Scholz’s new coalition to face test over how to deal with China, Russia

Germany’s new chancellor will be tested on his leadership in terms of how he will enhance the unity of his three-party coalition and how quickly he will deal with a mountain of challenges at home and abroad.

A new government has been inaugurated in Germany with Olaf Scholz of the center-left Social Democratic Party (SPD) as its chancellor. The coalition was formed with the environmentalist Greens and the center-right Free Democratic Party (FDP).

It is important for Germany to maintain stable management of government, even if it has undergone a shift from a long-standing coalition of the country’s two major conservative and progressive parties to a three-party alliance.

Foreign policy can be described as a test for the new coalition. Scholz said his government wants to continue the efforts Germany made under the preceding administration led by Angela Merkel to “create a strong, sovereign European Union.” It is commendable that the new chancellor has taken a position of promoting the integration of the EU and maintaining the U.S.-Europe alliance, as these contribute to the stability of Europe.

The challenge is how to deal with China and Russia. Although the three parties have concluded an agreement to form the coalition, they have fallen short of bridging their differences on many specific issues.

Scholz has yet to make it clear if his country will stage a diplomatic boycott of the Beijing Winter Olympics.

In contrast, Annalena Baerbock, Germany’s new foreign minister and a coleader of the Greens, is known for her firm stance on China’s human rights abuses. Before assuming the post, she hinted at her country’s possible diplomatic boycott of the Games.

This difference between Scholz and Baerbock appears to symbolize the coalition’s precarious footing.

In the coalition agreement, the three parties express support for the vision of a “free and open Indo-Pacific” and also propose that Germany hold regular summit and ministerial-level talks with Japan. It is hoped that such talks will be held as soon as possible. After this year’s visit by a German frigate to Japan and elsewhere, it is also hoped that Germany will continue and expand such activities.

The Scholz administration must also make a critical decision over escalating military tensions in Ukraine.

The United States has warned Russia that Washington will impose strong economic sanctions if Moscow invades Ukraine. Halting a gas pipeline project connecting Russia and Germany would be a key measure in the event of such military escalation.

Regarding the pipeline, which the Merkel administration promoted, the United States and some Eastern European countries have opposed the project, saying it could increase Europe’s dependence on Russia.

The Greens are critical of the pipeline project. The question now is whether Scholz will be able to quickly set a course for his administration’s stance on this issue and put pressure on Russia together with the United States.

In domestic matters, there is also a wide gap between the Greens, which place top priority on environmental protection, and the FDP, which emphasizes companies’ positions. It is not an easy task for any country to strike a balance between measures to combat climate change and economic growth. It is necessary for the three parties to cooperate with each other.

— The original Japanese article appeared in The Yomiuri Shimbun on Dec. 11, 2021.