Sunday 16 December 2018

Germany's new finance minister sets out his stall

New man: Olaf Scholz
New man: Olaf Scholz

Barbara Woolsey

Germany should stop scolding eurozone neighbours over economic policy, the man poised to become its next finance minister said yesterday.

Olaf Scholz, of the Social Democratic party (SPD), said in an interview with German magazine Der Spiegel that "mistakes were surely made in the past," in an apparent reference to the strict austerity policies of his predecessor, Wolfgang Schauble.

"We don't want to dictate to other European countries how they should develop," he said, in a sign that the new coalition of Chancellor Angela Merkel will be less strict on its neighbours over fiscal discipline.

But he said he wanted to preserve Schauble's balanced budget policy, allaying conservative concerns that the next government might spend beyond its means.

Scholz's comments seemed designed to ease tensions after a week when much blood has been spilt on the carpets in Berlin's corridors of power. More political careers seem to have ended in the space of three days than in a year of business as usual, according to German media reports, after Merkel's conservatives and the centre-left SPD finally agreed on a coalition deal last Wednesday.

The most spectacular downfall was that of SPD leader Martin Schulz, who initially emerged from coalition talks triumphant after browbeating Mrs Merkel into handing over control of the most powerful ministries - including the finance portfolio.

The former European parliament president, who has called for a "United States of Europe", was named foreign minister - but within days was forced to step down by his own party, which had not forgiven him for the SPD's poor election result last September.

Meanwhile Scholz, currently Hamburg mayor, is tipped to become not just finance minister but also vice-chancellor - a role that would make him the most powerful player in government after Merkel.

The coalition deal still has to be approved by the vote of over 460,000 SPD members.

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