Olaf Scholz. Olaf Scholz. Photo: Oboneo - Wikicommons / cropped from original / shared under license CC4.0

The incoming government in Berlin has a new gloss but is offering Merkelism without Merkel, argues Sean Ledwith

Olaf Scholz from Germany’s centre-left SPD has unveiled his traffic-light coalition which is expected to take over the government from Angela Merkel in the near future. Scholz’s party won September’s general election but only by a margin of 1% over the centre-right CDU. The narrowness of the win means Scholz has had to spend the last few weeks hammering out a deal with the Greens and the right-wing FDP to create a majority in the Bundestag.

The respective colours of the three coalition partners have led commentators to dub the incoming government as a traffic-light coalition of SPD red, FDP yellow and the Greens. At this week’s presentation of the coalition, Scholz unconvincingly tried to present it as an injection of new energy to the politics of the federal republic, but the reality is he personifies the political establishment that has made Berlin the primary enforcer of austerity in the EU and is escalating a dangerous brand of militarism in German politics. The inclusion of the uber neoliberals FDP especially, means this coalition is unlikely to offer solutions to Germany’s mounting problems with inequality, racism and the pandemic.

Merkel’s right-hand man

Scholz has cultivated an image of studied dullness that makes him perfectly acceptable to the German ruling class that flourished under sixteen years of Merkelism and led the country’s number of billionaires to rise from 69 to over 200. Beneath the staid demeanour, however, is a ruthless politician who has proven himself a reliable enforcer of neoliberal priorities in his previous roles.

Scholz was part of the last SPD government led by Gerhard Schroder in the 1990s that introduced the Agenda 2010 reforms which savaged welfare provision for the most vulnerable and facilitated wider stagnation of wages for German workers. As Mayor of Hamburg in 2017, Scholz authorised a brutal policed assault on demonstrators outside the G20 meeting in the city. He has also been Vice-Chancellor in Merkel’s Grand Coalition with the SPD and, as such, is a reassuringly non-threatening figure for Germany’s elite that is anticipating continuity with the outgoing government.

Pale Green

Scholz’ foreign minister is widely expected to be Annalena Baerbock, leader of the Greens. Those hoping that a politician with this profile might promote a more progressive direction for German foreign policy are likely to be disappointed. In pursuit of electoral respectability, Baerbock has fallen into line with the hawkish mentality of the political establishment and adopts confrontational rhetoric both in her stance towards supposedly hostile powers such as China and Russia and in her belief that Germany should be escalating its financial and material commitment to Nato.

During the election campaign, she expressed opposition to technological cooperation with China on security grounds: If the Chinese government requires Chinese corporations such as Huawei, for example, to pass on European data and information, we cannot integrate products from such manufacturers into European infrastructure. She also wants Berlin to adopt a more hardline approach to its giant neighbour to the East: If Germany’s voice in foreign policy fails — be it regarding the tensions in Ukraine or the attitude towards Russia, or regarding the Nord Stream 2 project — then Europe will be destroyed.

The incoming coalition does include some impressive-sounding commitments to environmental policy, such as phasing out coal by 2030, which would be the least one would expect with Greens in senior positions. However, these commitments are couched in the language of neoliberalism-Climate protection in a socio-ecological market economy, according to publicity material -implying long-term profitability, rather than ecological sustainability is the primary driving force.


The most alarming aspect of the Scholz coalition is the likely appointment of Christian Lindner, leader of the Free Democrats, as finance minister. As a free-market ideologue, Lindner will be looking to pursue an entrenchment of the neoliberal agenda on public spending and welfare implemented by Merkel over the last sixteen years. Any notion of raising the cap on borrowing to fund the public sector is likely to be blocked by Linder-not that a centrist like Scholz would be pushing for such a move anyway. An economic policy presided over by the likes of Lindner will require an acceleration of the uptick in industrial action that has been evident in Germany this year.

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Sean Ledwith

Sean Ledwith is a Counterfire member and Lecturer in History at York College, where he is also UCU branch negotiator. Sean is also a regular contributor to Marx and Philosophy Review of Books and Culture Matters

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