BERLIN – Germany's would-be governing parties vowed Wednesday to modernize Europe's biggest economy and step up efforts against climate change as they announced an agreement that leaves center-left leader Olaf Scholz poised to replace longtime Chancellor Angela Merkel within weeks.
The coalition will shift Germany's leadership a bit to the left after 16 years under the center-right Merkel, who gained plaudits for her handling of a series of crises over the years. Scholz signaled that the country's foreign policy would not change much.
Scholz's Social Democrats, the environmentalist Greens and the pro-business Free Democrats are set to take the reins just as Germany faces its biggest surge of coronavirus infections in the pandemic so far, a reality that somewhat overshadowed the launch.
The three-party alliance is a first for a German government and creates strange bedfellows, with two left-leaning parties and one, the Free Democrats, that in recent decades allied with the center-right. But Scholz presented it as a big opportunity.
The new government will not seek “the lowest common denominator, but the politics of big impacts,” he promised.
Scholz, 63, has been Merkel's finance minister and vice chancellor since 2018 in the outgoing “grand coalition” of Germany's traditional big parties, in which his party was the junior partner. Merkel didn't run for a fifth term, and her Christian Democrats will head into opposition after a disastrous campaign that ended with defeat in Germany's Sept. 26 election.
“We will take over the government in a time of crisis,” Green co-leader Robert Habeck acknowledged, describing the coalition deal as a sign of “courage and confidence” that fits those times.
Key pledges by the prospective partners include an increase in the minimum wage to 12 euros ($13.50) per hour from the current 9.60 euros – a move that Scholz said “means a wage increase for 10 million citizens.” And they also aim to get 400,000 new apartments per year built in an effort to curb rising rental prices.
Habeck also said measures planned by the government would put Germany on a path to meet the goals of the 2015 Paris climate accord.
It also intends to bring forward Germany's exit from coal-fueled power from 2038, “ideally” completing it in 2030.
The new government plans to place a greater emphasis on the welfare and participation of children and young people. The coalition deal says it will aim to lower the voting age in European elections from 18 to 16, and aim to change Germany's constitution so 16-year-olds can vote in federal elections too.