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What to Expect From Olaf Scholz

As the Merkel era comes to an end, incoming chancellor Olaf Scholz is set to usher in a new chapter of German politics.

By , an editorial fellow at Foreign Policy.
Incoming German chancellor Olaf Scholz
Incoming German chancellor Olaf Scholz
Incoming German chancellor Olaf Scholz poses for a portrait in Berlin on June 9. Sean Gallup/Getty Images

Here is today’s Foreign Policy brief: Olaf Scholz becomes Germany’s new chancellor, U.S. President Joe Biden warns Russian President Vladimir Putin on Ukraine in tense video summit, and a British whistleblower on Afghanistan speaks out.

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Scholz Sworn in as German Chancellor 

Here is today’s Foreign Policy brief: Olaf Scholz becomes Germany’s new chancellor, U.S. President Joe Biden warns Russian President Vladimir Putin on Ukraine in tense video summit, and a British whistleblower on Afghanistan speaks out.

If you would like to receive Morning Brief in your inbox every weekday, please sign up here.


Scholz Sworn in as German Chancellor 

Olaf Scholz is expected to be sworn in as German chancellor today, officially bringing an end to Angela Merkel’s 16-year reign. 

A Social Democrat who served as Merkel’s finance minister, Scholz consistently presented himself as her natural successor while also forging his own political path. He “cast himself very much in the same leadership style that Angela Merkel put forward too—a sort of very pragmatic, sometimes a bit dry, austere style of leadership,” said Sophia Besch, a senior research fellow at the Centre for European Reform.

Scholz will have a lot on his plate. From confronting surging COVID-19 cases to countering China and Russia, Germany is facing mounting crises. “He’s going to have to find his footing, but he’s an experienced politician and a good manager,” Besch said. “I’m optimistic.”

Once in power, Scholz will head a three-way coalition consisting of his center-left Social Democratic Party, the progressive Greens, and the pro-business Free Democrats—a grouping of parties that has never ruled together before. The coalition is set to focus on raising the minimum wage and combating climate change, among other goals. 

Under Scholz, the German cabinet will also reach a major milestone: achieving gender parity for the first time. “Security will lie in the hands of strong women in this government,” Scholz said. “I’m very proud that we have succeeded in realizing this.”

With Scholz’s promises of “continuity,” radical foreign-policy shifts are unlikely. Like Merkel, Scholz has signaled his commitment to bolstering the European Union and deepening trans-Atlantic ties. “He has been clear on the campaign trail that he believes in a fundamentally strong trans-Atlantic relationship and also that Germany is fully embedded in the idea of Europe,” said Sudha David-Wilp, a senior trans-Atlantic fellow at the German Marshall Fund.

One of his most pressing challenges will be the pandemic. As Germany faces skyrocketing infection rates, Scholz has advocated for mandatory vaccines. Last week, officials also announced plans to bar unvaccinated Germans from certain restaurants, stores, and public venues. “You can’t callously watch the situation as it is right now,” Scholz said. “If we had a higher vaccination rate, we would have a different situation.”


What We’re Following Today

Biden warns Putin on Ukraine. In a two-hour video summit, U.S. President Joe Biden told Russian President Vladimir Putin that invading Ukraine would lead to major economic sanctions on Russia and prompt NATO to reposition forces in Europe. As Russian troops mass on the Ukrainian border, Biden also warned that Moscows goal of completing the Nord Stream 2 gas pipeline, expected to be a major source of revenue, would be jeopardized.

“I will look you in the eye and tell you, as President Biden looked President Putin in the eye and told him today, that things we did not do in 2014, we are prepared to do now,” National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan told the New York Times, referring to Russias annexation of the Crimean peninsula.

U.K. prioritized pets over people during Kabul evacuation. Britain’s “dysfunctional and arbitrary” response to the Taliban takeover abandoned thousands of Afghans and prioritized animals over people, a British whistleblower told Parliament’s Foreign Affairs Committee.

In his searing testimony, Raphael Marshall, a desk officer on the Afghan Special Cases team, detailed how the government ignored thousands of “desperate and urgent” emails pleading for help—and then claimed it had logged them. As Kabul fell, officials used limited resources and personnel to airlift almost 200 pets at the expense of evacuating people. Although between 75,000 and 150,000 people applied for evacuation, Marshall said, fewer than 5 percent of the applicants received assistance. “It is clear that some of those left behind have since been murdered by the Taliban,” he said. 

Chiles landmark vote. Chilean lawmakers have voted to legalize same-sex marriage in a historic decision that passed with broad support across both congressional chambers. Although Chilean President Sebastián Piñera previously opposed the law, he reversed course in June and has agreed to sign it into law. 

The vote comes during a critical period. Later this month, Chileans will head to the polls to vote in a contentious presidential runoff that pits José Antonio Kast, a far-right populist, against Gabriel Boric, a left-wing former student leader. 


Keep an Eye On

Mistaken identity? French authorities have arrested and detained a Saudi man they believe was involved in the 2016 murder of journalist Jamal Khashoggi. It’s unclear, however, if they caught the right person or if he just shares a name with their target—especially after a Saudi official insisted they arrested the wrong man.

“It’s still possible that this is the right person, just as it’s still possible that it’s the wrong person,” a French police spokesperson said. “At this point, we don’t know.”

Territorial advances. The Ethiopian government said it has retaken two key towns, Dessie and Kombolcha, from rebel forces—the latest signal it has been slowly regaining ground in the country’s ongoing civil war. Ethiopian forces’ advances come as thousands of civilians have reportedly left their jobs to enlist in the war effort. “Saving my country is my highest priority right now,” Bilet Alamrew, a former librarian, told the Wall Street Journal. “It is the main reason I left my job to join the army.”

Deadly prison fire. At least 38 people were killed—and 69 more seriously injured—after a fire engulfed an overcrowded Burundi prison. Authorities said the blaze was caused by electrical problems, which also sparked a fire at the same prison in August. 

Even though the prison was only designed to accommodate 400 people, it held almost quadruple that many people last month. Survivors said guards refused to release them from their cells, even after flames began consuming the building. “We started shouting that we were going to be burned alive when we saw the flames rising very high,” one inmate said. “But the police refused to open the doors of our quarters.” 


Odds and Ends

U.S. authorities have banned Michael Steinhardt, a hedge fund billionaire and U.S. art collector, from ever purchasing antiquities again after a multiyear investigation found that his collection contained stolen artifacts. “Steinhardt displayed a rapacious appetite for plundered artifacts,” said Manhattan District Attorney Cyrus Vance Jr. “His pursuit of ‘new’ additions to showcase and sell knew no geographic or moral boundaries.”

Authorities plan to return the 180 looted artifacts, which are valued at $70 million, to their original countries. In exchange for surrendering the antiquities and agreeing to the lifetime ban, Steinhardt will escape criminal charges. 

Christina Lu is an editorial fellow at Foreign Policy. Twitter: @christinafei

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