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Scholz delivers his first government briefing to the lower house of parliament, the Bundestag
Olaf Scholz was sworn in as chancellor last weekImage: Tobias Schwarz/AFP
PoliticsGermany

Chancellor Scholz briefs parliament for first time

Alistair Walsh
December 15, 2021

New German Chancellor Olaf Scholz has given his first formal government briefing to parliament since taking office last week, touching on issues ranging from the pandemic to climate change, and even some foreign policy.

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Germany's Scholz addresses parliament

German Chancellor Olaf Scholz gave his inaugural address to the Bundestag on Wednesday, outlining the new government's policy agenda.

It follows his three-party coalition government, combining his Social Democrats (SPD) with the Greens and the liberal pro-business FDP, being formally sworn in last week, having signed a coalition contract.

It comes shortly before German parliamentarians go into the Christmas recess.

DW’s chief political editor Michaela Küfner said the speech was wide-ranging, and cagey on concrete foreign policy and EU policy.

Calls to get vaccinated

Early on his address, Scholz focused on the coronavirus pandemic, calling on German citizens to get vaccinated and help return life to normal.

"It's very important that we continue to work together, join hands and defeat the coronavirus," he said. He said the new German government would work intensively to bring vaccines to poor countries.

He heavily criticized the extremist opponents of coronavirus measures, referring to conspiracy theorists, misinformation spreaders, and extremists. 

"We are not going to tolerate that a small number of extremists tries to impose their will on our entire society," he said, explicitly referring to the recent torchlit march in Saxony. "Our democracy is ready to defend itself, and knows how to do it."

Olaf Scholz: 'Get vaccinated, protect your life and the lives of others'

Thanks Merkel for transition

To sustained applause, he thanked his predecessor Angela Merkel for the smooth transition.

"The civility of the transfer from the former to the current government was admired worldwide, and earned the respect of many across the globe."

Some German politicians and commentators had made a point of comparing the transition of power in Berlin with Donald Trump's last days and weeks as US president.

Energy transition and climate neutrality

He said his government would have a strong focus on climate change, particularly on the transition to renewable energy.

A major theme of the speech was placating fears about the personal impact that the climate change fight would have. Scholz said he understood concerns about the transition, with possible effects on jobs and quality of life. He said the transition to renewables should benefit everyone. "We are going to provide safety and security through change."

The chancellor said the move toward a more climate-friendly economy and society would only succeed if it had the support of the "broad majority." To this end, he pledged equitable distribution of the financial burden and promised that "good climate policy does not demand renunciation, but rather enables a switch to climate-friendly alternatives."

Scholz said his coalition's target of bringing a coal phaseout forward from 2038 to 2030 was conditional on the ability of renewable energy to take up the slack.

He spoke at length on the need for reform, innovation and progress in Germany. He said, in a search for social cohesion, Germany needed to focus on equality, and respect and integration for workers and immigrants.

"The large problems of our time can only be solved if, along the way, we don't lose our social cohesion," he said.

He said private companies would drive new innovations in climate neutrality, supported by subsidies, government policies and existing market mechanisms. 

Mobility

Scholz said there would be a significant investment in mobility, focusing on rail.

He promised more night trains, better connected cities and more rail connections for rural areas.

He said people would still be welcome to drive their private cars, so long as they become more climate friendly. He said electric vehicle charging infrastructure should be easier to access and would be funded more efficiently.

Affordable housing

Scholz spoke at length on the housing affordability crisis in Germany. "The situation in the housing market requires the federal government to take decisive action," he said.

He said a new ministry would be created to address the housing crisis and to build 400,000 housing units each year.

In the meantime, there will be an 11% rent increase cap in urban areas.

Citizenship and migration

Scholz said Germany was a country of immigration, and pledged to make it easier to become a German citizen.

Citizenship will be able to be obtained after having stayed in Germany for five years. 

"We are going to make multiple citizenship possible, in keeping with the reality of many people in this country."

There will also be efforts to make democratic representation more possible for immigrants.

He said barriers to migration will be limited, including expeditious asylum procedures, but that speedy returns of risky people would be implemented.

German chancellor: 'Our democracy is ready to defend itself'

Rule of law

He said the new government will take action against organized crime, with an expanded fight against these groups. "The largest threat to democracy is right-wing extremism, which is why we will fight against it with all determination," he said.

This focus on rule of law extends to political extremism and financial crime.

The new government will also focus on tax avoidance, and will strengthen anti trust authorities.

European unity

Scholz called for strengthened European unity and pledged ongoing support for the European project.

"The success of Europe is our most important national concern," he stressed. "If we want to confidently defend our European way of life, we can only do so together as the European Union." 

He reinforced Germany's close relationship with France, saying he would work closely with French President Emmanuel Macron.

Scholz expressed solidarity with Poland, given the situation at its border with Belarus. 

He said the situation at the Ukraine-Russia border was highly concerning. "Each violation of territorial integrity will come with a high price," he said, stressing that the EU would act as one body. 

He called for a diplomatic solution to the border crisis, led by the EU.

China, defense and relationship with the US

Scholz said that the new government would not close its eyes to human rights transgression in China. At the same time, he said China was an important economic partner.

"We must align our China policy with the China we find in real terms," he said, calling for a pragmatic approach.

Scholz said that calling out human rights abuses "does not change the fact that a country of China's size and history has a place in the international concert of powers."

Germany therefore offered China "cooperation on the challenges affecting humanity" such as the fight against climate change and pandemics, as well as in the field of arms control, he said. 

The chancellor also stressed transatlantic relations. "The German-American friendship and NATO are the indispensable foundation of our security."

He said Germany will invest in defense to provide the necessary NATO capabilities, but he did not mention NATO countries' commitment to spend 2% of gross domestic product on armaments.

He called for multilateralism, and said the United States was its most important partner in the furthering of democracy.

The chancellor said he shares the conviction of US President Joe Biden "that the world's liberal democracies must prove anew that they can deliver the better, fairer, more equitable answers to the challenges of the 21st century."

Edited by: Mark Hallam

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