Olaf Scholz elected German chancellor as Merkel reign ends

New leader takes office as Germany battles Covid-19 surge and faces series of geopolitical challenges

Bundestag MPs gave Olaf Scholz a boisterous standing ovation on Wednesday morning after he was elected post-war Germany's ninth chancellor.

In a secret ballot, the 63-year-old received 395 votes out of a total of 707 with 303 votes against and six abstentions.

Mr Scholz succeeds Angela Merkel after he led his Social Democratic Party (SPD) to win last September's federal election, and formed a three-way coalition with the Greens and the liberal Free Democratic Party (FDP).

He takes office as Germany battles its fourth wave of Covid-19 and a faces a series of geopolitical challenges, including growing tensions between Russia and Ukraine.


On Tuesday Mr Scholz and his future coalition partners signed a 177-page coalition agreement promising more generous welfare, investment in the battle against climate change and steady public finances without tax increases.

Wednesday morning’s secret ballot set in motion a long day of shuttle diplomacy that was even more low key than usual due to pandemic restrictions.

After accepting the vote, a grinning Mr Scholz donned his black mask again and was congratulated by parliamentary colleagues in a long line of fist-bumps. He was then due two kilometres west in Bellevue Palace to receive his official seal of office from President Frank Walter Steinmeier.

Following this Mr Scholz returns to the Bundestag where he will take his oath of office around noon with parliamentary president Bärbel Bas.

During a second visit to Bellevue, this time with his new cabinet, President Steinmeier will make a short address. All eyes then turn to the chancellery, where Dr Merkel will thank her staff and hand over power after 16 years.

Watching Wednesday's events from a Bundestag balcony: Mr Scholz's wife Britta Ernst and his rarely-seen parents, Gerhard and Christel Scholz. Nearby sat former chancellor Gerhard Schröder, Mr Scholz's boss for seven years until 2005, and Angela Merkel.

Dr Merkel was given two standing ovations on her final day in the Bundestag chamber after 31 years.

Just 11 more days and she would have overtaken her mentor Helmut Kohl as postwar Germany's longest-serving chancellor. Instead she begins life as a private citizen with no plans, she insists, apart from things that interest her - now that she has the time for them.

“I’ll try to read, then my eyes will fall closed because I’m tired,” she said in July, “then I’ll sleep a bit and then we’ll see.”

Her fictional alter-ego, the crime-solving Miss Merkel, has no time for naps in a new novel by David Safier. As in his first successful crime novel last year, the amateur sleuth Miss Merkel and her loyal pug Putin have to solve the murder of a graveyard gardener in rural Germany.

Among the suspects: two rival undertaker families, a stonemason and a satanist. After 16 years saving the world in regular intervals, even a fictional whodunnit sounds like a welcome change of pace for Germany’s first woman leader.

Derek Scally

Derek Scally

Derek Scally is an Irish Times journalist based in Berlin