Germany’s Scholz endures shocks throughout a challenging first year

The former finance minister was elected on a platform of maintaining Angela Merkel’s policies. Merkel was well admired by the public during her 16 years in power as chancellor. Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, however, has compelled him to rip up Germany’s post-war assumptions and chart new economic, defense, and geopolitical pathways for a country that values stability and predictability. “We never before had a government faced with such a rapidly worsening situation, when it comes to foreign and security policy, but also of course energy policy,” political scientist Ursula Muench told AFP. Scholz’s coalition of Social Democrats, Greens, and liberal FDP took government with the intention of enacting progressive climate policies and stringent budgetary controls. But as Moscow decreased its energy supplies in the wake of the war, Germany has forced to suspend its planned nuclear departure, reactivate mothballed coal power facilities while burning through a budgetary hole in a scrum for oil and gas to replace Russian supplies. Furthermore, Scholz made a historic pivot on defense, promising to re-arm Germany with a significant increase in military spending, marking a turning point for a country whose presence on the world stage was still influenced by memories of World War II. Considering the dramatic events of the year, “he performed very well,” said Nils Diederich, a political scientist at Berlin’s Free University.

Even if the first response was “amazing,” Rachel Rizzo, a senior fellow at the Europe Center of US think tank the Atlantic Council, cautioned that losing momentum was a risk. She told AFP: “I think not being able to fulfill defense and security commitments is a concern.” Germany is under pressure from Ukraine to contribute what it has to the fightback against Russia in addition to trying to replenish its own military supplies. At the same time that the treasury is under pressure to help absorb a price shock brought on by the oil crisis, defense spending is high. For the export behemoth to manage an economic shift away from reliance on cheap Russian energy or Chinese components and toward a diversified approach, significant investments are also necessary. Additionally, when a three-way coalition is in power, disputes that could destabilize the tenuous alliance are inevitably involved in finding solutions to problems. The minimum wage increases and changes to unemployment benefits are only two of the policies that Scholz’s administration has been able to put into action. But the chancellor’s popularity ratings have dropped as a result of the persistent nature of numerous problems. According to a survey by the Insa institute that was published on Sunday in the newspaper Bild, 64 percent of Germans are unhappy with Scholz’s government, up from 36 percent, and 58 percent are unhappy with Scholz himself.

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Disagreements with partners abroad have also occurred in addition to domestic disputes. European Union partners said that Scholz should have concentrated on developing EU-wide measures rather than announcing a big 200-billion-euro ($207 billion) energy fund without first consulting them. The crucial relationship between Berlin and Paris has also become tense over matters ranging from the energy fund to German plans for the procurement of military hardware. Scholz has thus far failed to assume the role on the global stage, in contrast to Merkel, who at the time was largely regarded as the voice to be reckoned with in Europe. According to Eric Maurice of the Robert Schuman Foundation’s Brussels office, Merkel’s departure “has left a hole.” Scholz “is attempting to establish himself at the European level… He is still getting his bearings, and he lacks Merkel’s expertise. The fact that Scholz traveled to China as the first G7 leader since the outbreak began in November, accompanied by a team of German businessmen, furthered the perception that he was trying to “do it alone.” The chancellor was accused of adhering to the same mercantilist, trade-focused foreign policy as earlier German administrations, which ultimately left Berlin exposed while fostering prosperous commercial connections with autocratic Russia. Many of the unresolved issues will continue to ensnare Scholz as he enters his second year of employment. According to Sudha David-Wilp, head of the German Marshall Fund’s Berlin office, high energy prices will continue to be a significant issue, especially for German businesses who consume a lot of electricity. “The key problem for Scholz is to ensure German competitiveness because of the increase in energy costs, particularly for businesses like chemicals and steel manufacture,” she said. The energy fund “is only a temporary solution. When energy costs will return to pre-war levels is a mystery.

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