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Olaf Scholz sworn in as German chancellor

December 8, 2021

Outgoing Chancellor Angela Merkel wished Olaf Scholz good luck doing "the best job there is." The new German parliament elected Scholz as Merkel departs after 16 years at the helm of Europe's largest economy.

German Chancellor Olaf Scholz takes the oath from President of the Bundestag
Olaf Scholz taking the oath with Bundestag President Bärbel BasImage: Ina Fassbender/AFP/Getty Images

The German Bundestag elected Olaf Scholz as chancellor on Wednesday morning, as Angela Merkel bows out from the political stage.

The morning vote by Germany's lower legislative chamber — held by secret ballot and without debate — was seen as a formality.

Merkel wished Scholz the best of luck, using a German idiom that might be loosely translated as a "felicitous hand," while carrying out "the best job there is."

"I know from personal experience what a moving moment it is to be elected to this office."

President of the Bundestag Bärbel Bas opened the voting. Members of the parliament voted by 395 of 707 votes cast for Scholz to become Germany's new head of government.

However, not all members of Scholz's so-called "traffic light coalition" voted in favor. Had they done so, he would have had received 416 votes.

There were 303 votes against, and 6 abstentions from a total of 736.

For his part, Scholz tweeted that he had accepted the task when called upon to accept by the Bundestag president. "I said 'yes'," he wrote.

Scholz's center-left Social Democrats (SPD) emerged as the largest party in September's general election and has since negotiated a coalition deal with the environmentalist Greens and the business-focused Free Democratic Party (FDP).

How the switch took place

After the vote, Scholz headed by motorcade to the presidential palace Schloss Bellevue where German President Frank-Walter Steinmeier handed him an official document of appointment. Scholz was then whisked back to the Bundestag where he was sworn in.

The new chancellor headed back to the palace with those selected to be members of his Cabinet before the new ministers were inaugurated.

Over the course of the day, Merkel's ministers were to formally hand over portfolios to their successors.

Scholz, who served as finance minister under Merkel, presents his own brief to FDP leader Christian Lindner. His vice-chancellor title goes to Green Party co-leader Robert Habeck.

Congratulations from outside Germany

French President Emmanuel Macron on Wednesday told new German Chancellor Olaf Scholz the two countries would work together to shape the future of Europe.

"We will write the next chapter together. For the French, for the Germans, for the Europeans," Macron told Scholz in a tweet welcoming his election.

Macron also thanked Merkel for "never forgetting the lessons of history, for doing so much for us, with us, to move Europe forwards."

US President Joe Biden congratulated Scholz, vowing "strong ties," between both countries.

Principal Deputy Press Secretary Karine Jean-Pierre told reporters that Biden also wanted to thank Angela Merkel, who has stepped down after "her many years of leadership in Germany."

Meanwhile, European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen — herself a member of Merkel's CDU — said she looked forward to working with Scholz.  

"I wish you a good start and look forward to further trusting cooperation for a strong Europe," she tweeted.

The Kremlin said President Vladimir Putin would seek dialogue with Germany. "We hope that the president and the new chancellor develop constructive relations," said Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov.

"We hope, that the German side will continue to proceed from the understanding that there is no alternative to dialogue in order to resolve even the most difficult differences of opinion."

"Congratulations to @OlafScholz on your appointment as German Chancellor. Germany and the UK are close friends and staunch allies and I look forward to working closely together in the years ahead," UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson wrote on Twitter. Scholz will be the first chancellor to have a Twitter handle under his own name while in office.

How will things change?

The new government has said it will place dealing with the coronavirus pandemic and tackling climate change at the heart of its program.

DW's Nina Haase said that, given that Scholz's SPD had been part of a grand coalition with Merkel's CDU-CSU bloc, there would be some continuity. However, she added, there would be a marked change.

"The parties are completely different," said Haase. "The Social Democrats are a center-left party. The conservatives under Anglea Merkel have blocked some of the projects that the Social Democrats had always hoped to push through with the conservatives as their partners."

"That wasn't possible so the Social Democrats are now going to try. They say they're going to make the country fairer, more liberal and more digital."

Merkel leaves office as Germany's second-longest serving postwar chancellor, just 10 days short of the 16 years and 26 days that Helmut Kohl spent in office between 1982 and 1998.

DW's Melinda Crane said Merkel's departure was "the end of an era."

"Young Germans aged 16 to 25 really don't remember any other chancellor but Angela Merkel so this is really momentous for them," said Crane.

The outgoing chancellor was present for the vote as a guest seated alongside her own predecessor Gerhard Schröder.

Before the September election, Merkel had already said she would not serve another term as chancellor and her conservative Christian Democrats are looking to reshape after suffering their worst-ever election result.

How the new Cabinet breaks down

The new Cabinet is made up of 16 ministers — seven from the SPD, five from the Greens and four from the FDP. There is one portfolio more than in the previous government, due to the creation of a construction ministry.

  • Vice-chancellor and minister for economics and climate protection: Robert Habeck (Greens)
  • Finance minister: Christian Lindner (FDP)
  • Interior minister: Nancy Fäser (SPD) 
  • Foreign minister: Annalena Baerbock (Greens)
  • Health minister: Karl Lauterbach (SPD)
  • Justice minister: Marco Buschmann (FDP)
  • Labor and social affairs: Hubertus Heil (SPD)
  • Defense minister: Christine Lambrecht (SPD)
  • Nutrition and Agriculture: Cem Özdemir (Greens)
  • Family, senior citizens, women and youth: Anne Spiegel (Greens) 
  • Transport and digital: Volker Wissing (FDP)
  • Environment, nature, conservation, nuclear safety and consumer protection: Steffi Lemke (Greens)
  • Construction minister: Klara Geywitz (SPD)
  • Economic cooperation and development: Svenja Schulze (SPD)
  • Education and research: Bettina Stark-Watzinger (FDP)
  • Head of chancellery: Wolfgang Schmidt (SPD)

rc,es/sms (AFP, AP, dpa, Reuters)