In Rome and London, the respective heads of government only manage their own departure. French President Macron has lacked domestic legroom since losing his parliamentary majority. Chancellor Scholz must fill the European power vacuum that has arisen.
The German Allgäu is a beautiful place, the ideal holiday region. King Ludwig II of Bavaria, who was far removed from the world, had a place of retreat far from the perils of the passage of time built there at great expense: Neuschwanstein, today a top tourist attraction. Chancellor Olaf Scholz is currently on vacation in the Allgäu. Unlike Ludwig II, he does not stay there in an illusory world and stays up to date with events even in his vacation retreat.
At the start of his boss’s vacation, government spokesman Wolfgang Büchner explicitly pointed out “that especially in view of these times, the Federal Chancellor is always on duty and can always be reached”. Scholz proved the truth of this statement by interrupting his vacation on Friday to personally present the rescue plan for the ailing energy company Uniper in Berlin.
The art of resting, it is said, is part of the art of working. Scholz should use the rest of his break in the Allgäu to relentlessly take stock of his previous performance as chancellor and to reinvent himself. That would be appropriate given the tense political situation in Europe. It automatically gives the German Chancellor even more responsibility than is always the case anyway. Scholz has to prove that he has the capacity to fill a vacuum that has currently emerged in the European power structure.
In Rome, previous government partners saw off the highly respected Mario Draghi as the decisive figure who, as President of the European Central Bank (ECB), once wanted to save the euro with a monetary bazooka. Like British Prime Minister Boris Johnson, who was overthrown by his own Tories, Draghi now only manages the office of prime minister and is no longer expected to make any major decisions.
Without the pragmatist Draghi, there can no longer be any talk of a new axis between Rome and Paris, which would have been associated with a loss of importance for Berlin. The traditional importance of Franco-German cooperation for the fate of the EU remains.
So far, Macron has seemed to be the driving force in her. Now Scholz can at least meet him on an equal footing, because the French president has to cope with a loss of power despite being re-elected: his government lost the parliamentary majority. In comparison, Scholz currently has greater political freedom of action.
It’s about time he did something about it. His promising drumbeat of announcing a turning point in security policy immediately after the Russian attack on Ukraine was followed by babble. Grandly promised “ring exchanges” with other EU states to better equip Ukraine with military material resulted in petty bickering about the small print of the German support pledges. Kyiv, whose important allies in London, Rome and Paris currently appear battered, should now look to Berlin with even greater hopes – Russia’s President Vladimir Putin with malicious contempt.’
The chancellor is called upon to smooth out the blemishes left in his international image by what appears to be a fickle policy towards Ukraine. He needs to prove he has what it takes to become a true European leader. The “Neue Zürcher Zeitung” expressed strong doubts about this in June, when the German head of government, after much hesitation and embarrassing maneuvering, finally managed to make a joint solidarity visit with Draghi and Macron to Kyiv: There was a suspicion that “the chancellor what is overwhelmed is that he belongs to the not so uncommon species of leaders who perform well in the second row but are no longer up to the task when they are catapulted to the top”.
In the second row, as Federal Minister of Finance, Scholz also rhetorically grabbed the bazooka. With the help of an economic stimulus package worth billions, he wanted to tear Germany out of the pandemic shock with “boom”. After his vacation, it would have been advisable for the now German chancellor to return to the European stage with a similarly sensational performance and finally take on a leading role there.
In addition to the stresses caused by the war in Ukraine and its consequences for energy security and price stability, Scholz is challenged on another front to prevent the outbreak of a new euro crisis with all the weight of the EU’s largest economy, such as the political turbulence in the heavily indebted country Let Italy loom on the horizon. As ECB President, Draghi managed to make his willingness to defend the common European currency credible with pithy words (“no matter what the cost”). The German Chancellor must give a similarly strong signal. Fingers put together in a rhombus will not suffice.