz, an unflappable and supremely self-confident figure who in the past has displayed an ability to put aside setbacks quickly, cracked a smile as he was elected and formally appointed.
The former labor minister and Hamburg mayor's style has often been likened to Merkel's, although they are from different parties. Like the former chancellor, Scholz isn't given to public displays of emotion or rousing speeches. He has portrayed himself in recent months both as her natural successor and an agent of change, and styles himself as a strong leader.
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 of 83 million people, including improving its notoriously poor cellphone and internet networks.
It also plans more liberal social policies, including legalizing the sale of cannabis for recreational purposes and easing the path to German citizenship while pledging greater efforts to deport immigrants who don’t win asylum.
The government also plans to increase Germany's minimum wage and to get hundreds of thousands of new apartments built in an effort to curb rising rental prices.
Scholz has signaled continuity in foreign policy, saying the government will stand up for a strong European Union and nurture the trans-Atlantic alliance.
The three-party alliance brings both opportunities and risks for all the participants, perhaps most of all the Greens. After 16 years in opposition, they will have to prove that they can achieve their overarching aim of cutting greenhouse gas emissions while working with partners who may have other priorities.
Green 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 FDP, who insisted that the coalition reject tax hikes and looser curbs on running up debt.
The incoming government is portraying itself as a departure in both style and substance from the "grand coalitions” of Germany's traditional big parties that Merkel led for all but four years of her tenure, with the SPD as junior partner.
In those tense alliances, the partners sometimes seemed preoccupied mostly with blocking each other's plans. Merkel's final term saw frequent infighting, some of it within her own center-right Christian Democratic Union (CDU) bloc, until the pandemic hit. She departs with a legacy defined largely by her acclaimed handling of a series of crises, rather than any grand visions for Germany.
Scholz told his party last weekend that "it was difficult” governing with CDU, which his SPD narrowly beat in Germany's September election. He criticized the CDU's "this-far-and-no-further conservatism.”
The agreement to form a coalition government between three parties that had significant differences before the election was reached relatively quickly and in unexpected harmony. That will now be tested by the reality of governing; Scholz has acknowledged that dealing with the pandemic "will demand all our strength and energy.”
German federal and state leaders last week announced tough new restrictions that largely target unvaccinated people. In a longer-term move, parliament will consider a general vaccine mandate.
Germany has seen daily COVID-19 infections rise to record levels this fall, though they may now be stabilizing, and hospitals are feeling the strain.
Scholz will make his first official visit on Friday to Paris where he will hold talks with France's President Emmanuel Macron before heading to Brussels, the chancellery said in a statement.
The French leader is due to welcome Scholz with military honors, said the chancellery, adding that "the first foreign visit from Chancellor Scholz is the expression of the close ties and friendship between Germany and France."
In Brussels, Scholz is due to meet European Commission chief Ursula von der Leyen and European Union President Charles Michel, with preparations for next week's EU summit on the agenda, where steps against a more confrontational Russia and a more assertive China will be discussed.
The former finance minister will also hold talks with NATO chief Jens Stoltenberg, "to underline the significance of the alliance for German, European and trans-Atlantic security."