Scholz held the floor in the Bundestag on Wednesday in a two-hour speech in which he set out the new government’s plans for the coming four years.
The lengthy speech – which is a traditional fixture for incoming German governments – was his first address since he became the ninth chancellor of Germany last week, taking over from Angela Merkel who was in office for 16 years.
Touching on overarching themes of respect, solidarity and support for everyone in the country, Scholz showed his Social Democratic colours throughout.
But he also hammered the home the fact that things were going to change in the coming years. He talked about a transformation in the way businesses and people go about their lives as the country aims to do as much as possible to protect the climate.
Scholz also called for solidarity and for people to get vaccinated to combat the Covid pandemic.
Here’s a look at some of the points Scholz touched on in his wide-ranging speech.
Immigration and citizenship
As The Local has been reporting, the new German coalition government is planning an overhaul of the immigration system and citizenship processes.
We’ve been looking at this theme in detail because it affects to so many of our readers – most of whom are foreigners in Germany themselves.
“Germany is an immigration country,” said Scholz as he addressed the Bundestag. “It’s high time we understand ourselves. Therefore it’s high time we make it easier to become a German citizen.”
“It is only on this basis that we can make full integration and political participation possible.”
Scholz said the new German government plans to make citizenship possible after five years in Germany – reducing it from the current eight years.
The coalition plans also state that this could be reduced to three years in the case of special integration achievements.
There are also plans to relax the current strict rules on holding more than one citizenship. This would be beneficial for non-EU nationals who – on the whole – are not granted more than one passport if they apply to be naturalised in Germany.
“We’re going to make multiple citizenship possible, which is in keeping with many people in this country,” said Scholz, adding that it will allow people to hold the citizenship of their country of origin as well as German citizenship.
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Scholz said the coalition planned to enact a new immigration law. The coalition has said there are plans to introduce a points-based system of immigration to attract more skilled workers.
The new government also wants to streamline processes.
“It will be easier for immigrants to find jobs in Germany,” said Scholz in the Bundestag. “Educational qualifications from people coming from abroad should be recognised more easily.”
Climate, modernisation and business
In the fight to slow down climate change, Scholz told people in Germany that there would be far-reaching changes.
The phase-out of fossil fuels must be accelerated, he said. By 2030, 80 percent of electricity demand is to come from renewable sources. “This means that the biggest transformation of our industry and economy in at least 100 years lies ahead of us,” said the Chancellor.
“The prosperity of our country depends on our ability to build the infrastructures for the climate-neutral age.”
In general, he said, the coming years would be about modernising and investing in many areas – from charging stations and wind farms, to digitalisation and administration.
There is no point in “saving against the crisis”, said Scholz underlining the need to invest in the changes the country needs.
He talked of a “new era” in Germany’s digital path.
“Germany has to come back to the top of the league in terms of digital infrastructure,” said Scholz. “And for that reason we will invest in future technologies.”
On the subject of financing, Scholz said that spending would be put to the test and there would be a crack down on tax evasion.
Scholz, however, did attribute a big role to the economy and promised “super write-offs” in 2022 and 2023 for investments in climate protection and digitalisation.
Innovative companies are also to receive further tax benefits, and the development bank KfW is to play an even stronger role, Scholz said – perhaps an influence from his coalition teammates, the business-friendly Free Democrats.
Scholz said the government hopes to make Germany the leading European location for startups.
Equality, respect and wages
Scholz underlined the need for equality in society, touching on class and gender differences.
He said the minimum wage hike would be an important step for this.
“We can only solve all of these issues if everybody in Germany can have a good life and there’s some pre0condtions to make that happen,” said Scholz, adding that the government planned to raise the minimum wage to €12 per hour over the course of the next year.
He said increasing the minimum wage regularly “is possible in a country that is as economically strong as Germany and is a necessary thing to do anyway.”
Scholz said up to 10 million people would benefit from this.
“This is one expression of our politics of paying respect to people,” he said. “Then there’s the topic of equal opportunities for men and women. And that has to happen now and not in some distant future.
“Everybody has the same influence, power and the same options. It also means you receive the same pay for the same work. And we will make sure that will happen.”
Housing and transport
Scholz also touched on the issue of spiralling rents in Germany as well as transport.
He said “high quality, good and affordable housing is a human need”.
But he said many people living in cities cannot achieve this. Scholz said the government needed to take action in the housing market, and vowed to build 400,000 new housing units in Germany each year, with 100,000 of them publicly subsidised.
He also said the housing crisis “won’t be solved overnight”, and added that the government would in the short-term create an alliance for affordable housing, with plans to extend the rent brake law.
Landlords will also face tighter caps in how much they are allowed to raise rents in tight housing markets.
On the topic of transport, Scholz said he wanted to see large cities “become better connected” and said there would be more night trains.
He said rural areas would get more trains, and older tracks would be reactivated.
“We want to see more passengers on our trains,” he said.
Scholz acknowledged that some people would still prefer to drive, but called for a move towards electric cars.