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The Quest for European Sovereignty | Jan. 2022 |

Just hours after taking office on December 8, 2021, Olaf Scholz, the new German chancellor, clearly laid out his policy on Russia. Interviewed by the German TV station ARD, he was asked what his new government--a coalition of his center-left Social Democrats (SPD), the Greens, and the pro-business Free Democrats (FDP)--planned to do about tensions between Russia and Ukraine. Scholz mentioned three key points: first, talks continued to be important, second, the West must make clear that European borders cannot be changed by force. Third, if they were somehow changed by force, then that must bring about "clear consequences."

Having made these remarks on Russia, Scholz went on to explain: "I want us again to remember two Social Democratic Chancellors: Willy Brandt and Helmut Schmidt. Those two leaders, whose policies of Ostpolitik and détente laid the groundwork for democracy in many European countries, where once there had been communist dictatorships. They laid the groundwork for the Iron Curtain to be dismantled, and for our shared existence within the European Union." In other words, as he took office, the first SPD chancellor since 2005 positioned himself as successor to Brandt, the SPD's biggest post-war father figure. An outsize statue of the former chancellor dominates the atrium of SPD's federal headquarters in Berlin, Willy Brandt House.

Scholz' remarks on the day had two functions. Within the party, the invocation of the new chancellor's predecessors epitomized new pride within its ranks after its recent election win. But the specific mention of Brandt--a much-loved figure across the SPD--also served to consolidate party unity. Scholz' carefully-chosen examples were also a reply to the Christian Democratic Union, the SPD's former coalition partner, now in opposition. The conservative CDU has its own traditions, running counter to those of the SPD, and it likes to remind people of its long record of supplying iconic post-war leaders.

The other purpose of Scholz' comments was far more general, aimed at audiences well outside his own political party. The three specific points on Russia were a clear formulation of the policy Scholz has followed on the Russia-Ukraine conflict, and which he has continued to follow until now.

'Sapere aude'
by Oui (Oui) on Wed Mar 16th, 2022 at 10:08:44 PM EST

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