Olaf Scholz has had enough
Olaf Scholz broke through an impasse in his coalition on Monday by making use of his ‘Chancellor’s veto’. It was a dramatic and highly unusual move. No Chancellor in at least 40 years has used the veto to impose a decision on their coalition.
In a brief letter to his ministers, Scholz informed them that all three of Germany’s remaining nuclear reactors would be kept online until April.
Scholz’ intervention was a bitter blow for the Green party, who’ve refused to move away from an insistence that Germany doesn’t need nuclear this winter - despite the near unanimous opinion of experts to the contrary.
A resolution passed at the Green party conference at the weekend, where they voted to allow two reactors to be kept as an “emergency reserve”, appears to have been the last straw. The eco party insisted that this resolution was itself a generous compromise and refused to move any further.
The liberal Free Democrats (FDP), the third member of the coalition, have for weeks been insisting that that all three reactors be kept in use until 2024.
Scholz had kept quiet until this week. It is still unclear why he spoke his Machtwort. His curt letter he gave no indication of why he thought the move to be necessary.
But it is clear that he was no longer prepared to tolerate a situation that made his coalition look ever more dysfunctional.
It was a humiliation for Energy Minister Robert Habeck (Greens) who’d been personally responsible for the “emergency reserve” plan. A defeated Habeck glumly stated that Scholz’s decision was one he “could live with.”
For Christian Lindner (FDP), it brought “clarity” and he promised it would have his “full support.”
Do you have friends who would enjoy the German Review. Why not gift someone a subscription?
What has the reaction been?
At last Scholz is throwing his weight around, writes Ulrich Schäfer in the Süddeutsche Zeitung. The Greens “can count themselves lucky” that they’re not dealing with Gerhard Schröder, who - cigar in hand - told Joschka Fischer (Greens) before they even started working together that “the big one is the cook and the little one is the waiter.”
“Despite all the assurances of mutual respect, there are not three equal partners in this coalition, one has significantly more weight - the Chancellor's party,” Schäfer adds.
Scholz’s declaration of “enough!” was timely and important, writes Gerald Traufetter in Der Spiegel. Habeck’s plan to turn off the reactors was “the worst decision of his short ministership” and seems to have been forced upon him by his party in order to win votes in Lower Saxony.
If even a regional blackout were to have hit the country this winter, the public’s faith in the government would have been shot, Traufetter adds. Scholz “may just have prevented the electorate from losing faith in his government's ability to lead.”
I predicted after last year’s election that Scholz would be the weakest Chancellor in post-war history, citing the biggest fact as:
“…the personalities at the top of the two smaller parties… Linder and Habeck will both demand high offices of state. Unlike the grey suits in Merkel’s governments, voters will actually know who they are - they’ll both make sure of that.”
Things have more or less played out this way. Habeck and Lindner have hogged the spotlight as they’ve argued over gas levies, debt brakes and nuclear reactors. Scholz, who is not a great talker, has been starved of oxygen.
Using his veto is a strong signal - and one that is likely to have gone down well with the German public, who like a Chancellor to show his authority.
But it came far too late. Scholz should have done a Schröder and put the smaller parties in their place before the coalition pact was signed. It remains a mystery why he gave the most powerful ministerial post, the Finance Ministry, to the smallest party.
Lindner would have huffed and puffed if he’d only been offered the Foreign Ministry, but if he’d walked away from coalition talks for the second time in four years the public would have never forgiven him.
Similarly, lefties inside the Green party are now threatening to vote against the nuclear extension. If enough of them were to rebel they would bring down the government - an unforgivable act of bloody mindedness at a time of such peril. Most of their voters would never forgiven them - and they know that.
Scholz would have found it much easier to impose himself on the coalition if he’d given his party the weight it deserves inside cabinet. Instead he has a joke candidate as Health Minister (Karl Lauterbach) and a complete unknown as Interior Minister (Nancy Faeser).
Repeatedly relying on his veto to bash Habeck and Lindner’s heads together is a high risk strategy in the long term.