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Scholz vows ‘new beginning’ for Germany as Merkel exits

Olaf Scholz became Germany's new chancellor on Wednesday after 16 years with Angela Merkel at the helm, pledging his centre-left-led coalition would offer a "new beginning" for Europe's top economy.

German Chancellor Olaf Scholz (R) leaves the Bundestag in Berlin.
German Chancellor Olaf Scholz (R) leaves the Bundestag (lower house of parliament) in Berlin on December 8, 2021, after his election as Chancellor. Photo: TOBIAS SCHWARZ / AFP

Scholz was officially named the country’s ninth post-war leader by President Frank-Walter Steinmeier, who urged him to “ensure that the pandemic does not keep us firmly in its grip for another year” as a fourth wave of the coronavirus outbreak rages.

The former Finance Minister, who won 395 of the 707 votes cast in the Bundestag lower house, has vowed broad “continuity” with the popular Merkel
while making Germany greener and fairer.

READ ALSO: Scholz won’t revolutionise Germany – but change is welcome after Merkel

Asked by parliament speaker Bärbel Bas whether he accepted the election, a beaming Scholz removed his black corona mask to say “yes” and then received bouquets of flowers from all parliamentary groups except the far-right AfD.

Scholz led his Social Democrats to victory in the September 26th election – an outcome considered unthinkable at the start of the year given the party’s then festering divisions and anaemic support.

The 63-year-old, who turned emulating Merkel in style and substance into a winning strategy, has now cobbled together Germany’s first national “traffic light” coalition with the ecologist Greens and the liberal Free Democrats, nicknamed after the parties’ colours.

Their four-year pact sealed late last month is called “Dare for More Progress”, a hat tip to Social Democratic chancellor Willy Brandt’s historic 1969 pledge to “Dare for More Democracy”.

“We have a chance for a new beginning for Germany,” Scholz told his party at the weekend as it gave its blessing to the coalition agreement with 99-percent support.

New German Chancellor Olaf Scholz fist bumps the Greens' Robert Habeck.
New German Chancellor Olaf Scholz fist bumps the Greens’ Robert Habeck, who is set to be sworn in as Vice-Chancellor during the chancellor vote. Photo: picture alliance/dpa | Michael Kappeler

The alliance aims to slash carbon emissions, overhaul decrepit digital infrastructure, modernise citizenship laws, lift the minimum wage and have Germany join a handful of countries worldwide in legalising marijuana.

French President Emmanuel Macron congratulated Scholz, pledging “we will write the next chapter together” while EU chief Ursula von der Leyen said she looked forward to cooperation for a “strong Europe”.

Scholz’s office announced his first official visit would take him to Paris and Brussels Friday for talks with Macron, von der Leyen and NATO chief Jens Stoltenberg.

Vladimir Putin said Russia was offering “constructive ties” with the new government, while China’s Xi Jinping said Beijing was willing to work with Scholz to “promote bilateral ties to a new level”.

Gender balanced

The new Foreign Minister, Annalena Baerbock, has also pledged a tougher line with authoritarian states such as Russia and China after the business-driven pragmatism of the Merkel years.

Greens co-leader Baerbock is one of eight women in Germany’s first gender-balanced cabinet.

“That corresponds to the society we live in – half of the power belongs to women,” Scholz, who describes himself as a “feminist”, said this week.

Scholz and his team promise stability just as France braces for a bitterly fought presidential election next year and Europe grapples with the enduring aftershocks of Brexit.

READ ALSO: 

However a vicious fourth Covid wave has already put the incoming coalition to the test.

“We have to make a fresh start while facing down the corona pandemic – those are the circumstances the new government is up against,” Scholz told reporters Tuesday, flanked by his designated finance and economy ministers, Christian Lindner and Robert Habeck.

More than 103,000 people have died with coronavirus in Germany while new infections have surged since the weather turned cold, filling intensive care units to the breaking point.

Scholz has thrown his weight behind Germany following Austria in making jabs mandatory to get the pandemic under control, as experts say the worst is still to come for the country’s struggling clinics.

He aims to have parliament vote on the issue before the year is out with a view to implementing the law in February or March.

READ ALSO: Germany’s traffic light parties sign new coalition agreement in Berlin

‘Lessons of history’

Merkel, 67, Germany’s first woman chancellor, is retiring from politics after four consecutive terms, the first post-war leader to step aside of her own accord.

Outgoing chancellor Angela Merkel waves during the election of Olaf Scholz as the new chancellor.
Outgoing chancellor Angela Merkel waves during the election of Olaf Scholz as the new chancellor in parliament on Wednesday. Photo: picture alliance/dpa | Michael Kappeler

Macron tweeted his gratitude to the outgoing leader.

“Thank you, dear Angela, for never forgetting the lessons of history, for having done so much for us, with us, to move Europe forward,” he said.

QUIZ: How well do you know Angela Merkel?

She leaves big shoes to fill, with large majorities of Germans approving of her leadership, even if her own party, the conservative Christian Democrats, often bridled against her moderate course.

Despite being from a rival party, Scholz tapped into that well of popular support in his bid to succeed Merkel while pledging to tackle the widening gap between rich and poor under her.

Meanwhile, Greens supporters are banking on billions flowing toward climate protection and renewable energy, even as the government pledges to return to a no-new-debt rule by 2023.

By Deborah COLE
 

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TRAVEL NEWS

Germany approves €9 public transport ticket for summer

It's official - people in Germany will get cheap public transport for three months this summer after the €9 ticket was approved.

Germany approves €9 public transport ticket for summer

As part of a host of energy relief measures to cushion the cost of living crisis, the German government is offering cheap public transport for the months of June, July and August. 

Monthly tickets will be available at a price of €9 (or €27 for all three months) and they will allow people to use all buses, trains and trams in local and regional transport throughout the country.

So even if people buy the ticket in Munich, they will also be able to use local and regional buses, trains and trams elsewhere in Germany, whether it’s Hamburg or Cologne. 

READ ALSO: How to explore Germany by train with the €9 ticket

The ticket will not be valid, however, on long-distance transport such as ICE trains or Flixbus.

The offer was put together by the coalition government – made of the Social Democrats, the Greens and the FDP.

The Bundestag voted for the initiative on Thursday, agreeing to give federal states a subsidy of €2.5 billion to fund the project. 

And on Friday, the Bundesrat – the upper house of parliament that represents the states – gave the green light to the ticket, paving the way for it to begin on June 1st. 

States had wanted an extra €1.5 billion funding boost to deal with lost revenue, however it would have been hugely controversial if they had blocked it.

READ ALSO: German states threaten to block the €9 ticket in the Bundesrat

During a debate on Thursday, federal Transport Minister Volker Wissing (FDP) said the €9 project was “already a success”.

“All of Germany is talking about local public transport,” he said, adding that it is also being viewed with interest abroad. 

READ ALSO: ‘Fantastic’: Your verdict on Germany’s €9 ticket

The Left party (Die Linke) voted in favour of the €9 ticket, but leader Bernd Riexinger said he thought the plan didn’t go far enough. “Three months is simply too little,” he said.

The opposition, however, slammed the move. Christian Democrat Michael Donth called it an “expensive experiment”.

Rail operator Deutsche Bahn will offer the ticket for sale as early as Monday. Local public transport providers across the country are also preparing their ticket machines for the initiative. It will also be available in travel centres.

People with subscriptions to local transport will automatically benefit from the offer. 

In some regions, such as Stuttgart and Freiburg, the ticket is already available for purchase.

READ ALSO: How to get a hold of the €9 ticket in Berlin

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