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Evaluation of Ulrich Reitz: The Scholz Paradox: His greatest opponent is the one keeping him in power

Surveys do not overthrow chancellors, even if they suggest the approaching end of a chancellorship. As of today, the likelihood that Olaf Scholz will be entrusted with a reissue of his reign by the German voters is close to zero. The government of Olaf Scholz has long lost the trust of the majority of the citizens, as has been the case for months. And yet the government does not fall. How does that happen? 

Chancellors fall when their own people no longer trust them. However, Scholz’s own people are far from that. Very far indeed – today in parliament, they cheered for him. And as long as the social democratic faction still applauds and rejoices over their federal chancellor, Scholz will remain in office.

When Merz spoke, it had to come out of Scholz

For this joy that Scholz prepared for his own people today in the Bundestag – and also at a SPD conference – his greatest opponent was partly responsible. Friedrich Merz is really getting on Olaf Scholz’s nerves now, and when Merz spoke, it had to come out of Scholz; he simply had to throw his opinion in this guy’s face.

Then his voice gets louder, his arms move unusually away from his body and become rowing amplifiers. The whole chancellor pumps himself up, gains temperature and stature, and gets going. And then, at high speed, sentences come out of his mouth that one would never have expected from Olaf Scholz, who is usually so close to the border of boredom.

  • “I have never seen so much cowardice before one’s own courage.”
  • “You ran away because you didn’t want to get rid of the nice topic.”
  • “If you are criticized, then you are a crybaby.”
  • “You have a pretty thin skin, Mr. Merz.”

It is actually irrelevant what the topic was (Merz had terminated Scholz’s declared Deutschlandpakt due to lack of prospects for success), something else is decisive:

Friedrich Merz has already become a scapegoat for the Reds and the Greens. Green faction leader Omid Nouripour once revealed that when things were going so badly in the coalition that one or the other was thinking of quitting, it was enough for just one to mention the name Friedrich Merz. Then all the traffic light women and traffic light men would straighten up again and carry on. Scapegoats can be very useful, even for one’s own career.

Olaf Scholz can be really glad that there is Friedrich Merz

And that’s how it goes in the SPD. Merz attacks Scholz. Scholz then attacks Merz even harder, for a brief moment the head of government becomes the opposition leader. His own people are happy – and recognize themselves in Olaf Scholz: Yes, that’s the Olaf we want. And so the chancellor’s downfall is averted, and in such moments, as an observer, one is tempted to write: Olaf Scholz can be really glad that there is Friedrich Merz. This is true as long as the doubts about their chancellor – which exist – remain smaller than the outrage over the opposition leader. 

There is also a second reason why a chancellor’s downfall is not in sight: Merz rejects everything the government does and stands for. And that “in principle”. No possibility of understanding, nowhere. A few weeks ago, the fear was rampant among the FDP, even stronger among the Greens, that Scholz could come to an understanding with Merz for a grand coalition. In the meantime,eliminate the fear.

And in its place emerges a strategic dilemma for the opposition leader – if everything the government does is so bad, right from the start, if as Merz puts it, the first button of the vest is already wrongly fastened – then who will Merz govern with in the future? Union sole rule is not in sight after all. One might still survive a European election and three state elections in East Germany with a “CDU Pure” strategy – but that won’t be sufficient for a federal election anymore.

Merz and Scholz are actually moving in different worlds

A third observation. Merz and Scholz are actually moving in different worlds, they maintain different perspectives. Scholz attacked Merz because the CDU man demanded a new major initiative for the further development of Europe from the SPD man. As an example, Merz mentioned the – 60-year-old – initiative to establish today’s largest European aircraft manufacturer Airbus. And the one for the introduction of a European currency over 30 years ago. What would that be today?

Faced with the danger of a presidential change to Donald Trump in the USA. Faced with Putin’s power and territorial ambitions. Faced with Ukraine, which wants and should join the West, but is running out of money and ammunition.

Merz also raises the question, like some high-ranking security experts, he does not say, as some security experts of rank, that we need a European defense community including nuclear weapons for deterring Russia.

And Scholz looks to the next day. When he negotiates with the Europeans about Ukraine. 50 billion is being discussed at an EU summit. Germany is the biggest supporter of Ukraine in Europe – and Scholz is very concerned that the Americans might withdraw. Because then Germany would be the biggest helper to Ukraine – worldwide.

Suddenly the Chancellor, who often could barely walk in debates due to his strength, feels overwhelmed

Suddenly the Germans would bear the main responsibility for another large country, which is being attacked by an even larger country. Scholz doesn’t want that, he struggles heavily with it. The Chancellor calls the idea that Germany could assume this role “hubris”. And he reflectively draws on Helmut Schmidt: Germany is indeed a “middle power” – meaning: not a major power.

All of a sudden, the Chancellor, who often could barely walk in debates due to his strength, feels overwhelmed. Publicly admitting humility, that is certainly new.

From here, a forecast: From the US election to the federal election, it’s only three-quarters of a year. If Trump wins, nothing will move the political debate as much as Germany’s security, after the big brother has left the common house.

Then the Chancellor who the Germans mostly trust to protect them will be the key figure. Economically from the Chinese and Americans, even more so militarily from the Russians. One of his last statements was Wolfgang Schäuble’s warning to his own people not to underestimate Olaf Scholz.

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