What Scholz’s Brexit comments tell us about Germany’s next potential leader

What Scholz's Brexit comments tell us about Germany's next potential leader
Olaf Scholz addresses reporters during a press conference on September 27th, 2021. Photo: picture alliance/dpa | Britta Pedersen
In a press conference held the day after the German elections, the SPD's Olaf Scholz responded to a question - in English - on Britain's petrol chaos. What does that tell us about the man who could lead the country after Merkel?

The day after the SPD delivered a result surpassing all expectations in the German elections, their vindicated chancellor candidate, Olaf Scholz, held a press conference to discuss the next steps.

The assured social democrat was laying out his plans for a future coalition and spinning his narrative of election night when he received a question from Channel 4 journalist Matt Frei on the UK’s ongoing petrol turmoil. 

“Are you prepared to send German truck drivers to Britain to help us with our petrol queues?” Frei put to Scholz, drawing chuckles from the crowd.

Some commentators questioned why Frei – a fluent German-speaker who was born in Germany – choose to ask the question in English at all. But it was Scholz’s calm and confident response, spoken in a second language, that drew the most attention and praise on social media. 

“The free movement of labour is part of the European Union,” Scholz said. “And we worked very hard to convince the British not to leave the Union.

“Now they’ve decided different, and I hope they will manage the problems coming from that, because I think it’s… an important idea for all of us, that there will be good relations between the EU and the UK. But this a problem to be solved.”

READ ALSO: ‘Resurrection’: How the SPD bounced back to win German vote

Scholz also emphasised the link between Britain’s ongoing shortage of long-distance lorry drivers and the unattractive working conditions for people entering the field. 

“Let me just add, it might have something to do with the question of wages,” he said, addressing a nodding Frei.

“If people want to (pick) a certain job, they want to know that it’s something very good to do for their whole lives, and if you understand that being a trucker is something that many people really like to be, and you find not enough, then this has something to do with working conditions and this has to be thought about.”

‘Doesn’t happen too often’

After the clip emerged, Germany’s Ambassador to the UK rushed to heap praise on the would-be Chancellor, explaining that it was highly unusual for such a senior German politician to take – and answer – a question in English.

“Finally a German politicians whose English you don’t have to be ashamed of,” one Twitter user wrote in German, while others rushed to describe his performance as “statesmanlike” and “effortless”.  

Some people also drew comparisons between Scholz and Joe Biden, the Democrat who emerged victorious in the US presidential race last year.

Though his potential predecessor, Angela Merkel, spoke English with most foreign leaders, she never opted to use it in public – and certainly not in any of her Berlin-based press conferences.

With one eye on the chancellorship, Olaf Scholz, on the other hand, chose to answer not one, but two questions in English. 

After Frei’s question on lorry drivers, a CNN journalist emerged from the woodwork, stating, “while we’re speaking English, if I may just ask one more…?” 

“This is a German press conference,” Scholz retorted, before giving that journalist a response in English as well. 

What does all of this say about Scholz? 

That the man hoping to take Merkel’s job is willing to stick his neck out by fielding questions in a foreign language is a testament to his confidence. 

Throughout the election campaign, the centrist social democrat has received high approval ratings and consistently come out top in polls on who Germans would like to see as their next Chancellor. (A poll released Tuesday put him at 62 percent, compared to CDU/CSU candidate Armin Laschet’s 16.)

This has more than a little to do with his calm and controlled presence in debates and public appearances. The message from the SPD in this election has been all about ‘kompetenz’ (competence), and Scholz’s gently assured mannerisms have helped convince the nation that he is a safe and experienced pair of hands.


An election billboard depicts Scholz as the “Chancellor for Germany”. Photo: picture alliance/dpa | David Young

His comments – described as a ‘mic drop on Brexit’ on Twitter by political reporter William Noah Glucroft – also say something about the attitude he may take towards free movement and Brexit if he becomes the next chancellor.

They echo the statements made in the SPD’s manifesto, where the party says it must build bridges with Britain while not accepting any undercutting of EU standards on things like climate protection and workers’ rights.

“Even after Brexit, the UK remains a close friend of the EU,” it says.

“The joint agreements can be the foundation for a comprehensive partnership between the EU and the UK. On the basis of fair dealings with each other, we will further develop cooperation in areas that have not been regulated on so far.

“A race to the bottom, in terms of environmental standards or workers’ and consumers’ rights, will not be allowed.”

In other words (and to paraphrase Scholz): “If you want more lorry drivers after Brexit, you should pay them as much as we do.” 

The next Chancellor? 

Despite some bristling by German journalists at the British press invasion, analysts believe that the presence of international media at his press conference can also tell us something about how the world has viewed the election result. 

“There is a little chancellor flair already in the air,” the regional Rheinische Post wrote in its analysis.

“The strong presence of foreign media is at least a small indication that people in the rest of Europe believe this social democrat on the stage could succeed the great Angela Merkel after 16 years.”

READ ALSO: How is the race to form a new German government shaping up?

The Post then noted that Armin Laschet “was not asked a single international question” at his own press conference. Since Laschet hails from the Rhineland, where the Post is based, the comparison hits rather close to home.

Meanwhile, the UK’s Express newspaper claimed that Scholz had “shocked” the German media by fielding the question in English.

Noting that he was “quick to blame Brexit” for the lorry problems, they added that the switch of language made Scholz seem rather like a Chancellor-in-waiting. 

“Doing so in English showed Mr Scholz is already ‘rehearsing’ for the top job, despite coalition talks still undergoing,” they wrote. 

As exploratory talks begin behind closed doors in Germany, the world is waiting to see what happens – and the SPD could still find themselves in opposition.

But as Scholz readies himself to try and form a government, he has already started the work of moulding himself as Chancellor – not just in Germany, but on the world stage. 


Member comments

  1. At the recent meeting with the French President, Olaf Scholz committed himself to reforming the EU, the SPD candidate is getting very close to the French view of the future EU.

  2. SEC公告已轰塌鸡系大厦一角
    文贵行将灭顶蚂蚁赎罪要赶紧
    当地时间9月13日,美国SEC第10979号公告大布天下,对GTV、Saraca和VOG的非法集资行为厉声断喝,据此,SEC勒令GTV、Saraca、VOG将支付5.39亿美金,其中包括退款、退息和罚款。自此,鸡系大厦已被轰塌一角,由之,诸如农场借贷、法治基金、喜币、新盖特等必将如多米诺骨牌,此前景不言而喻。蚂蚁骨干们,上愧于天,下愧良知,罪孽深重,还是投案自保要紧,否则连同郭文贵殉葬的悲戚命运近在咫尺之遥,此绝非危言耸听,善自珍重为好。
    法治不会软弱,正义终将来临。自去年7月份,SEC立案调查GTV以来,直至9月13日,时间已然不短。Sara曾说,美国人做事就是慢。但从Sara、郭文贵先后接受质证调查,路德、闫丽梦遭遇FBI跟踪调查以来,地火一直在运行,始终未息。今天,SEC的10979号公告恰如一声惊雷,在郭文贵头顶炸响,郭文贵强颜欢笑,尬聊“撕撕啦,撕撕碎”,满脸的落寞无奈,手足无措之概,跃然纸上。郭文贵自言“明天还有大事”,虽然大事究竟为何,但大势不可逆,郭文贵前景不妙,而5.39亿美金注定只是一盘开胃菜,好戏还在后头。曾几何时,郭文贵气壮山河地表示,坚决不和解。今天突然疲软,说和SEC合作成功。看来,郭氏骗局是硬撑不了了。观云识天气,蚂蚁骨干们,现在自首立功,做污点证人还来得及,不要随郭文贵之波逐流了。

Become a Member to leave a comment.Or login here.