Scholz sees strong US ties, leaves Olympic stance open
BERLIN (AP) — Germany’s incoming chancellor pledged Tuesday that his new government will stand up for a strong European Union and nurture the trans-Atlantic alliance, but left open whether it will join in a planned U.S. diplomatic boycott of the Olympic games.
Olaf Scholz, a center-left Social Democrat, is expected to succeed longtime Chancellor Angela Merkel on Wednesday at the head of a new three-party coalition. He sent a message of continuity on foreign policy, and said he will continue a tradition of German chancellors making their first foreign trip to close European ally France. He didn’t specify a date.
Scholz served as vice chancellor and finance minister in Merkel’s government and already met with leaders including U.S. President Joe Biden when he accompanied the outgoing leader to the Group of 20 summit in October. His first EU summit will come only a week after he is sworn in — leaders of the 27-nation bloc are due to meet in Brussels Dec. 16-17.
The new government wants to “continue the efforts Germany has made in recent years to create a strong, sovereign European Union,” Scholz told reporters in Berlin. “At the same time, we will underline the trans-Atlantic partnership and our cooperation in NATO.”
He said he is “very grateful” to Biden for emphasizing the concept of a “community of democracies.”
However, he evaded repeated questions about whether his new government would take a tough line on China over human rights, such as by joining the planned U.S. diplomatic boycott of the Winter Olympics in Beijing in February.
Scholz emphasized Germany’s close ties to the U.S., but said that Berlin has yet to decide how it will deal with “concrete situations” such as the Olympics issue.
He underlined Germany’s commitment to the “Normandy format” of talks with France, Russia and Ukraine aimed at defusing tensions in eastern Ukraine, though that has made little headway recently. He said he was “very concerned” by Russian troop movements near the Ukrainian border, and “it must be very, very clear that it would be an unacceptable situation if a threat arose for Ukraine.”
Scholz spoke after the incoming partners signed their agreement for what they portray as a progressive coalition.
The agreement hammered out last month between Scholz’s Social Democrats, the environmentalist Greens and the pro-business Free Democrats received strong backing over recent days from the three parties’ members. That has cleared the way for Scholz to be elected on Wednesday in parliament, where the coalition — which has never yet been tried in a national government — has a solid majority.
Efforts to curb climate change are a top priority for the new government, particularly the Greens. Other priorities include modernizing Europe’s biggest economy and introducing more liberal social policies. Above all, though, the government faces the immediate task of pushing down near-record coronavirus infection rates.
Merkel, who has been chancellor for 16 years, did not seek a fifth term. Her center-right Union bloc is going into opposition after its election defeat.
Follow AP’s coverage of Germany’s transition to a new government at https://apnews.com/hub/germany-election.