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Olaf Scholz and his lost momentum

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Every day, Olaf Scholz sees the big white tent on the forecourt of the Chancellery’s main train station. It is 400 meters in a straight line to the Berlin State “Welcome Hall” for refugees from Ukraine. But in three weeks of war the chancellor was not even there to express his condolences to the people. He touches the heart how the women there comfort their children, who hold the stuffed animals tightly in their hands. See how the mobile phone has become the most important asset to keep in touch with struggling men at home.

Olaf Scholz motionless behind his black mask, the citizens already know this image. On this day in the Bundestag, this facial expression, the speechless chancellor, becomes a symbol of a low point in his previous chancellorship, he loses momentum. The traffic light parties SPD, Greens and FDP manage to give parliament a black hour on the centenary of their coalition.

The fact that Scholz now does not respond to Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyj’s speech in the Bundestag or make a new government statement on the situation is difficult to justify with the references to procedure and agenda that have been put forward. Instead, congratulations for members of parliament follow, and soon after, the debate on compulsory vaccination. The Union accuses the coalition of not conforming to Ukraine’s wishes and its own policies. The foreign politician of the CDU, Norbert Röttgen, speaks of the “most undignified moment in the Bundestag that I have ever experienced”.

Scholz looks that day like he’s not up to the task. As soon as Selenskyj appears on the screen, Vice Chancellor Robert Habeck (Greens) immediately stands up and applauds. Scholz sits at first, watches what the others are doing, then stands up unsteadily. Did he underestimate the impact of this speech by this struggling president?

There is no comparison with the Scholz moment of February 27

Scholz’s strongest moment so far is also related to this war and the Bundestag. On February 27, in a historic government statement, he announced a 180-degree turn in German foreign and defense policy, speaking of a turning point. But his planned €100bn special fund for the Bundeswehr is faltering, which would require an amendment to the Basic Law and thus a two-thirds majority in Parliament. However, the Union does not feel properly involved, especially by Defense Minister Christine Lambrecht (SPD), and also requires her to be involved in every purchase decision, i.e. how the €100 billion will be used. In addition, the traffic light in the distribution and registration of refugees seems overwhelmed, criticism of the Minister of the Interior, Nancy Faeser, grows daily in the SPD. Added to this is the argument about fuel discounts and further reductions in energy costs.

Scholz is silent: Biden announced arms deliveries after Selenskyj’s speech

There are days when Scholz doesn’t seem very strong in leadership, when he lacks the proper instincts. He is on the defensive, and the Israeli media is noticing the pull in the Bundestag. The day before, Zelenskyj had spoken before the US Congress, after which US President Joe Biden, unlike Scholz, promptly announced another $800 million package of anti-aircraft missiles, drones and thousands of anti-tank weapons.

The chancellor’s office admits this seems unfortunate to say the least. At least a short discussion should have been possible. The speech is one thing, the wrong reaction is another; the latter now significantly increases the pressure on Scholz. But it doesn’t have much new to offer Ukraine so far. NATO’s entry into the war is out of the question, he emphasizes. Zelenskyi has raised the demand for an airlift, also to further help people trapped in cities like Mariupol, expansion of humanitarian aid will certainly be reconsidered.

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Foreign Minister Olaf Scholz and his government applaud Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky.Photo: Tobias Schwarz/AFP

The dilemma: Scholz can’t talk much about what he does

His problem: he can’t talk publicly about much of what the government does. Not about possible paths to a ceasefire or a solution that would further secure Ukraine’s independence.

Scholz now plans a longer debate on the situation in the Bundestag for next Wednesday, a day before the special NATO summit. Meanwhile, China’s head of state Xi Jinping is seen as a key figure in diplomatic efforts. Scholz also called Pope Francis on Wednesday. Ukraine appeals to the pontiff to mediate. But the problems begin with the schism in the Orthodox Church: the Patriarch of Moscow, Kirill I, supports Putin’s war.

Can Germany deliver more weapons?

And with the weapons deliveries, something could happen again. But Scholz does not speak publicly about this either, also because of Russian threats to attack these deliveries. In theory, according to experts, Germany could also buy and deliver weapons on the world market, given the manageable supply options of the Bundeswehr stock.

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Poland demands: Scholz has to go to kyiv

Scholz knows that even worse pictures of Ukraine are to come: it seems questionable whether the line that an oil and gas boycott is not possible can still be held. Polish Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki and Ukrainian Ambassador Andrij Melnyk want Chancellor Scholz to travel to kyiv, Morawiecki was there. However, the nature of him is such that he does not like deviations from plans and risks. He is not a spontaneous, emotional person. If something bad happens, he becomes “depressed”. He can’t convey that with empathy.

And that is exactly how the machinery of government and communications worked on Thursday. As if this day was like any other, with many different themes. At 11 am, Scholz had his Chancellor’s Twitter account spread the word that he thanked Selenskyj for his disturbing words. “We feel compelled to do everything possible so that diplomacy has a chance and the war is over.” Three minutes later, through his Olaf Scholz account, there is a reference to mandatory vaccination discussed after Zelenskyj’s speech. At 11.30 am he will meet with NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg at 2 pm, the federal-state summit on Ukraine, refugees and Corona will follow at 2 pm, and a speech on the centenary of Egon Bahr is scheduled to 7 p.m.

When he stands in front of the cameras in the Chancellery with Stoltenberg, it is important for him to say something about the speech in the Bundestag: it is his first public reaction, two and a half hours after the speech: “The fate of the people of Ukraine touches us deeply This morning, Ukraine’s President Selensky spoke impressively in the German Bundestag, “We support Ukraine.” But Zelenskyj wants to see more action.

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