In an interview lasting around 60 minutes, Chancellor Olaf Scholz attempted to better explain his policy. With success?
Olaf Scholz has been in office for 161 days, which is not a long time compared to his predecessor, Angela Merkel is still 5699 days ahead of him, but actually enough to get his views, plans and messages through to the citizens be. Or?
Even after six months in the Chancellery, Scholz still has to explain himself. That’s what the office requires, no question, but obviously also its way of communicating. “Where’s Olaf Scholz?” It was asked at the beginning of his chancellorship, when it became strangely quiet around the already rather taciturn Hanseatic. Later: “What now, Mr. Scholz?” when all sorts of questions about the course of the federal government in the Ukraine war accumulated. Now the question is: “Can the Chancellor crisis?”
For around an hour, Scholz answered these and other questions from Pinar Atalay and four citizens on “RTL Direkt” in order – as he promised at the beginning of the program – “to talk about everything and explain everything”. In fact, all sorts of topics were negotiated, from the Ukraine war to rising energy prices to the botched NRW elections, but question marks should remain even after Scholz’s statements. The findings.
1. A trip to Kyiv is not planned, for (new) reasons
When will he travel to Kyiv? At first, Scholz remained silent, later he explained that the Ukrainian government’s uninviting of Federal President Frank-Walter Steinmeier was the obstacle. In the meantime, Germany and Ukraine have cleared up the “irritations of the past”, so nothing would stand in the way of a trip. But now .
“I will not join a group of people who do something for a short in and out and a photo shoot,” said Scholz in the RTL interview, “but if so, then it’s always about very specific things.” If the chancellor travels to Kyiv, it won’t be for PR reasons – so the message.
This was not well received by the insurance broker Philip Meyer: “It can’t be that you, as Federal Chancellor of this country, underestimate the symbolism, these pictures,” he said. In his eyes, Scholz must travel to Ukraine “as soon as possible”, at best regularly, because that “motivates” people.
He doesn’t underestimate anything, said Scholz, who seemed slightly taken aback. What he didn’t say: the chancellor obviously doesn’t want to travel to Kyiv empty-handed. Ukraine has recently been demanding more extensive arms deliveries, including from the Federal Republic. And yet: Even a symbolic visit would demonstrate solidarity with Ukraine, many state leaders have already done so. Especially since the chancellor is “welcome at any time,” as Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba recently emphasized, “at any time that suits him.” Scholz could run the risk of his constant refusal becoming symbolic.
2. The chancellor wants to go on the communications offensive…
Scholz tried a lot: a surprise appearance on “Joko
As a result, the Chancellor has so far claimed that he explains his policy sufficiently. “The leadership consists in not giving in to everyone who shouts, but in saying very clearly what the course is like,” Scholz said at the beginning of May. Apparently not clear enough: According to a recent survey, a majority of Germans see it differently, as RTL presenter Atalay pointed out to the Chancellor.
Scholz didn’t want to see a certain imbalance in it, after all he was a guest “to talk about everything and explain everything”, but he seems to have at least noticed the criticism of his communication. “In these times it is particularly important to keep explaining our actions,” announced the chancellor on his TV appearance on Twitter. “That’s why I’m answering questions from Pinar Atalay and the public on RTL tonight.”
Nonetheless, the Chancellor is not expected to erupt verbally in the future. Scholz is not someone who verbally spreads himself unnecessarily. This served him well for a long time, right up to the top of the government. During the election campaign, he was hardly noticed, not even negatively. And if you don’t attract negative attention, you inspire trust. That was his strategy, the Chancellery his reward.
Only this strategy seems to be reaching its limits more and more often. First the Corona crisis, then the Ukraine war, awakened a desire for clarity that demands more than the mechanical unwinding of declarative sentences, for which he was mocked as “Scholz-o-Mat”.
If Scholz has his way, he should obviously be measured by results. “I want to shape a style there,” he said in the inaugural interview with “Zeit”. “It should be about doing and not about the show.” What does he do when he first enters his office as chancellor? “I’m going to get to work,” he said to the star.
3. …but Scholz remains Scholz
Although Scholz answered all sorts of questions in the RTL interview, he routinely let criticism roll off here and there, and sometimes had to be pushed for a clear answer.
The SPD actually lost the state elections in North Rhine-Westphalia with a bang. And now? “Now, of course, we are looking again at what government options are available,” said Scholz. After all, “the parties that make up the federal government in Berlin and in Germany” have a majority in the state parliament. “Maybe something will come of it.”
What could he and his own role as chancellor and campaigner have to do with it? During the election campaign, he felt that the “course that the federal government is pursuing is supported by a large majority of citizens”. Regarding Ukraine, many are of the opinion that it is right “to act calmly and very deliberately on such a dangerous issue.”
Is he impressed by the criticism that hit him after the election? “If you feel badly impressed by such headlines, then you should look for another job.”
How did it come about that Germany became dependent on Russian energy? Were we too naive? The questions were asked by the Ukrainian-born citizen and project coordinator Viktoriia Prytuliak – and should initially receive a lengthy explanation from Scholz as an answer. When asked (twice) by RTL presenter Atalay, Scholz finally admitted: “Were we naive? Yes.” You should have put yourself in a position to be able to use other suppliers at any time. That wasn’t direct criticism of colleagues like Prime Minister Manuela Schwesig or former Chancellor Gerhard Schröder, but it was a clear statement.
At the end of the interview, RTL presenter Atalay saw “a little skepticism in everyone’s eyes”, which is sometimes part of it. She suggested another meeting later in the year to see what was actually being implemented by Scholz’s federal government. “People take her at her word,” Atalay said. “Absolutely,” Scholz replied.