German Social Democrat Olaf Scholz has said he has reached a coalition agreement to form a new government that will try to modernize Europe’s largest economy and bring down the curtain for the Angela Merkel era.
Scholz’s center-left Social Democrats (SPD), the ecologist Greens and the libertarian Free Democrats (FDP) want to accelerate the transition to a green economy and digitalisation while maintaining fiscal discipline, according to a 177-page agreement.
The alliance – which was named a traffic light coalition after the three parties’ respective colors – has a majority in the lower house of parliament and hopes the government will be sworn in early next month after the parties ratify the coalition treaty.
The first federal-alliance between the ideologically diverse parties will put an end to 16 years of Merkel-led Conservative rule, marking a new era for relations with Europe and the rest of the world.
At a news conference in Berlin on Wednesday, flanked by the FDP and Green leaders, Scholz recalled that when the first traffic light was erected at the city’s Potsdamer Platz in 1924, many questioned whether it could work.
“Today, the traffic light is indispensable when it comes to regulating things clearly and providing the right orientation and ensuring that everyone moves forward safely and smoothly,” he said.
“My ambition as chancellor is that this traffic light alliance will play a similar pioneering role for Germany.”
Merkel leaves big shoes to fill. She navigated Germany and Europe through several crises and was a champion of liberal democracy in the face of increasing authoritarianism worldwide.
Her critics say she has managed problems rather than solved them, leaving her successor with difficult decisions on many fronts.
Scholz’s incoming government faces immediate challenges, with Europe struggling with the effects of Brexit, a crisis on the European Union’s border with Belarus and increasing COVID-19 cases.
While Germany’s election campaign was largely focused on domestic issues, the coalition treaty shed light on the next government’s foreign policy priorities.
The parties agreed to strengthen the EU’s economic and monetary union and indicated an openness to reform the bloc’s fiscal rules, also known as the Stability and Growth Pact.
They also agreed that Germany would remain part of NATO’s nuclear power agreement, a move that would prevent a rift in the Western military alliance in a time of increasing tensions with Russia.
Female Foreign Minister expected
The Greens’ co-leader, Annalena Baerbock (40), is expected to become the country’s first female foreign minister. While the parties have yet to announce the cabinet line-up, Scholz has already said he wants a gender-equal government.
FDP leader Christian Lindner (42) will take over at the finance ministry and Greens co-leader Robert Habeck (52) is expected to take on a newly expanded ministry of economy and climate change.
The incoming coalition will have to balance the Greens’ calls for a stricter line on Russia and China on human rights with Scholz’s likely preference not to risk a confrontation with the two countries on issues such as Taiwan and Ukraine.
The coalition underscores its socially liberal tendency and has agreed to allow multiple citizenship and legalize the sale of marijuana for recreational use at licensed stores.
Dominic Kane of Al Jazeera, who reported from Berlin, said the new government is generally taking shape.
“Olaf Scholz will in all probability be ratified within the next 10 days or so and approved as chancellor in parliament. “The Social Democrats will get him as chancellor, and six or seven other cabinet posts, and they will get their key promise that Scholz is referred to in the campaign: raising the minimum wage in this country,” he said.
“The Greens will gain control of a powerful new ministry, the Ministry of Economy, which will be boosted and also become a ministry of combating climate change. And the Free Democrats, the center-right party called the Liberals in Germany, will get the Ministry of Finance and three other key ministries in the new cabinet. “
“It must be voted on internally by the various parties, but they all sound as if it is almost a foregone conclusion. “By agreeing to this new coalition, they are effectively sending Merkel’s Christian Democrats into opposition,” he said.
Merkel said goodbye earlier in the day to what could be her last cabinet meeting, and Scholz gave the EU’s longest-serving leader a tree to plant in her garden.
As finance minister and vice-chancellor in the outgoing “grand coalition” of the SPD and conservatives, Scholz (63) was seen as a capable rather than a charismatic politician who, like Merkel, has moderate views and is skilled in dialogue.
He must now build and maintain a consensus between the Greens and SPD, widely seen as natural center-left partners, and the fiscal hawkish FDP, which has historically been closer to Germany’s conservatives.
Merkel did not seek re-election as chancellor after four terms.
Her personal popularity ratings remain high, but her party is in disarray and facing a leadership contest after achieving the worst results in a federal vote following a campaign prone to barking by its chancellor candidate.