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PROFILE Olaf Scholz: The saviour of Germany's Social Democrats?

Europe
14.02.2018
By our dpa-correspondent and Europe Online    auf Facebook posten  Auf Twitter posten  
Berlin (dpa) - Olaf Scholz, the Social Democratic (SPD) mayor of the northern port city of Hamburg, is returning to Berlin after being appointed as stand-in president for his crisis-hit party.

Scholz has also been tipped to take over the powerful job of finance minister in Chancellor Angela Merkel‘s new coalition government.

The 59-year-old is also set to serve as her vice chancellor - that is, if he can convince SPD members to abandon their reluctance to back the coalition deal the party has drawn up with Merkel‘s conservative bloc and support her for a fourth term in office.

His return to Berlin comes about 15 years after his stint as the SPD‘s general secretary when he was dubbed the "Scholzomat" for his rather mechanical-sounding delivery as he attempted to explain former SPD chancellor Gerhard Schroeder‘s far-reaching labour and welfare reforms to an at-times sceptical public.

A short time later, Scholz told the weekly Die Zeit that he could understand how the moniker came about. "I was the one selling the policy," he said. "I had to show a certain amount ruthlessness."

He will likely need these qualities during his brief two-month tenure as provisional SPD chief as he battles to salvage a party traumatized by last September‘s historic low election result followed by a series of major political miscalculations by the party leadership.

But Scholz has no time to waste.

He also has to win over a majority of the SPD‘s 463,723 members to back the coalition deal in a ballot starting in less than a week when large numbers of the rank and file think it would be better to go into opposition so as to plan the party‘s renewal.

Opinion polls have underlined the pressure on Scholz. After plunging to 20.5 percent in the September election, SPD support has continued to tumble hitting a disastrous 16.5 per cent this week, according to a survey by pollsters Insa and published in the daily Bild.

A pragmatist, Scholz also has to move swiftly to convince members of Merkel‘s conservative Christian Democrats (CDU) angry that the chancellor has handed the finance portfolio to the SPD that the nation‘s finances will be in a safe pair of hands should he finally become minister.

An SPD member since 1975, Scholz‘s surprise elevation to acting SPD president on Tuesday comes after an internal party revolt, which scuttled the SPD‘s leadership‘s plan to install its parliamentary leader Andrea Nahles in the post.

The shake-out in the party‘s leadership follows last week‘s resignation of Martin Schulz as party boss after his humiliating fall from grace.

The 47-year-old Nahles will now have to wait until an SPD conference in April to see if party delegates are prepared to accept her nomination to the post, which would make her the first woman to head up the SPD in its 154-year history.

A trained lawyer, Scholz also served about a decade ago as labour and social affairs minister in Berlin in Merkel‘s first coalition government with the SPD.

As minister he was also handed another tough mission: to oversee the introduction of the government‘s unpopular move to address the ageing population by raising the retirement age to 67.

But a short time later Scholz headed back to Hamburg where he became the city‘s popular mayor, winning an absolute majority in the 2015 election.

His term as mayor, however, was overshadowed last year by the violent and costly demonstrations launched by anti-capitalist protesters at the Group of 20 (G20) summit of world leaders, which was hosted by Merkel in Hamburg.

 

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