Olaf Scholz’s untested administration faces another busy year


When Chancellor Olaf Scholz was sworn in a month ago in the Bundestag, he dropped the usual “So help me God” reference.

On Thursday, however, he seemed delighted to accept the traditional Epiphany blessing of visiting German teenagers dressed as three wise men.

The visitors chalked their blessing on the chancellery wall – 20 * C + M + B + 22 – and told the new German non-religious leader: “Be courageous, be hopeful, you don’t. are not alone, God will be with you every day. of the year.”

With his baccalaureate sagging, Scholz will need all the help he can get in his first year in office. In his first televised New Year’s speech, he admitted that two years of burdensome pandemic restrictions are now “deeply rooted in our bones.”

That didn’t stop Scholz from announcing new restrictions on Friday to slow the spread of the Omicron variant, requiring a negative test in addition to a vaccination certificate for all restaurant and bar visits.

Beyond the pandemic, the Social Democratic leader (SPD) said that the accumulation of Russian troops on the Ukrainian border was alarming and that “the inviolability of national borders is. . . non-negotiable”.

Reconciliation

Half a century ago, his SPD idol, Willy Brandt, pushed for a pragmatic rapprochement with the Soviet Union. Today, prominent German diplomats and foreign policy experts recommend that Berlin take a two-pronged approach with Moscow: supporting a demonstration of deterrence by military force, coupled with quiet German diplomacy to maximize dialogue.

“Germany cannot stay on the sidelines of this terrain,” argued Wolfgang Ischinger, former leading German diplomat and chairman of the Munich Security Conference. “It must be a central task of German foreign policy to work for. . . not the security of Russia, but the security with Russia. We have a huge task ahead of us. “

This year’s Munich conference at the end of February will be a key opportunity for the new Berlin government to prove they are wrong in criticizing Merkel-era policies towards Russia as appeasement.

At the heart of this claim is the 1,200 km dilemma named NordStream 2, an undersea pipeline that carries Russian gas directly to Germany.

Later this month, a German government agency will decide on an operating license for the completed pipeline. Berlin insists it will stay out of that decision, but its claims that the Gazprom-led project is a private, non-political enterprise is dwindling with its eastern neighbors – and the U.S. government.

Consequences

In Washington this week, Germany’s new green foreign minister, Annalena Baerbock, warned Moscow of “huge diplomatic and economic consequences” for its standoff with Ukraine.

But Germany’s continued refusal to provide arms and other military aid to Kiev prompted US Secretary of State Anthony Blinken to say that it was “very difficult to imagine” gas flowing through it. the Nordstream gas pipeline “if Russia renews its aggression against Ukraine”.

Ahead of an imminent Biden-Putin meeting, Scholz officials are seeking a meeting with the Russian president. They have also made it clear that this sensitive issue is the chancellor’s territory – a clear signal to her green cabinet ministers most critical of Moscow.

Beyond gas, the unanswered questions of Germany’s energy supply and climate have given Berlin its first line with Brussels. With its last nuclear power plants set to close this year, as part of Germany’s renewable energy push, Baerbock and his Green co-leader Robert Habeck, Federal Minister of the Economy, attacked a European Commission proposal to qualify nuclear energy as a sustainable energy source.

Unresolved challenges – Covid-19, climate and China – will dominate Berlin’s G7 presidency this year. Germany has pledged to continue pushing for greater global distribution of Covid-19 vaccines – Germany is the second-largest donor to the Covax vaccination alliance – and to pressure China on climate change.

“Foreign policy dilemma”

“Cooperation is the top priority in diplomacy, but it must be based on human rights and respect for international treaties,” Baerbock said, but admitted that it was increasingly a matter of ‘a “foreign policy dilemma”.

Dilemmas abound on the national and European agenda of Germany’s untested three-way coalition, especially how to invest in the green transformation of Europe’s largest economy without new borrowing or raising taxes.

Berlin’s European neighbors are curious how much post-pandemic flexibility they can expect, on EU investment and euro rules, from Berlin’s hawkish new finance minister , Christian Lindner.

The first lights could come on Monday when the German Minister of Finance will welcome his Irish counterpart, Paschal Donohoe, wearing his second cap at the head of the Eurogroup.

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