Germany’s new centre-left leader Olaf Scholz has promised to expedite a Covid-19 vaccinate mandate as part of his government’s pushback against the country’s runaway fourth pandemic wave.
After winning September’s federal election, Mr Scholz was elected postwar Germany’s ninth federal chancellor on Wednesday.
In a secret Bundestag ballot, the 63-year-old received 395 votes out of a total of 707 MPs present, with 303 votes against and six abstentions. That was 21 short of the 416 seats occupied by his Social Democratic Party (SPD) with its Green and the liberal Free Democratic Party (FDP) coalition partners.
With five MPs on sick leave, according to party officials, some 15 members of the untested three-way coalition declined to back Germany’s first SPD chancellor since Gerhard Schröder left office in 2005.
Despite the minor revolt, the grinning new leader was given thunderous applause and a standing ovation in the Bundestag chamber.
At the end of a long day of swearing-in formalities, Mr Scholz came together on Wednesday evening with his new cabinet.
With eight men and eight women, it is Germany’s most gender-balanced cabinet to date, with an ambitious plan that reflects each party’s main priorities: to boost welfare spending and speed up the battle against climate change – while rebalancing the post-pandemic budget and keeping taxes untouched. All of this comes in the middle of a €130 billion pandemic “bazooka” programme Mr Scholz triggered as finance minister, and inflation at a 30-year high.
At a time of unprecedented geopolitical tensions – in particular between Russia and Ukraine– the Scholz administration can expect no grace period.
But his top priority, Mr Scholz said in his first interview on Wednesday, is tackling the pandemic – and those accused of prolonging it. “We shouldn’t beat about the bush: we have our current problems because we a have a too-large group that, despite all recommendations, won’t get vaccinated,” he told Stern magazine.