The Chancellor’s inaugural trip: Play it safe


Status: 10.12.2021 8:08 p.m.

You can go wrong with inaugural visits. Chancellor Scholz avoided any faux pas and chose his words in Paris and Brussels even more carefully than usual. Correspondingly little came out of it.

A report by Matthias Deiß, ARD capital studio

The Berlin airport “Willy Brandt” sinks into the snow on Friday morning. Nobody knows today whether they will name an airport after the newly elected SPD Chancellor. First of all, it would be more important to know whether Olaf Scholz’s first trip abroad can take place despite the snowstorm. She can. Freshly de-iced, the government machine “Theodor Heuss” takes off on time.

Matthias Deiss
ARD capital studio

Third official day “pickepackevoll”

You can do a lot wrong with initial visits – the sequence in itself is a statement. SPD Chancellor Gerhard Schröder once traveled to London, France felt itself snubbed as Germany’s closest partner in Europe and direct neighbor. To get it straight from the start: On his first trip abroad as Chancellor, Scholz made no mistake about it. But one after anonther.

Just like Chancellor Angela Merkel, he first flies to Paris – then to Brussels: European Commission, European Council, NATO. A sign of continuity. Olaf Scholz’s third day in office is “full of pick-packs”, as the new government spokesman Steffen Hebestreit announced via Twitter video shortly before taking off.

Mit Macron per Du

Despite the snow in Berlin and cooler temperatures in Paris – Scholz got out of the limousine only a little later in the Parisian Élysée Palace without a coat. The greeting: emphatically friendly, with an intimate handshake and in the face of the Republican Guard with the sparkling sabers on their skirt. “Dear Olaf, nice to have you here”, French President Emmanuel Macron welcomed the Chancellor again publicly at the press conference after the bilateral talks and lunch.

So you are already on your toes and emphasize that you want to work together “amicably” and “specifically”. But what about the very specific differences of opinion between Germany and France? For example, the French want nuclear power to be recognized as “green energy”. If Olaf Scholz agreed, he would have started the first big coalition dispute with the Greens immediately after his election as Chancellor.

Not only for Advent, but also with emphasis on friendship – the greeting of the new Chancellor in Paris.

Build: AP

Do you have to “vote”

Every country is pursuing its own perspective in the fight against climate change, says Scholz. “Germany has made its decision: We are relying on renewable energies.” So no recognition. A joint diplomatic boycott of the Beijing Olympics? You have to “still vote”.

Can the EU states continue to incur large amounts of debt because of the Corona crisis or is Europe returning to budget discipline and the Maastricht criteria? “These are the debates that we will have in the next few months,” replies Macron, who wants flexible budgets. “The European Reconstruction Fund is a common sign,” says Scholz – but then talks about having to work together to ensure “solid finances”. “We’ll be able to come up with common solutions.”

There is agreement on the subject of Russia. Both say that the situation on the Russian border is viewed with concern. And: It’s not about power, but about principles. The Ukrainian border is inviolable, if things turn out differently, there will be reactions. Farewell – I’ll see you again next week, in Brussels, Scholz’s next stop that day.

The minister drives the train, the chancellor flies

So on to the capital of Europe. The first German Foreign Minister, Annalena Baerbock, took the train from Paris to Brussels when she was in office. A chancellor flies, thinks Scholz – and gets into the government machine. In Brussels, too, the reception for Germany’s new Chancellor is as friendly as the issues are serious.

Scholz is not the new one here, but an old friend. “We sat together in two Merkel cabinets and have known each other for more than 15 years,” emphasizes Ursula von der Leyen. When it comes to Russia and Ukraine, we will act together and resolutely, the meeting with EU Commission President and NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg said in unison.

Serious instead of “proud”

Foreign policy continuity and reliability are required when it comes to questions of international security. It is no surprise that Scholz is also committed to this. He has always made this clear, including when he appeared together with Angela Merkel at the G20 summit in Rome.

Noticeable in Paris and Brussels: As a former Vice Chancellor and Minister of Finance, Scholz is used to international appearances, but you can tell that this first appearance as Chancellor abroad is a special one for him. He listens with a serious look, pinches his lips together instead of smiling “proudly” as usual.

He weighs his words even more carefully than before. Not much comes out of it, he plays it safe. But: what do you want to expect? The Chancellor is new, but the political problems remain the same. And: an inaugural visit is an inaugural visit – no more and no less.

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