Angela Merkel to bring likely successor Olaf Scholz to G20 meetings

Angela Merkel will bring her likely successor as German chancellor, Olaf Scholz, along to bilateral meetings on the fringe of this weekend’s G20 summit, in a “historic” gesture to emphasise continuity between the outgoing and incoming governments.

Social Democrat Scholz, who is conducting coalition talks to form a power-sharing deal with the German Greens and the Free Democratic party (FDP), is expected to attend bilateral meetings with the US president, Joe Biden, and Turkey’s Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, as well as the heads of state or government of Argentina, Singapore, India and South Korea.

There are also plans for a four-way meeting on Iran between Germany, the US, France and Britain. For the leaders of the G20 nations, the summit will be their first face-to-face meeting in two years. To the disappointment of the host, Italy, the leaders of China, Japan, Mexico, Russia and Saudi Arabia have declined to attend in person.

Spokespeople for Scholz, who was already due to travel to Rome in his finance minister role, declined to deny the reported plans.

The joint appearance was designed to signal “a lot of continuity in the G20 process”, Frankfurter Allgemeine reported, citing government circles. It was a “historic thing” for “the predecessor to pop up with her successor”, the newspaper’s source said.

Though Scholz has served as vice-chancellor and finance minister in Merkel’s last government, the two politicians hail from traditionally rival parties, and in the election campaign before September’s national vote Merkel had insisted there was a “huge difference” between her and Scholz.

The specific scenario that Merkel had warned about, a Scholz-led leftwing coalition between the SPD, Greens and Die Linke fell short of a majority, however, and the incumbent chancellor has declined to paint her likely heir in a negative light since then.

Asked in an interview with Süddeutsche Zeitung whether she could sleep soundly at night at the thought of a Social Democrat running the country, she replied: “Yes.”

Asked further whether she was concerned that in Scholz, Emmanuel Macron and Mario Draghi there would be three European leaders who on balance spent money rather freely, Merkel said: “With Mr Scholz I never had the impression that his purse strings are loose.”

Scholz could be officially sworn in as Merkel’s successor during the week of 6 December, as long as talks between his SPD, the Greens and the pro-business FDP continue at the current brisk pace.

Twenty-two working groups are hammering out compromises for a coalition treaty that could be presented to the public at the end of November.

In a preliminary agreement, the three parties vowed not to raise taxes or increase the amount of debt the government can take, perceived as a win for the fiscally conservative FDP, which has an eye on the finance ministry.

The preliminary coalition agreement also promises to fulfil one of the core pledges of Scholz’s election campaign, a minimum wage rise to €12 (£10.15) an hour.

The Greens will hope to have their way in the talks to move forward the end date for coal power to the year 2030, and only permit new CO2-neutral vehicles on German roads from 2035 or earlier.

While the Covid-19 pandemic had largely vanished from the political agenda during the election campaign, rising infection rates could force the parties to formulate a more concrete plan. On Friday, Germany’s disease control agency warned of a “growing likelihood of infectious contacts” after reporting 24,688 new cases and 33 more deaths. According to Johns Hopkins University’s Our World in Data monitoring, Germany has reported 527 new coronavirus-related deaths over the last seven days.

Seventy-seven percent of German adults are fully vaccinated, or 66% of the entire population. But a survey commissioned by the health ministry suggests the rate of vaccinations is unlikely to improve in the near future: 65% of those who have so far refused the jab said they would “in no way” take a vaccine in the next two months, while a further 23% said they would “probably not” let themselves be immunised.

The three parties likely to make up the next government have agreed in principle to end the “epidemic situation of national relevance” by the end of November but continue to uphold some restrictions within a new legal framework.

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