Olaf Scholz says he is capable of lifting the European center-left from its decade-long slumber. To achieve this, the new favorite in the general elections at the end of the month in Germany speaks of a double promise: to guarantee the sustained economic success of his country and, at the same time, to end the myth that individual success is always achieved on merit own.
The comeback of the German Social Democrats fuels their hopes of succeeding Merkel
The current Chancellor of the Exchequer and Chancellor of the Exchequer of the German Government has surprised the polls by placing the Social Democratic Party (SPD) above Angela Merkel’s Christian Democratic Union (CDU) in large part due to a reputation for fiscal prudence and rationality. in decision-making reminiscent of that of the outgoing Chancellor.
On an extensive interview with The Guardian Ahead of a rally in the university city of Göttingen, Lower Saxony, Scholz says he will use the political victory apparently within his grasp to restart the debate on how to redefine professional and social merit. “Why did Britain vote for Brexit if it was against its own interests? Why did the US vote for Trump? I think it’s because people suffer from deep social insecurities and feel that what they do is not valued.”
“We see the same dissatisfaction and insecurity not only in the US or the UK, but also in the Netherlands, Sweden, Denmark, Finland, Norway, Austria or Germany, countries that seen from the outside may seem like they have no problem. In certain professional classes , the meritocratic euphoria has led many to believe that their success depends only on themselves. As a result, those who really keep everything running do not receive the respect they deserve. That has to change, “says the 63-year-old Social Democratic candidate.
Scholz’s campaign focuses on the word “respect” and is inspired by the latest writings on “the tyranny of merit” by Harvard philosopher Michael Sandel. In statements to The Guardian, Scholz says he was “shocked” by British sociologist Michael Young’s book The Rise of Meritocracy (The Rise of Meritocracy), published in 1958. “Young described the rise of meritocracy as a dystopian satire of the year 2034, but it has ended up becoming an almost prophetic description of the trends of our time.”
Thinkers like Sandel and Daniel Markovits argue that meritocracy – a political system that seeks to reward individuals based on their talent, effort, and achievement – has come to be governed by trained knowledge workers, who define merit alone based on their own values and forget to recognize the more physical jobs.
“There is nothing wrong with merit as such,” says Scholz. “But it’s something that shouldn’t be limited to just the top earners and those with college degrees. A security guard also has merit. Manual workers deserve no less respect than college graduates.”
That the possible next leader of the main European economy adopts these arguments is significant. But in the case of Scholz, it can also be risky: in his day, the third way of the European and American left unambiguously defended the meritocracy and Scholz, as secretary general of the SPD during the Gerhard Schröder years, played more than a small paper.
It is also unclear how that “respect” can be turned into a coherent policy, as well as a slogan. “We have two tasks,” says Scholz. “Recognizing those other types of merit, on the one hand, and raising the wages of those who are not duly paid, on the other. It is important to have a higher minimum wage, as is improving the salary of caregivers and skilled workers “.
Their model: the Scandinavian Social Democrats
Some of Scholz’s campaign promises are old-fashioned social democracy: raise the minimum wage to 12 euros an hour, recover the wealth tax and build 400,000 new homes a year. The SPD also wants to replace Hartz IV (a penalty-linked unemployment benefit that the last center-left government controversially implemented) to impose a new, less “distrustful” welfare program called “citizens’ money.”
“Progressive parties in Europe and the United States may have neglected these big challenges for too long,” says Scholz. Among his models for renewing the left is not the Democratic Party of US President Joe Biden, but the Social Democratic parties of Sweden, Denmark and Finland.
Like its Scandinavian counterparts, the SPD is a shadow of what it once was, even after the latest ascent: polls show that Social Democrats lead the electoral race with 23-25% of the vote. The last time the party won a federal election, with Schröder in 2002, it won 38%.
And the climate crisis?
Scholz’s project to revitalize the German center-left is a test of equilibrium: his campaign message departs from the rhetoric of the third way, at least partially, and at the same time tries to wrest the crown from the center-right formation CDU as the most popular party. competent economically.
“Germany still has a very powerful industry,” says Scholz. “It is an industry with globally competitive companies, some of which are medium-sized companies with between 300 and 2,000 employees. Very few countries in the world have such an established tradition. We are still good at making cars, airplanes or satellites.”
When he talks about the task of greening German industry, with a voracious need for energy, Scholz sounds more like Armin Laschet, his center-right rival, than like Annalena Baerbock, the Green candidate. “Our great challenge is to continue being a country with an automobile industry that manages to switch to electric vehicles, that our industry manufactures steel, cement or chemical products without jeopardizing our climate protection objectives, and that we achieve it in just 25 years” .
Scholz argues that private initiative is already driving the transition to electric vehicles in the German car industry. The task for his future government would be to expand the infrastructure that allows its use. “There will be no shortage of capital to invest in this new beginning, but there will have to be a charging point at each service station.”
The SPD candidate insists that countries must not settle for mitigating the effects of global warming, but must “take significant measures to contain climate change.”
He says his government will be able to do so without breaking with the tax culture of a debt-averse country like Germany. “The debt brake is in our Constitution, and any modification would need a two-thirds majority in our parliaments. Taking into account how strong the position of the CDU and the FDP is [liberales] on this issue, no one should design their policies on the possibility of a substantial change in the debt brake. ”
An EU with its own resources
Helmut Schmidt, Social Democratic Chancellor between 1974 and 1982, is a clear model for Scholz. One of his television campaign commercials begins with the sound of his late Hamburg countryman’s inauguration speech, and images of Scholz striding toward the Bundestag.
“Politicians who have visions should go to the doctor.” The phrase is often attributed to Schmidt, a quote that according to Scholz is as apocryphal as it is unfair. “After all, [Schmidt] he was the architect of the G6 and the G7: after the collapse of the financial system in his time it was necessary to coordinate the economic policies of the major industrial nations. The same is happening today: we must give a joint response to today’s challenges. ”
Scholz’s commitment to the shared sovereignty of Europe is more passionately worded than Merkel’s. Although the outgoing chancellor was the one who defended greater economic integration within her party, Scholz points out a possible way to deepen the union of the States. “By the middle of this century, the world will have 10 billion inhabitants, and at that time, the EU will still have only 400 million,” he says. “If we want to preserve the things that matter to us in Europe, democracy, the rule of law , individual freedoms, the market economy, the welfare state, we are going to have to work together. ”
“That is why I believe that at this moment the progress of the European Union must be the most urgent mission of Germany. Even more so after the sad departure from the UK, “he says.
The Scholz Finance Ministry pushed forward the recovery package of support to Member States affected by the COVID-19 pandemic by challenging the Union’s former frugal allies. The German conservatives do not see it as a step towards a “transfer union”, but a temporary instrument that will be exhausted in 2027. However, Scholz believes that his legacy will be lasting.
“The EU, as a union, is contracting joint loans to help states overcome this crisis. We have agreed that these obligations will eventually be repaid. This is where the new comes in: these debts will not be repaid with national contributions based on the GDP of each Member State, but with new European own resources. This will make a big difference for the future development of Europe, “he says.
Translated by Francisco de Zárate