Meet Olaf Scholz, who is set to replace Angela Merkel as Germany’s next chancellor


Under the agreement announced in Berlin on Wednesday, Scholz’s centre-left party will lead a three-party coalition with the Greens and pro-business Free Democrats. This is after two months of talks to form a new government.

Her ascension to the top of that government would eventually end the 16-year Angela Merkel era. After announcing her decision to step down, Merkel did not contest the September vote.

Scholz has positioned himself as a practical and a safe pair of hands. In fact, her political style is no different from Merkel’s – despite being from rival parties, the two are similar in many ways.

“He comes across as calm, measured, steady,” said Corinna Horst, a senior fellow at the German Marshall Fund for the United States (GMF) in Brussels.

Scholz told reporters Friday that his “traffic light government” is here, referring to the red, yellow and green colors of the parties concerned. “We want to be courageous when it comes to climate and industry,” he said.

The deal – which sets out the government’s vision for its four-year term – will now go to wider party members for consideration, where it is expected to be approved.

Horst said that as a liberal, Scholz is an outsider within his party. β€œThe SPD leadership is mostly left-leaning and initially they did not support him. So we do not yet know who he will gather around him and who will influence his leadership style,” he said.

Horst’s colleague and deputy director of the GMF’s Berlin office, Sudha David-Wilp, said this centralism is another characteristic it shares with Scholz Merkel.

“She always rules from the center and I think if she becomes the chancellor she will try to do the same, but of course it will also depend on what the coalition parties demand,” he said.

The 63-year-old – a lifelong member of the SPD – was born in what was then West Germany, a detail that sets him apart from Merkel, who grew up in East Germany.

Scholz served as Minister of Labor and Social Affairs in Merkel’s first coalition government in the late 2000s. In 2011 he was elected mayor of Hamburg, a position he held – with a high level of support – until 2018.

Since then, he has served as chancellor and finance minister in Merkel’s grand coalition government, a powerful position in German national politics.

His profile rose even more when he oversaw Germany’s generous coronavirus compensation programs for businesses, employees and those who lost income because they had to quarantine during the pandemic.

“He’s gone [Merkel’s] When it comes to leading the country in the last four years, the right hand… [played] Second fiddle to Merkel, but she also has tremendous power within the German government and in Europe [where he] Germany represents when it comes to euro policies,” David-Wilp said.

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Unlike Merkel, who has become a household name around the world during her long tenure, Scholz is not famous abroad – beyond Brussels political circles.

Speaking in September, he said that building a stronger and more sovereign European Union, as well as working on good relations between Germany and the United States, would be his major foreign policy goals if he became chancellor.

He added that as the world “becomes more dangerous,” democracies must cooperate. “It is important that we work together, even if we have conflicts in one question or another,” he said.

Scholz has had his share of political problems in the past.

As mayor of Hamburg, he was criticized for his mishandling of violent protests during the G20 meeting held in his city in 2017.

Hamburg descends into chaos during the summit, and hundreds of police officers were injured in clashes with protesters. Scholz had underestimated the potential risk from the demonstrations, and was therefore blamed for the city’s lack of preparation.

The jury is still out on what kind of Chancellor Scholz might be, but some expect a radical change at the top of German politics.

“It will be a change because there is no longer Merkel,” Horst said, before adding: “I doubt it will be big.”

CNN’s Rob Pichetta, Frederic Pleitzen, Sugam Pokharel, Jennifer Deaton and Helen Regan contributed reporting.