Who is Olaf Scholz? German chancellor takes reins of new Cabinet

Social Democrat succeeds Angela Merkel to become ninth postwar leader

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Germany's new Cabinet assumed power on Wednesday, with Olaf Scholz replacing Angela Merkel as chancellor at the head of a three-way coalition in Berlin.

Mr Scholz leaned on his safe-hands image to lead the Social Democrats (SPD) to an election victory in September, which only months earlier had seemed a long shot.

He built a coalition with the Greens and Free Democrats (FDP) in which key posts such as the finance, climate and health ministries were carved up between the parties.

Three of the top jobs are filled by the leaders of the junior parties, with FDP frontman Christian Lindner taking over as finance minister and the two Green party chiefs leading climate and foreign policy.

Annalena Baerbock will be Germany’s first female foreign minister, bringing a critical stance on Russia and a call for greater co-operation on climate change to Berlin’s top diplomatic job. Robert Habeck will lead Germany’s race to net-zero carbon emissions in an expanded economy and climate ministry.

Olaf Scholz (SPD), chancellor

Mr Scholz became the fourth SPD chancellor in postwar Germany after leading the party out of a long decline to a first election victory since 2002.

His campaign was largely based around his image of unflustered competence, which contrasted with gaffes by rival candidates.

Despite being from a different party to Ms Merkel, he openly compared himself to her, seeking to imitate her reassuring style and even her signature hand gesture.

SPD negotiators got two of his key social policy pledges into the coalition agreement, with the minimum wage expected to rise and a target established to build 400,000 homes a year.

The resurgent coronavirus outbreak will immediately test his crisis management skills, with critics urging him to show more leadership on the issue.

Mr Scholz was mayor of Hamburg before joining Ms Merkel’s fourth government as finance minister, managing Germany's budget during the pandemic.

His finance role gave him a taste of international politics as he built support for a minimum corporate tax rate that was agreed by G20 countries.

Robert Habeck (Green), economy and climate protection minister

The Greens are taking on a new so-called “super-ministry”, which will drive the coalition’s agenda to make Germany carbon neutral.

Under the coalition agreement, every new law will have to be assessed for its climate impact – although Mr Habeck will not have a veto.

He will be expected to fulfil the coalition’s promises of expanding renewable energy and investing in public transport while working under financial constraints imposed by the FDP.

“We have a ministry that reconciles the economy and protecting the climate,” Mr Habeck said.

Mr Habeck, 52, is a camera-friendly novelist who put his ambitions for the chancellorship aside at this year’s election, but could run in the future.

He succeeds Mr Scholz as vice-chancellor, a largely symbolic post typically given to junior coalition partners.

Christian Lindner (FDP), finance minister

Mr Lindner, the leader of the pro-business FDP since 2013, got the job he had openly coveted during the election campaign.

He had his eye on a deal with the centre-right Christian Democrats, but after the election result made that unfeasible, he positioned the FDP as the “lawyer for the centre ground” in the alliance with the SPD and Greens.

Mr Lindner, 42, will have the task of ensuring that the coalition’s reform agenda does not breach the FDP’s low-tax, low-borrowing principles.

A slick former internet investor, he made digitalisation a key issue during the campaign and found common ground with the Greens on the need to modernise Germany.

After beating Mr Habeck to the finance job, a role for which both men had been tipped, Mr Lindner accepted that the Greens would take the vice-chancellorship – quashing speculation that the role would be split in two.

“That’s the result of the election,” in which the Greens won 14.8 per cent of the vote to the FDP’s 11.5 per cent, he said.

Annalena Baerbock (Green), foreign minister

Ms Baerbock made history as the first Green candidate for the chancellorship, but her campaign lost its way and she was eventually outmanoeuvred by Mr Scholz.

She will take on a foreign ministry facing challenges such as the border crisis in Belarus and the fall-out from the Taliban victory in Afghanistan.

An international law expert, she has signalled a more assertive stance on Russia and China and opposes the Nord Stream 2 gas pipeline – an issue yet to be fully resolved by the coalition partners.

Ms Baerbock, 40, a former trampolining medallist, hopes to use the role to promote international co-operation on climate change.

Germany holds the presidency of the G7 next year, and the coalition wants to use this to push for an international “climate club” and a unified global carbon price.

“We can’t meet the Paris climate goals as Germans alone,” Ms Baerbock said. “There will be a European, and a German, climate foreign policy.”

Karl Lauterbach (SPD), health minister

The health ministry will have an outsize role in the new government as it tries to stop the Covid-19 pandemic from knocking its plans off course.

The post was given to Karl Lauterbach, a bow tie-wearing epidemiologist turned SPD politician and one of the most prominent scientific voices during the pandemic.

His relentless appeals for caution made him a divisive figure, even leading to death threats, with critics regarding him as an overzealous advocate for restrictions.

But Mr Scholz, who gave Mr Lauterbach the task of improving the health system for future crises, said there had been a clamour for his appointment.

"Most people in this country wanted the next health minister to be an expert who really knows how to do this well, and for his name to be Karl Lauterbach," he said.

Updated: December 08, 2021, 3:42 PM