Winds and waves surround the German Chancellor

Prime Minister Olaf Scholz had his good days, but that was before the storm of criticism hit him eight months after taking office.

Bild, Germany’s leading daily, last week published an article critical of Chancellor Olaf Scholz, when he had to testify before the Hamburg state parliamentary committee about a tax fraud scandal.

Spiegel magazine then published a commentary criticizing the German Chancellor’s hesitant communication style with the headline “Silent Scholz”, after he failed to react while Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas accused Israel of causing “50 the Holocauts”. Popular podcast site The Pioneer concluded the German chancellor had “a nightmare week”.

Mr. Scholz started his term as Chancellor of Germany with many difficulties. Since taking office in December last year, he has struggled to establish himself as the leader of Europe’s largest democracy, as well as find a way out of the shadow of his predecessor Angela Merkel, the famous female chancellor. German for the previous 16 years.

His problem is not confined to Germany. Given Germany’s economic and political power in Europe, any swings in leadership in Berlin will affect leadership within the European Union (EU), especially at a time when No country in the bloc can replace Germany’s leading position.

Considered too distant and passive in communication, Mr. Scholz, a member of the Social Democratic Party (SDP), has seen his approval rating drop in opinion polls, trailing the Deputy Prime Minister and the Prime Minister. His foreign minister.

German Chancellor Olaf Scholz (right) leaves a press conference with Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas in Berlin on August 16.  Photo: Reuters.

German Chancellor Olaf Scholz (right) leaves a press conference with Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas in Berlin on August 16. Image: Reuters.

Abroad, his stumbling blocks were also noticed by many.

In February, Scholz surprised the world and domestic public opinion when he announced a 100 billion euro plan to rearm the German army, send weapons to Kiev and end dependence on Russian energy.

It was Germany’s biggest foreign policy turning point since the Cold War and was called “Zeitenwende” by Mr. Scholz, changing history, in a speech to parliament, where MPs applauded the possibility his leadership at home and in the international arena.

But in the nearly six months since, Mr. Scholz has yet to announce a ban on Russian gas, saying it is too costly for Germany. He also showed reluctance to deliver the promised weapons to Ukraine. According to a latest report by the German Economic Institute in Cologne, Germany may again fall short of its goal of spending 2% of GDP on defense, which has been agreed upon by NATO members.

“After the Zeitenwende speech, we just saw a series of stumbling blocks,” said Sudha David-Wilp, deputy director of the German Marshall Fund office in Berlin. “A lot of things were promised, but the things that were done were not very impressive, even though the battle was nearing the six-month mark.”

“He lacked communication skills and was too hesitant,” added David-Wilp.

This hesitation was evident on August 16, when Scholz held a joint press conference with Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas. When asked if he was ready to apologize for the Palestinian terrorist attack at the 1972 Olympics in Munich that killed 11 Israeli athletes, President Abbas voiced criticism of the Israelis.

“From 1947 to the present, Israel has carried out 50 massacres at 50 Palestinian sites,” Abbas said before adding “50 Holocaust massacres”, referring to the Nazi disaster with the Jew.

Scholz listened with a stiff expression, but didn’t make any comments after that. He shook hands with the Palestinian leader, as his spokesman concluded a press conference shortly after.

Criticism quickly fell on Mr. Scholz after the press conference.

“We should have spoken before such a statement. It is scandalous that the Holocaust was mentioned in Germany and during a press conference of the Prime Minister,” said Josef Schuster, president of the Council of Jews in Germany.

Israeli Prime Minister Yair Lapid, the son of a Holocaust survivor, called it “moral shame” when such comments were made on German soil. Friedrich Merz, leader of the conservative German opposition, called Mr Scholz’s reaction “unbelievable”.

“The prime minister should have opposed the Palestinian president,” Merz said.

Mr Scholz finally reacted, telling Bild newspaper that evening that “any statement referring to the Holocaust is unacceptable”. But it was not until the next morning that he posted that message on Twitter.

“I am deeply saddened by the comments of Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas. I also condemn any attempt to deny the crimes of the Holocaust,” he wrote.

Steffen Hebestreit, a spokesman for Mr. Scholz, sought to admit fault, saying that the press conference ended so quickly that the Prime Minister did not have time to react. But he could not convince the German media, when they said Mr. Scholz had another reason not to respond to President Abbas’s comments.

T-Online site posted a comment saying that Prime Minister Scholz was “too preoccupied with the past story”, so he showed indifference when standing next to Mr. Abbas.

The comments come as Chancellor Scholz is under increasing pressure over allegations that he helped private bank MM Warburg avoid paying 47 million euros in tax refunds to the city of Hamburg in 2016, when he was a marketer. chief. Initially, he denied ever meeting a co-owner of MM Warburg bank, but later admitted that they had met because the bank leader’s personal schedule showed this information.

During a hearing before the Hamburg parliament on August 19, Scholz reiterated that he did not remember what the two had exchanged, but insisted there was “no political element” in this tax evasion scandal.

“I don’t believe Chancellor Scholz. Probably no one in Germany believes that,” said Friedrich Merz.

People protest against Chancellor Scholz in Hamburg, Germany on August 19.  Photo: AFP.

People protest against Chancellor Scholz in Hamburg, Germany on August 19. Image: AFP.

The challenge of rising inflation, slow economic growth and the possibility of a gas shortage after Russia’s Gazprom continued to announce a supply halt to Germany at the end of this month has severely affected approval ratings. of the German Chancellor.

Earlier last week, protesters booed furiously when Mr. Scholz visited an eastern German town. Some political observers warn that protests could flare up in the winter, when people feel the pain of high gas prices.

Less than 20% of Germans now want to vote for Mr. Scholz’s SDP party, according to poll results released on August 19. If an election is held at this time, observers expect the SDP to be defeated.

“Most Germans thought that Scholz was well prepared for the role of chancellor, but he doesn’t seem really ready. He may be a good technocrat and a responsible politician, but he is. He hasn’t really shown the communication skills and nuances needed to be the leader of Europe’s largest economy,” commented David-Wilp.

Thanh Tam (Theo New York Times)

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