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Has Scholz Shaken Off His Doubters?

After a stop-start beginning, Scholz’s stewardship of Germany’s foreign policy is a lot more stable.

By , the newsletter writer at Foreign Policy.
German Chancellor Olaf Scholz arrives for the first weekly cabinet meeting since the summer break.
German Chancellor Olaf Scholz arrives for the first weekly cabinet meeting since the summer break.
German Chancellor Olaf Scholz arrives for the first weekly government cabinet meeting since the summer break in Berlin on August 10. Sean Gallup/Getty Images

Welcome to today’s Morning Brief, where we’re looking at the foreign-policy challenges of German Chancellor Olaf Scholz, U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken in Rwanda, and protests in Sierra Leone.

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Scholz Faces the Media

Welcome to today’s Morning Brief, where we’re looking at the foreign-policy challenges of German Chancellor Olaf Scholz, U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken in Rwanda, and protests in Sierra Leone.

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


Scholz Faces the Media

German Chancellor Olaf Scholz faces the world’s media today for his traditional summer press conference, with a war raging less than 1,000 miles away and the ever-increasing price of electricity set to dominate discussions.

Six months after Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, Scholz is under less pressure from Western leaders than in the months leading up to the war, when Germany still stood firm in its refusal to arm Ukraine. “The criticism that is directed towards him is not as strong as it was, and I think the reason is that he has ticked quite a lot of boxes by now,” Liana Fix, program director for international affairs at the Berlin-based Körber Foundation, told Foreign Policy, citing Berlin’s heavy weapons support as well as its endorsement of Ukraine’s European Union candidacy.

Still, after his full-throated call for a beefed-up military and increased German defense spending, his government has been accused of dragging its feet. As Lukas Paul Schmelter and Bastian Matteo Scianna wrote this week in FP, Scholz’s team has yet to present “any serious strategy or plan for the future of the Bundeswehr, the role Germany intends to play in European collective security, or the contribution of Germany’s improved military to warding off the Russian threat.”

Germans main concern has shifted away from the war itself and toward the price they are having to pay for it. Household energy prices are expected to increase by as much as three times headed into the winter as gas supplies dwindle. The dramatic rise has led to calls for price caps in part to prevent social unrest.

It has also led to questions among the German public about its support for Ukraine. Although a July poll found a resounding 70 percent of the population said they would continue to support Ukraine, the populace is split on what form that assistance should take. Just 35 percent said Germany needed to increase its military support, and a separate poll found that almost half of Germans think sanctions harm them more than they harm Russia.

That could provide an opening for more pro-Russia elements in Germany—especially those in Scholz’s own Social Democratic Party (SPD)—to chip away at what has up until now been a unified European front. Former German Chancellor Gerhard Schröder, who has business ties to Russian energy companies, met with Russian President Vladimir Putin in late July and called for the opening of the mothballed Nord Stream 2 gas pipeline. Despite calls for Schröders expulsion from the party, an SPD committee decided against it this week.

While the SPD faces its own troubles, another leader of Scholz’s three-party coalition has taken the limelight. German Vice Chancellor Robert Habeck, co-leader of the Greens party, holds the highest-approval rating in Scholz’s cabinet, whereas the opposition Christian Democrat coalition is now the most popular party, according to opinion polls.

Fix said Scholz’s foreign-policy performance has largely stabilized, but one complaint from Ukraine—about slow weapons deliveries or sluggish support—could throw perceptions off balance.


What We’re Following Today

Blinken in Rwanda. U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken continues his trip to Rwanda today, where he is expected to meet with Rwandan President Paul Kagame. On Wednesday, in the Democratic Republic of the Congos capital, Kinshasa, Blinken said he was “not turning a blind eye” to “credible” reports that Rwanda was directly supporting the M23 group in its assaults in eastern Congo and that he would bring it up with Kagame in person.

Ukraine donor conference. The defense ministers of Denmark, Britain, and Ukraine co-host a donor conference today in Copenhagen to raise funds for Ukraine’s military. Defense ministers from 17 countries, including U.S. Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin, are expected to participate in today’s conference.


Keep an Eye On

Kenya’s election. Kenyan Deputy President William Ruto continues to hold his lead over challenger Raila Odinga as the votes in the country’s presidential election are counted. According to provisional results, Ruto has so far won 50.2 percent of the vote to Odinga’s 49.2 percent. If Ruto continues to hold above 50 percent, he will avoid a run-off and win the election outright.

Sierra Leone’s unrest. Sierra Leone was placed under a nationwide curfew on Wednesday night after violent anti-government protests erupted on the streets of the capital, Freetown, during the day. The protests were reportedly sparked by a recent dramatic rise in the cost of living, which has gone up more than 40 percent over the past few months. Protesters also called for the exit of President Julius Maada Bio, who is currently outside of the country.

Colm Quinn is the newsletter writer at Foreign Policy. Twitter: @colmfquinn

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