Who is Olaf Scholz? A look at the Social Democratic Party leader

Germany went to the polls to vote in its new parliament on September 26, narrowly securing a win for the Social Democratic Party. This means the party's leader, Olaf Scholz, could be the new German Chancellor. Now we wait to see if he can form a coalition and take his seat. So, who is Scholz and what could Germany look like with him in charge?


Who is Olaf Scholz?

Olaf Scholz is the Social Democratic Party (SPD) candidate for German chancellor and after his party's success in the polls, most likely to take up the position depending on his ability to secure a coalition government. The 63-year-old was born in Osnabruck but grew up in Hamburg. He is the finance minister and deputy of current German Chancellor Angela Merkel, making him a key figure in the government’s approach to coronavirus.

Scholz was elected mayor of Hamburg in 2011 and remained in this role until Merkel drafted him back into her government as vice-chancellor and finance minister in 2018 as part of a coalition between the SPD and Merkel’s Christian Democratic Union (CDU).

Scholz has the nickname ‘Scholzomat’, combining his surname with ‘automat’ due to his robotic-like nature. He is famously uncharismatic, but this doesn’t seem to have prevented him from gaining in popularity in the run up to the chancellor elections.

Scholz first threw his hat in the leadership ring in 2019 but was defeated due to his more centrist leanings – his two competitors were more left wing. But not a year and half later he was made the chancellor candidate thanks to his involvement in the Covid-19 economic interventions and a softening of his communication.

Could Olaf Scholz be the next chancellor?

Olaf Scholz is the most likely to succeed current German Chancellor Angela Merkel after his party secured a slim lead in the election on September 26. Although the SPD received the most votes, this doesn't mean Scholz is automatically the next chancellor, there's still a lot of red tape to get through first. 

Due to the way that the German election works, the voters don’t directly elect the candidate, they vote for the party and then the Bundestag (parliament) votes for the chancellor. In order for the chancellor to be elected, a government must be formed. Currently, both the SPD and CDU are claiming the right to form a government, which means the race to form a coalition is now on. Both parties will be attempting to gain a majority by creating a deal with one or more of the other running parties. 

As the SPD and CDU are attempting to woo the same parties or 'Kingmakers' - the Greens and FDP liberals - it's likely to be a lengthy process. In 2017, although Ms Merkel won almost 33% of the seats - 13 points more than her nearest contender - it took her about six months to build a coalition to secure her government and retain the position of Chancellor. 

The German electoral system

Realistically, the rise of the SPD has as much to do with the fall of their competitors as it does the party itself. The CDU has been criticised for their choice of candidate, selecting Armin Laschet instead of the more popular (but more right wing) rival Markus Soder. Meanwhile the Green party candidate Anna Baerbock has been accused of plagiarism.

While Olaf Scholz isn’t the most charismatic candidate, this lack of personality has actually worked in his favour, as it’s painted him as reliable and stable – which in the face of Covid-19 is what many German voters think the country needs. His outsider status is reminiscent of Merkel before she became chancellor.

What are Olaf Scholz’s policies?

Olaf Scholz’s policies are on the centrist to conservative wing of the SPD. Policies of Scholz’s that have gained international attention are his proposal for a global corporate minimum tax at the G20 as well as his proposals for a coronavirus aid programme and raising the minimum wage from €9.60 an hour to €12.

Until the pandemic struck, Scholz was known for economic caution, but he was instrumental in the €750 billion recovery plan and €130 billion stimulus package. He does want to return Germany to the ‘debt break’ by 2023, which would impost strict limits on government spending.

What do critiques think of Olaf Scholz?

Most of Scholz’s criticisms stem from his ministry’s handing of the Wirecard fraud scandal in 2020, in which the Federal Financial Supervisory Authority (BaFin) didn’t notice that €1.9 billion is missing. BaFin reports to the German finance ministry where Scholz is minister.

Not only this, but his department then prosecuted the Financial times journalists who were trying to expose the scandal.

As recently as this week Scholz has been in a parliamentary committee meeting to respond to the accusations of wrongdoing. Although he has stressed that he had no part in the matter and it doesn’t seem that the negative press has had any impact on his popularity.

Scholz’s Social Democrats remain first in the polls.

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