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Olaf Scholz

 Olaf Scholz Often likened to a robot, Olaf Scholz had never really been popular within his own party. In uncertain times, pragmatism is more in demand than charisma. Charisma is certainly something Scholz lacks. He doesn't know how to express himself or show emotion. Even in moments of great joy, he shows all the restraint of a British butler.

For many years, he was known by the name "Scholzomat," a play on the words "Scholz" and "Automat" or machine. The weekly newspaper Die Zeit coined the term in 2003 because Scholz, then SPD secretary-general, had a habit of defending labor market reform in repetitive technocratic speech formulas.

In 2019, Scholz wanted to become SPD chairman. However, in a membership vote, he lost out to Saskia Esken and Norbert Walter-Borjans, who had promised to move the SPD further to the left. Scholz has always been seen as belonging to the more conservative wing of the SPD. That made it all the more surprising when Esken and Walter-Borjans nominated him as the party's chancellor candidate in August 2020. In the end, the SPD opted for a chancellor candidate it had not wanted as party leader.

Scholz deals with crises: he gets up, continues undeterred and never doubts himself. He seems blessed with unshakable self-confidence. In his decades-long political career, he has experienced many a blow, but none that threw him off course for long.

Scholz, the SPD chancellor candidate, achieved what had seemed impossible not so long ago: He had lifted the Social Democrats out of the low polling numbers it had been witnessing for years. Back in the spring, the party was polling at 15%. But it won 25.7% of the vote. It has been a fantastic game of catch-up. It took Scholz a long time to learn that politics is also about putting himself and his message in the spotlight and being able to sell both well. During the election campaign, he appeared more approachable, friendlier and closer to people. He even changed his gestures and facial expressions.

During the election campaign, the SPD focused primarily on its candidate. He dominated the posters, he stood center stage and he took part in the political debates. The Social Democrats' campaign revolved entirely around the 63-year-old.

The image the SPD wanted to convey of him was that of a level-headed statesman with robust government experience. They wanted him to seem like the natural successor to outgoing Chancellor Angela Merkel, who did not stand for re-election after 16 years. Scholz has been the finance minister in Merkel's Cabinet since 2018 and was also the vice chancellor in the governing coalition consisting of the CDU/CSU and SPD.

Not even the Cum Ex tax scandal and the Wirecard fraud case were able to derail Scholz. Although he didn't come off looking good in the inquiry committees in parliament, neither cases had any political consequences he always knew how to let accusations roll off his back. He pulled off the trick once again one week before the Bundestag election in a special session of the Finance Committee dealing with errors in supervising the FIU anti-money laundering unit.

During the COVID pandemic Scholz, as finance minister, has stood for the billions the government has provided in aid. He also knew how to use that to put himself in the spotlight time and again. "It is the bazooka with which we are now doing what is necessary," he promised in the spring of 2020, immediately after the pandemic reached Germany.

Since the pandemic began, Scholz's motto has been that Germany can financially cope with the crisis. By 2022, Germany will have taken on 400 billion ($467 billion) in new debt. Scholz promised during the election campaign that Germany would be able to grow its way out of debt. "No one need be afraid of this, we've already managed it once, after the last crisis in 2008/2009, and we'll manage it again in just under 10 years," he said.

He took the same approach to climate protection. The Greens have some good ideas, he maintains, but they can only be implemented with the help of the SPD. "Pragmatic, but oriented toward the future" is how Scholz sums up his program.

In foreign policy, Scholz stands for continuity. Under his leadership, Germany would work for a "strong, sovereign Europe" that speaks "with one voice," "because otherwise, we won't play a role," he said. With the global population poised to reach 10 billion, there will be "many powers in the future, not only China, the US, and Russia," but also many Asian countries. He sees cooperation with the United States and NATO as a fundamental principle.

The introverted, business-oriented pragmatist from Hamburg, who only says as much as is absolutely necessary, did not have an easy time with the SPD. When he ran for party office, Scholz usually got the worst results. Nevertheless, he managed to silently and efficiently work his way up the political ladder.

In the process, Scholz underwent a remarkable political transformation. As deputy chairman of the SPD youth organization Jusos, he was still a radical socialist in the 1980s, promoting "the overcoming of the capitalist economy." But through his work as a labor law lawyer with his own firm in Hamburg, he learned a lot about business and entrepreneurship. That experience shaped him.

Scholz was SPD secretary-general, federal labor minister, state interior minister and governing mayor of Hamburg before becoming finance minister in 2018. He was general secretary of the SPD from 2002 to 2004. Scholz is often viewed as a pragmatic centrist in the SPD context, including with regard to foreign policy issues.

Scholz was born and raised in Hamburg and had been mayor of the northern German city-state since 2011. The 59-year-old became active in the SPD at a young age joining the party's youth branch (Jusos) in 1975 when he was 17 years old. Scholz climbed the SPD's ladder to land top party posts both in Hamburg and at the federal level. A former lawyer who specialized in employment law, Scholz gained popularity in the SPD after he led the party to victory in 2011 in Hamburg's state election and managed to hold on to power in 2015 after forming a coalition with the Green party.

Scholz was comfortable working with Merkel something that was evident during several joint appearances the two made when Hamburg hosted the G20 summit in July 2018. He also previously served as labor minister for two years under Merkel during her first grand coalition government from 2005 to 2009.

"The EU is not just a customs union. It must develop joint policies in the area of foreign and security, migration, finance, economy," he told German newspaper Die Welt in December 2017. "We have to state clearly what we are planning on the European policy front," Scholz said. "We need to be bolder."

A former nominee of the International Visitor Leadership Program (IVLP), the U.S. Department of State's premier professional exchange program, he is generally pro-American.




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