by Katja Hoyer
Tuesday, 2
November 2021

Is Olaf Scholz anything more than a mini Merkel?

The pair's weirdly harmonious relationship was on full display in Rome
by Katja Hoyer
Credit: Getty

What is the difference between Angela Merkel and Olaf Scholz? That question is becoming increasingly difficult to answer as Mr Scholz prepares to take the reins.

At the G20 summit in Rome last weekend, Merkel appeared alongside Scholz to present him to the world as the next German leader. But what was strange was how in sync the pair were. When Merkel spoke, Scholz nodded approvingly next to her and vice versa. She told journalists that “this has been an opportunity to appear together in bilateral talks” while he stressed he would continue Merkel’s good work internationally.

This behaviour appeared to baffle Boris Johnson in particular. He reportedly asked how the “German transition” worked and called the process a ‘“friendly takeover”. No wonder he was bemused — it’s hard to picture him with Theresa May appearing at an international summit arm in arm, let alone with Keir Starmer shortly after a general election.

Presenting himself as a mini Merkel was part of the strategy that won Scholz the elections in September. As vice chancellor and finance minister in her coalition government, he has been so heavily involved in her government that a ticket of radical reform would hardly have been credible. But Scholz took his impersonation further, even appearing in a series of photographs with his hands forming the iconic Merkel rhombus.

As the two come from rival parties, Scholz’s attempts to mimic Merkel was at times awkward in the build-up to the federal elections. While he was keen to stress how much continuity there would be under him, she was forced to distance herself and show solidarity with her own party candidate, Armin Laschet. In a press conference during the campaign, she stated that there was “a huge difference for the future of Germany between me and him.”

In reality, nobody is entirely sure what exactly divides the two. Both have a reputation as consensus politicians with multilateral instincts and few radical ideas for reform. They approach complex problems at a snail’s pace and prefer to manage crises rather than solve them. Merkel’s “we can do this” as an answer to the refugee crisis of 2015 provided no more concrete solutions than Scholz’s repeated pleas for more “hope”, “optimism” and “trust”.

The chancellor and her deputy have also been pushing for Green investment and for a phasing out of nuclear energy and fossil fuels. Both set a cautious pace on the lifting of Covid restrictions.

It remains to be seen if there is more to Scholz than a Merkel tribute act. The next German chancellor will have to solve a multitude of problems, from a new refugee crisis at the Eastern border to looming energy problems. Germans may crave stability and approve of a harmonious handover of power. But the country also desperately needs leadership. Scholz will have to hold his own once Mutti has retired.

Join the discussion

  • You say “The chancellor and her deputy have also been pushing for … a phasing out of … fossil fuels.” They have not been pushing very hard. They do not plan to stop using lignite (the dreaded “brown coal”) until 2038.
    But never mind, my German friends assure me that there is a key difference between Mutti and Olof Scholz: apparently Herr Scholz has a sense of humour and has even been known to crack the occasional joke.

  • I simply can’t comprehend how Mutti ever became Chancellor and stayed on for so long, even liked by many Germans. She has zero charisma, her background is weird, and her policies are horrific.
    Wir schaffen das? Wir schaffen was? The invasion of Germany and Europe by non-European Muslim hordes, often scamming? New GastArbeiters?
    Worst Chancellor by far since that little Austrian dude with the mustache. Can someone, preferably a German, explain this to me?

  • The statement from James is “that her background is weird.” It is, from most accounts of her as the accompanying child of a Pastor from the West visiting his morality and ethics upon the GDR. Her representation as a media spokesperson for the GDR at news conferences in 1989/90, in light of her current political status, do seem more than a little “weird.”
    Her “horrific policies” include damaging reactions, like:- No more nuclear because a reactor in Japan got flooded. Open the immigration flood gates because pictures of distressed migrant children don’t look good. Direct gas from Russia because of ?? Financial Austerity in punishment of Greece and others. These are among those policies pretty horrible to live with and to work out just how their affects are to be managed into the future? That 1 million Germans are leaving each year for UK, USA and Austria mainly, suggests policies of the Republic that have been less than encouraging for voters. Just how those 1.4million replacing newcomers get on is a challenge for a Nation that has had more than its share of challenges.
    I read also that her charismatic by-pass and “interesting accent” are commonly agreed by a majority of the electorate.

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