Scholz becomes German leader …as Merkel bows out

Olaf Scholz has been sworn in as Germany’s new chancellor, formally taking power after Angela Merkel’s historic 16 years as leader.

He promised he would do all he could to work towards a new start for Germany.

As she left the chancellery, ending a 31-year political career, Mrs Merkel told her former vice-chancellor to approach the task “with joy”.

His centre-left Social Democrats will govern alongside the Greens and the business-friendly Free Democrats.

Mr Scholz, a soft-spoken 63-year-old, steered the Social Democrats to election victory in late September, positioning himself as the continuity candidate because he played a key role in the Merkel government as vice-chancellor.

The German parliament, the Bundestag, backed him as chancellor by 395 votes to 303, and he was then formally appointed as the ninth federal chancellor by President Frank-Walter Steinmeier.

After the vote in parliament, he was asked by Bundestag President, Bärbel Bas, whether he accepted the appointment and said “yes”. He later took the oath of office and, unlike his predecessor, he left out the religious reference “so help me God”.

Since the election, Mr Scholz’s party has worked with the Greens and the Free Democrats on a coalition deal which was finally signed on Tuesday. All 16 ministers took the oath of office on Wednesday, becoming Germany’s first cabinet to include as many women as men.

The new government has ambitious plans to fight climate change by phasing out coal early and focusing on renewable energy, but their initial priority will be tackling the coronavirus pandemic.

Health authorities have recorded another 69,601 cases in the past 24 hours and a further 527 deaths – the highest number since last winter.

Mr Scholz is already a known and trusted face in Berlin and Brussels. He marketed himself to voters as sort of Merkel Mark Two, despite hailing from a different political party.

But it’s not all about continuity; friends and trade partners of this rich and powerful nation will be watching closely.

Mr Scholz’s coalition government is a never-before-seen marriage of convenience. What unites them, they claim, is a determination to modernise Germany, while preserving the country’s treasured stability.

Relations with Washington may improve as a result, though, and that is a declared priority of Olaf Scholz’s fledgling coalition. -BBC

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