One only need look at the way the leaders of the Green party and the Free Democrats have choreographed a smooth PR campaign this week to know that Olaf Scholz, as likely head of the next government, will have to content himself with the position of primus inter pares rather than taking on the presidential role of his predecessor.
Merkel reigned supreme within her party, while her partner in government for 12 of the 16 years was a sulking SPD that was in a constant battle with itself.
Scholz won’t have it so easy.
The Greens and the FDP have turned themselves into disciplined electoral machines who have time on their side. Simple demographics mean that ever more voters for the old parties are dying while the Greens and Liberals gain in strength with every new cadre that reach their 18th birthday.
It is an illusion to believe, as some do, that Scholz will be able to play the two smaller parties off against one another in order to push through his own agenda.
First of all, the current Finance Minister doesn’t have much of an agenda.
He is a true heir to Merkel in the sense that he represents risk-free muddling along in the middle. The SPD was slightly more adventurous in its manifesto than the CDU, but there is still no great reform plan there.
Scholz can be summed up with a sentence he uttered in the second TV debate: “the moderate path is the correct path.” While he was talking about expanding renewable energy production, it could just as well have been his election motto.
Secondly, Scholz isn’t even king of his own castle. He lost a vote to become SPD leader in humiliating circumstances in late 2019, when party members picked a relatively unknown duo who campaigned on rolling back the Schröder-era labour market reforms.