Olaf Scholz takes reins from Merkel for new German era
BERLIN, Dec 8: 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.
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.
Asked by parliament speaker Baerbel 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 26 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.
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. -AFP