When he was appointed as Germany’s new chancellor in December 2021, expectations for Olaf Schulz were very high. He has just led the German Social Democrats to the best electoral result of the past 15 years, and in the various government positions held during Angela Merkel’s administration, he has earned a reputation as a competent, charismatic and resolute politician with strong progressive beliefs.
That period now appears to be a long way off: Schulz has entered the polls and is regularly criticized by both his government allies and leading German newspapers, who scold him for his approach to the war in Ukraine thus far, but not only. In recent weeks there have been very harsh articles about him in both international and German newspapers.
The main criticism leveled against him is the kind of ambiguity that specifically surrounds the war in Ukraine. A few days after the Russian invasion, Schulz announced the creation of a €100 billion defense investment fund, overturning the conventional and modest wisdom with which Germany had run its foreign and defense policy until that point. In the following weeks, he announced that the German government would support Ukraine in every way, and that it would support harsh sanctions against Russia despite the repercussions on the German economy.
But then, little by little, his government recovered almost everything: and from the newspapers it appeared that many of these setbacks were attributable to Schultz. The German government only approved a large shipment of new weapons to Ukraine in early June, after weeks of debate, while at the same time making it clear that it had no intention of agreeing to sanctions on Russian natural gas, on which important parts of its economy depend. He reneged on a promise to send hundreds of troops to the Baltic states to reinforce NATO’s northeastern borders.
On Tuesday, it was reported that the German government will lend about 10 billion euros to the German division of Gazprom, the main Russian natural gas exporter, which has been entrusted to a fund, that is, an independent management, since the beginning of the war. German Economy Minister Robert Habeck favored the nationalization of the entire department, so that in no case could it be possible to return to the state of Russia available: but according to Bloomberg Schulz would have objected because such a decision “could have angered Russian President Vladimir Putin.”
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His fiercest critics blame him above all for his tendency to temper any potentially ambitious decision. Wrote a few days ago in The New York Times Commentator Jagoda Marinic: “The promise of reaction has evaporated in months of vagaries and delays.”
Some think it’s a connection problem in the first place. Scholz tends to speak very general language, like a “one-off” politician, which leaves many possibilities open without being too categorical. In Germany, his rhetorical style was called Scholzomat, to refer to a semi-automated bureaucratic discourse. German magazine Spiegel He accused him of being “too conservative”: “In some details he simply chooses not to say anything, as if silence were a good choice.”
But according to others, Schulze’s ambiguity has deeper origins related to his relationship with Russia, which some consider to be too weak.
Part of the ruling class of Social Democrats was formed politically at the time when the party promoted, in the 1970s, a policy of good neighborliness with the Soviet Union, which then maintained a vassal state on about a third of present-day German territory. (German Democratic Republic). Ex-adviser to the Social Democrat Gerhard Schroeder is a personal friend of Putin, since the beginning of the war he repeated his closeness to Russia and only at the end of May he resigned as head of Rosneft, the main Russian oil company. And the Ukrainian government declared in April that current German President Frank-Walter Steinmeier, who is also a Social Democrat, was unwelcome due to his past and friendly relations with Russia.
There are indications that even on issues that do not concern Russia, Schulz’s difficulties partly overlap with those of an entirely unsound party. In mid-May, the Social Democrats lost their elections in Germany’s most populous state of North Rhine-Westphalia, having come behind the CDU, the main centre-right party, in 2017. Schulz was heavily involved in the election campaign, so much so that newspapers wrote that A bad party outcome can also be considered a personal defeat.
After Schulze’s generation, the party failed to form a solid ruling class, and on some issues it seemed to be out of alignment with progressive voters. In 2021, for example, he campaigned for a simple decriminalization of marijuana use; Staying to the right is more from the Greens and the Liberals than the FDP, who have instead pushed for broader legislation. In the end, the coalition agreement ended up being legalized, and the government is expected to submit a proposal for it in the fall.
In recent years, then, the party has often been slow to close coal plants and more generally with regard to national climate goals, fearing that the party’s historical base consists above all of workers (who meanwhile have gradually moved to the right).
The upshot is that the election won last year should be read perhaps as an impromptu exception: the ballot pool Politician He points out that in recent times the Social Democrats have returned to the third most popular party after the CDU and the Green Party, exactly the position they have occupied for many of the past few years.
Scholz’s personal approval isn’t in great shape either. A recent survey by Insa reports that Schulz is the fourth most respected politician in the country, by many points below the other two leaders and ministers Robert Habeck and Annalena Barbock and after Health Minister Karl Lauterbach. At the end of April, his popularity rating was 39 percent, down 19 percent at the time he took office.