A New Era: Germany to Meet its Post-Merkel Government

Olaf Scholz will be the first center-left chancellor in 16 years. How much change he can deliver as the leader of a three-way coalition is unclear.

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A new era: Germany is about to meet its post-Merkel government.

Olaf Scholz, who will be chancellor of Germany, in Berlin on Nov. 15.Credit…Annegret Hilse/Reuters

Nov. 24, 2021, 5:58 a.m. ET

For the first time in 16 years, Germany will have a center-left government and a new chancellor, Olaf Scholz, a Social Democrat, whose job will be to fill the shoes of Angela Merkel, the woman who made Germany indispensable in Europe and the world.

Three parties have been haggling under strict secrecy to hammer out a new government since the Sept. 26 election. After much anticipation, they are expected to announce their governing deal for the next four years at 3 p.m. Berlin time.

While the shape of the new administration was being negotiated up until the last minute, Mr. Scholz is expected to be sworn in early next month. He will immediately face a pressing roster of crises, including a pandemic that is spiraling quickly upward and border conflicts in Belarus and Ukraine.

It is the end of an era for Germany and for Europe. For over a decade, Ms. Merkel was not just chancellor of Germany but effectively the leader of Europe. She steered her country and the continent through successive crises and in the process helped Germany become Europe’s leading power for the first time in modern history.

Mr. Scholz’s center-left party, which narrowly won the September election, governed with Ms. Merkel’s conservative Christian Democrats for three of her four terms. Mr. Scholz himself was her finance minister for the last four years.

He will now lead an unusual three-way coalition with the progressive Greens and the smaller, pro-business Free Democrats.

“It’s typical for Germany: It’s change and continuity in one,” said Cem Ozdemir, a prominent lawmaker for the Greens and one of 300 negotiators of the new coalition treaty.

There is clearly tension built into the new government, with important yet opposing ministries expected to be given to coalition partners who sit on opposite ends of the political spectrum.

On issues ranging from Europe to trade and foreign policy, most analysts expect the new government to broadly stay the course set by its predecessor. But a number of urgent crises — and Mr. Scholz’s two more hawkish coalition partners — might force the new chancellor to rethink some past policies.

Mr. Scholz’s Germany could turn out to be somewhat more willing to throw its weight behind European integration and to close ranks with the United States in putting pressure on China and Russia.

But the buzzword was continuity.

“The new government will essentially be one of continuity, not change,” said Holger Schmieding, the chief economist of Berenberg Bank. “All those who were hoping that this would be the start of something completely different will be disappointed.”

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