Is he wise, cautious, slow, or arrogant? Although many Germans still find it difficult to recognize their chancellor a year after the election, his image is increasingly tilting in his favour.
Thanks in part to his dry conservatism, which means he didn’t say much wrong during the campaign, Olaf Schulz narrowly won with his party. He made a small mistake, and it seemed the safest option, the least change after 16 years of Merkel’s existence.
But the problems in Germany have been piling up since the war in Ukraine. The government faces tough choices about arms supplies, sanctions, and high energy bills. The way the Federal Chancellor specifically communicates is often poor, not least with journalists.
“He wanted the man to be Merkel,” says Lars Haider. “But then the war came and he became restless.” The journalist has been following Schulze for ten years, met him more than 150 times and wrote an autobiography about him. “This was a Scholz we didn’t know yet. He wasn’t sure what to do. What happens if I deliver weapons to Ukraine now?”
This hesitation was not for nothing. “We now know that Schulz was worried that Putin might attack Germany or NATO. And that he didn’t want to go down in history as the chancellor who negligently provoked the war.”
But it has also been criticized. She gave the impression that the adviser, who did not dare to make a decision, did not want to take the initiative. On the other hand, there is also a group of Germans, certainly among the followers of Schulz’s party, the SPD, who prefer not to send (heavy) weapons at all. “The line between thinking and hesitation is thin,” Haidar said.
At the same time, he is convinced of himself. “He knows everything. He usually already knows the most. The question is: Does he listen to others?” Said Haider. His impression: “generally not”.
It doesn’t help that he gets so angry when he doesn’t like reporters’ questions. A well-known example is the press conference held after the G7 summit chaired by the German chancellor last June.
A journalist asked Schulz if he could say concretely what Ukraine’s security promises entail. He replied, “Yes.” “I can.” And after a long silence and giggling, “That was it.”
Tina Hassell thinks this sounds arrogant and rude. As the parliamentary editor-in-chief of the German public broadcaster ARD, she regularly gives key interviews to the German chancellor. “Is this the respect you talked about so often during the election campaign?” I gave it to him earlier.
“When I talk about respect, I mean hard-working janitors and factory workers,” Schulz said. “Besides, this was the third time I actually got that question,” he says. Dry answers to frequently asked questions: earned him the nickname “Scholz-o-mat,” the robotic politician.
“He says he doesn’t need hobbies to relax because he doesn’t get stressed. He’s always calm and in control,” Haider says. But this also has a downside. “That sounds a little psychedelic. But he thinks the counselor shouldn’t show his feelings. I’m the counsellor, not a circus director, he once said.”
German Vice Chancellor and Economy Minister Robert Habeck has been more popular lately. He constantly appears in self-recorded videos explaining the complex and painful choices the government must make about gas reserves and nationalizing energy companies. Within Schulze’s party, they sarcastically call him “Erklärbär”, an interpretation that holds, who is also a character in a German comic strip.
Now that the government has had to convince residents to save a lot of energy due to the energy crisis, Habeck is also not afraid to offer saving tips. When Schulze is asked next in an interview if he has any advice, his answer is short: “No.”
Hamburger Haider thinks this is also his sense of humor in Hamburg. “But I can imagine they don’t understand that in the rest of Germany and the world.”
Hassell sees a big difference between the chancellor’s view of inside and outside government. “The ruling parties themselves say: the chancellor is leading, but in the background. Only this is not seen as such.”
However, Schultz’s opinion has fallen in the polls. While before the war a majority still believed he was doing his job well, a recent poll showed that 62 percent of Germans were dissatisfied with the chancellor.
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