Weakened Scholz seeks to seize G7 opportunity


The last time Germany hosted a G7 summit, then-Chancellor Angela Merkel produced a series of viral images with Barack Obama clinking giant mugs in a traditional Bavarian beer garden and communing in a verdant alpine setting.

His successor Olaf Scholz, hobbled in national opinion polls and of modest global stature, may struggle to match that convivial atmosphere when leaders meet again from Sunday.

The centrist Scholz, 64, took over the presidency of the wealthy Group of Seven countries in January, just a month after taking office in Berlin.

Since then, his handling of the Russian invasion of Ukraine, skyrocketing inflation and energy supply complications have tested his government while plummeting his approval ratings.

Scholz told parliament on Wednesday that he was ready to use the three days of talks at the Elmau Castle mountain station – the same remote and picturesque location Merkel chose in 2015 – to restore the world image of the Germany and the position of the West.

“In the biggest security crisis in Europe for decades, Germany, as the economically strongest and most populous country in the EU, bears a special responsibility – and not just for its own security but also for the security of its allies,” he said.

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A series of summits in the coming days must show “that the G7, the EU and NATO are more united than ever” and that “the democracies of the world stand together in the fight against the imperialism of (Russian President Vladimir) Putin,” Scholz said.

– “The Merkel tradition” –

Joachim Trebbe, professor of political communication at the Free University of Berlin, said Scholz had a “huge opportunity” with the G7 to dispel any doubts about his leadership skills or resolve against the Russian president.

“At the start of his term and even when the war started, Scholz was quite reserved – perhaps a bit in the tradition of Mrs Merkel”, a still popular conservative whom the Social Democratic Chancellor sought to emulate, Trebbe said. .

She also “tended to be crisis-managing and didn’t pay much attention to briefing the media every step of the way.”

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After accusations of dragging its feet, Scholz’s attempts at a reset were exposed during a long-delayed visit to Kyiv last week, joined by leaders from France, Italy and Romania.

A journalist from the daily Sueddeutsche Zeitung traveling with the Chancellor noted that he had a tendency to blunder under pressure – like “an old tap that releases freezing or boiling water”.

– ‘Symbols’ –

His difficulty in finding common ground had led him to be too cautious when it came to sending arms to Ukraine, or too little, as during a visit to Lithuania this month here he had greatly exaggerated German arms deliveries.

The Chancellor, whose sometimes robotic style has earned him the nickname Scholzomat, has also found himself overwhelmed in his own heavy ruling coalition of his Social Democrats (SPD), Greens environmentalists and Liberal Free Democrats.

A poll this week showed the Greens – with popular Foreign Minister Annalena Baerbock and Economy Minister Robert Habeck both credited with a clearer message on Ukraine – leading the SPD in the intentions of voters for the first time since July 2021.

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Both parties, however, are currently trailing the conservative opposition, which has relentlessly criticized Ukraine and Scholz’s energy policies as being too timid.

Trebbe said G7 initiatives bearing Scholz’s imprint on issues such as future political and economic support for Ukraine, climate protection and the strengthening of democracies around the world were crucial if he hoped to achieve results. political tailwinds from the summit.

But he said the rally was almost as much about generating imagery, like the instant meme of Merkel, her arms outstretched, explaining her worldview to a nonchalant Obama, draped in repose on a wooden bench.

“This is where symbols of unity, common strategy and strong leadership are created,” Trebbe said.

“I’m pretty sure Scholz has a team of pros ready to take full advantage of that aspect of the summit.”



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