Wolfgang Münchau Wolfgang Münchau

The many challenges facing Germany’s new Chancellor

Sixteen years after Angela Merkel became Chancellor, Germany will have a new leader next week: Olaf Scholz. We might expect Scholz to enact a few domestic reforms but do little to change the country’s foreign policy — as is the tradition for a new German government. But this time, the consensus behind the country’s foreign policy has broken down. Relations with Russia are at a delicate phase and things might be about to change rather a lot.

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German Chancellor Angela Merkel and Olaf Scholz (Getty Images)

Scholz is from the centre-left Social Democratic party and both of his coalition partners, the Greens and the liberal FDP, are pushing for reform. They disagree with him over the Nord Stream 2 gas pipeline to Russia, which they think is symbolic of Germany’s subservient relationship to Moscow. They abhor Angela Merkel’s cosy relations with President Xi Jinping. Nor are they too keen on the bad-boy governments of Poland and Hungary, whom Merkel tried to protect from EU sanctions over their failure to adhere to European law. Germany’s new coalition says it will not support countries that break the law.

Look at the three party manifestos, and you will not find much overlap between their positions on foreign, economic or social policy. What defines their joint political project is the desire to modernise. Germany’s industrial production is trapped in the analogue era (four out of ten companies still use fax machines). The new coalition will probably make some progress when it comes to pushing back German corporatism, reducing its over-reliance on fossil fuels and industrial exports. But doing so will mean changing foreign policy too, because German foreign policy has for so long been all about maximising industrial exports.

So out goes Heiko Maas, foreign minister for the past three years. He is a Social Democrat, a senior minister in two consecutive grand coalitions and a keen advocate of the Nord Stream 2 pipeline.

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