The arduous first year of the Scholz Government

The arduous first year of the Scholz Government

One year after coming to power in Germany, Chancellor Olaf Scholz and his coalition government of social democrats, environmentalists and liberals have resiliently withstood the onslaught of the Russian invasion of Ukraine, a challenge they could not even imagine when, on 8 December 2021, the unprecedented federal tripartite was launched. The motto of the coalition contract (“daring more progress”) wanted to illustrate the will to modernize infrastructures and advance in renewables after 16 years of the conservative Angela Merkel, a time of great political and economic stability for Germany, but without structural reforms.

However, his government program with budgetary rigor and an ambitious climate policy was disrupted by the consequences of the war: the arrival of a million Ukrainian refugees –most of them women and children–, an energy emergency due to the cut off of Russian gas and inflation. (shot now more than 10%). “Taking into account the extreme events that have occurred during this first year of government, it can be said that they have done quite well,” says political scientist Cornelia Woll, director of the Hertie School of Government in Berlin. “Also, being a three-party coalition, everyone has had to make concessions, especially the Greens and the Liberals,” recalls Woll. It has been a tough first year.

More military spending, cutting dependence on Russian gas and aid funds, among the changes due to the crisis

But if, given the warlike circumstances, the balance is acceptable in terms of internal measures, the wavering support –and poorly explained– in terms of weapons for Ukraine has deteriorated Germany’s image abroad. The war also brutally revealed Germany’s energy dependence on Russian natural gas and exposed the geopolitical mistake of having built the Nord Stream gas pipelines with Putin.

The Minister of Economy and Climate, the green Robert Habeck, diligently launched himself to look for other energy suppliers, such as Canada and Norway, but also Qatar and the United Arab Emirates (UAE), with the discomfort that these last interlocutors caused him due to their poor democratic reputation. Scholz’s commitment to economic cooperation with China has also raised resentment in the allies.

The Government made a gas storage plan, thanks to which the tanks are now full and Germany is prepared to face the winter, both in heating and energy for industry. But to shore up energy supplies, environmentalists have had to compromise with postponing the nuclear blackout and turning to coal to generate electricity.

The Greens also parked their eco-pacifism to advocate arming Ukraine. This has been the case from the start for environmentalist Annalena Baerbock as foreign minister, even as Scholz was reluctant. In any case, Scholz himself, aware that the Russian attack on the Ukraine implied a change of era, delivered in the Bundestag on February 27 – three days after the start of the Russian invasion – the speech on the concept of Zeitenwendethe “turning point in history” represented by Putin’s war.

If there were elections now, the current coalition would not get a majority

In that speech, Scholz announced an extraordinary item of 100,000 million euros to modernize the armed forces and an increase in annual investment in defense of more than 2% of GDP. The day before, he had reported the shipment of a consignment of missiles to Ukraine. These military decisions represent a reversal for a country that has always been cautious with weapons due to its aggressive warlike past in the 20th century. But beware, German analysts have revealed that monitoring of the figures indicates that these promises will materialize slowly.

The Liberals, champions of budget rigor with Finance Minister Christian Lindner, accepted exceptions due to the economic emergency. The Government has programmed a fund of 200,000 million euros to relieve companies and citizens due to the rise in the cost of energy and inflation, which will work until 2024. “Next year it is planned to return to budget rigor, but in reality It is a balancing exercise, because various special funds are created that are not accounted for in the official budget”, points out the political scientist Cornelia Woll. The Executive expects Germany to enter recession in 2023, with a fall of 0.4% of GDP.

Despite everything, the tripartite government has managed to implement some points of its initial program, such as raising the minimum wage to 12 euros gross per hour (previously it was 9.6 euros) or the reform of the unemployment benefit, two important issues for the social democrats. However, the response of public opinion is reproachful. According to a survey by the INSA institute for the daily Bild, 64% of Germans declare themselves dissatisfied with the tripartite (a year ago, the dissatisfied were 36%), and 58% are dissatisfied with Scholz as chancellor (compared to 22% a year ago). If there were elections now, the current coalition would not get a majority.

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