Olaf Scholz was selected as Chancellor of Germany on Wednesday, marking the end of Angela Merkel’s 16-year career as the nation’s head of government.
During her decade and a half in office, Merkel led Germany and the European Union through the 2008 recession, multiple currency and migrant crises, and COVID-19.
Scholz, who led the center-left Social Democrats (SPD) to a narrow victory in September’s general election, will govern in a three-party coalition with the environmentalist Greens and the liberal Free Democrats (FDP). Such an alliance has never run Germany before.
With a coalition pact having been sealed between the parties, Scholz was comfortably elected chancellor by the German parliament on Wednesday morning. In a secret ballot, a total of 395 MPs supported him, while 303 voted against his nomination.
Germany’s new government will pursue “social justice,” cut carbon emissions, and maintain fiscal discipline, according to the outlet.
Merkel’s decision to step down from her position marks an inflection point in German politics, leaving a power gap in both her nation and Europe as a whole:
Merkel, who emerged as Europe’s pre-eminent leader through multiple crises in her decade and a half in power, did not run for reelection, and her center-right Christian Democrats are now looking for a new chief and contemplating life as the country’s main opposition.
Although he is from a different party, Scholz has presented himself as Merkel’s natural successor, at least in terms of style, playing up his reputation as a low-key pragmatist. And he stressed that message again in a handover ceremony with Merkel at the chancellery on Wednesday afternoon.
Politico adds that Scholz’s government “has made clear it is ready to take tougher measures to tackle the pandemic.” Indeed, Scholz and Merkel unveiled a new lockdown for unvaccinated citizens last week.
“We have understood that the situation is very serious and that we want to take further measures in addition to those already taken,” Merkel said during a press conference. “The fourth wave must be broken and this has not yet been achieved.”
Days earlier, Germany’s health minister warned the nation’s citizens that they will either be “vaccinated, recovered or dead” by the end of the winter. With 68% of people fully vaccinated, Germany has one of the lowest vaccination rates in Europe; meanwhile, its infection rate is among the highest in the world.
Reports from earlier this year indicated that Germany planned to hold citizens refusing to comply with lockdown rules in detention centers. Policymakers in the state of Saxony — which includes Leipzig and Dresden — approved plans to hold quarantine-breakers in an enclosed area of a refugee camp. Brandenburg also intended to use a refugee camp to hold quarantine breakers, while repeat offenders in Schleswig-Holstein would be held in a juvenile detention center.
For nearly two years, protests have routinely broken out in Germany, Italy, Austria, France, the United Kingdom, and other European countries in reaction to harsh COVID-19 lockdowns.
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