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International media's take on new German government

December 7, 2021

As Chancellor Olaf Scholz takes office this Wednesday, the international press is giving their take on Germany's first government to be led by a center-left party in 16 years and the country's first three-way coalition.

Newspapers at a news stand
Image: imago/Future Image

Center-left Social Democrat (SPD) Olaf Scholz will take over the chancellorship from center-right Christian Democrat (CDU) Angela Merkel. Scholz has been serving as finance minister and vice-chancellor and is set to head a three-way coalition between the SPD, the environmentalist Greens, and the neoliberal Free Democrats — nicknamed a traffic-light coalition after their respective party colors — the first of its kind at a federal level in Germany.

What do Scholz and Merkel have in common? International papers focus on the differences and the similarities.

  • The New York Times (US): "Mr Scholz won (the election) for many reasons, not least because he persuaded voters that he was the closest thing to Ms Merkel, but his message of respect resonated too. For the first time since 2005, the Social Democrats became the strongest party among the working class."
  • Le Monde (France): "On closer inspection, the government will not fundamentally break with Angela Merkel's policies."
  • The Global Times (China): "Some experts noted that (under Scholz) there are unlikely to be fundamental changes in Germany's China policy in the long run except for short-term twists since the two countries have benefited from the pragmatic strategy of the Merkel era and embraced the fruitful achievements."
  • Gazeta.Ru (Russia): "The Russian president was in contact with Merkel more often than with other Western politicians (...) However, this configuration may soon change, as Angela Merkel leaves office to be replaced by a new chancellor."
  • NZZ (Switzerland): "The coalition partners recognize the urgent problems in the country, but they keep getting lost in the undergrowth on the way to a solution. This may be due to differences in ideology or to a lack of courage to face up to challenges, something the outgoing chancellor Angela Merkel avoided for 16 years. Her silent motto was to retain power, to which everything else was subordinate. If the SPD, the Greens, and the FDP take a similar stance, their constantly repeated mantra of new beginnings and progress will be nothing but talk."

International papers also turn their attention to the new Foreign Minister, Annalena Baerbock, who is co-leader of the Green Party and has announced plans to make Germany's foreign policy more "values-based." Her appointment as Germany's top diplomat has been met with mixed reactions, with particular focus on the stance she is likely to take on China and Russia.

  • Euronews (France/Europe): "Particularly in dealing with China, Green Party politician Annalena Baerbock is expected to take a course that is less focused on economic cooperation."
  • The Washington Post (US): "The foreign ministry will be under the control of Green Party co-leader Annalena Baerbock, a sharp critic of Beijing's human rights record — and of Ms Merkel's cooperative dealings with Beijing, a huge market for German exports (...) Ms Baerbock and her party have also opposed the Nord Stream 2 gas pipeline, through which Russian energy supplies are scheduled to flow to Germany. Unfortunately, the coalition is unlikely to scuttle the nearly finished project, which Ms Merkel and Mr Scholz supported, despite the leverage it gives the Putin regime over Germany — and Europe."
  • Komsomolskaya Pravda (Russia): "In fact, Baerbock is a kind of older Greta Thunberg (the Swedish teen climate activist): a dependent figure without political weight, without a single idea of her own, humbly repeating the simple slogans of her senior comrades put into her mouth at international forums: 'close nuclear power plants,' 'abandon industry,' 'sanction Russia' — in the name of the fight for the environment, of course."
  • South China Morning Post (Hong Kong/China): "Baerbock, who studied international law, singled out China's treatment of the Uyghur minority in Xinjiang, the detention of Chinese journalist Zhang Zhan and the uncertainty about tennis star Peng Shuai's well-being as areas of concern. European Union states should speak as one and use the bloc's leverage as a major economic power in their dealings with Beijing, Baerbock said, raising the prospect of import restrictions."
  • Kommersant (Russia): "It appears from the coalition agreement that Berlin is ready for a constructive dialogue with Moscow and also wants to allow Russian citizens up to 25 years of age to enter the country without a visa. Although the likely new Foreign Minister Annalena Baerbock has made critical statements about Moscow on more than one occasion, people in power in Russia or not drawing hasty conclusions. It has always been the chancellor who personally has steered German policy in its relations with Russia (...) The authors of the coalition agreement speak more of possibilities for cooperation than of disagreements."

In keeping with tradition, Olaf Scholz said his first trip outside of Germany as chancellor will be to Paris and Brussels — emphasizing the new government's push to ensure "Europe is strong and sovereign." Angela Merkel was a strong European leader, but international papers are expecting less German leadership under the traffic-light coalition, pointing to a lack of diplomatic experience in the new team.

  • La Repubblica (Italy): "Will Olaf Scholz's Germany be less austere? This is the question that has been shaking Europe for months. And in the debate that is still very much in the background on future European budget rules, FDP leader (future Finance Minister) Christian Lindner has often been denounced as the bogeyman of the next 'traffic light' government, who will want to hold on to the stability pact and will stand in the way of the necessary massive investments into ecological, digital and energy reform."
  • El Pais (Spain): "Thus will begin a fascinating experiment in combining the forces and visions of social democracy, environmentalism and liberalism. The age of the traffic light is dawning in Germany. If it leads to success, it will be a powerful model for progressives across Europe."
  • The Daily Mail (UK): "Many are worried that (Germany) risks becoming 'the sick man of Europe,' to use the damning phrase applied to Britain in the 1970s (...) Yet whatever Merkel's failings, although in earlier years, she enjoyed considerable achievements, there seems little doubt that, under the stewardship of her successor, Olaf Scholz, Germany is set to change for the worse."
  • The Times (UK): "Olaf Scholz will not be squeamish about Great Britain. The coalition agreement explicitly includes a provision to uphold the Northern Ireland Protocol (part of the Brexit Withdrawal Agreement). Boris Johnson may encounter a tougher stance in Berlin than Angela Merkel's tired indulgence. Scholz comes to office with experience, a liberal agenda and high popularity ratings. Germany and its neighbors can look forward to a lively four years."
  • De Standaard (Belgium): "According to the negotiators, the priorities that this new team wants to set are not the sum of party positions, but a fiercely debated vision of how Germany can be green, social and liberal at the same time. It will be an exciting experiment: for the first time in post-war history, Germany will be governed by a tripartite alliance made up of politicians who want to make a clear break with the past."
  • El Mundo (Spain): "The country needs strong and fully capable leadership, especially to deal with the worst wave of infections since the coronavirus pandemic began. Not only because of health concerns but also because addressing this challenge is urgent to mitigate the impact on the economy in Europe. And in the rest of the world, especially in the EU club, challenges such as the migration crisis on the border between Poland and Belarus, the latent conflict with Russia, or the economic recovery plans threatened by the resurgence of the pandemic are piling up. These are all issues that require strong leadership in Berlin.

EU migrants at the Polish border

Edited by Rina Goldenberg.

While you're here: Every Tuesday, DW editors round up what is happening in German politics and society. You can sign up here for the weekly email newsletter Berlin Briefing, to stay on top of developments as Germany enters the post-Merkel era.

Kommentarbild PROVISORISCH Elliot Douglas
Elliot Douglas Elliot Douglas is a video, audio and online journalist based in Berlin.
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