Germany’s Merkel Hands Over Chancellor’s Office to Scholz

Chancellor Olaf Scholz and his new cabinet were sworn in, beginning a new chapter for Europe’s largest democracy. Angela Merkel wished him well and called the chancellorship “one of the most beautiful duties there are.”,

ImageChancellor Olaf Scholz, left, receiving his certificate of appointment from President Frank-Walter Steinmeier in Berlin on Wednesday.
Chancellor Olaf Scholz, left, receiving his certificate of appointment from President Frank-Walter Steinmeier in Berlin on Wednesday.Credit…Emmanuele Contini/Getty Images

An era of German politics ended on Wednesday as Angela Merkel handed over the chancellery to her successor, opening a new chapter for Europe’s biggest democracy.

For the first time in 16 years, Germany will now have a center-left government led by a new chancellor, Olaf Scholz, who finds himself in the difficult spot of trying to live up to the high expectations set by Ms. Merkel.

Under her stewardship, Germany became Europe’s leading power for the first time in modern history as she steered her country and the continent through a series of crises. Ms. Merkel now leaves power after a drawn-out goodbye — she announced in 2018 that she would not seek re-election — and as the most popular politician in her nation.

On Wednesday, as lawmakers gathered in Parliament to confirm Mr. Scholz as chancellor, Ms. Merkel was greeted with a standing ovation that lasted almost a minute. She then took a seat in the visitors’ gallery. Although no longer in office, she was seen writing in a notebook balanced on her knees as the voting to approve Mr. Scholz as chancellor began.

Lawmakers approved his chancellorship largely along party lines in a secret-ballot poll, with 395 voting in favor and 303 against. Mr. Scholz, a Social Democrat with ambitions to revive progressive politics across Europe, then officially assumed the post after President Frank-Walter Steinmeier read out the certificate of office in Bellevue Palace, the president’s residence, and handed the document to the new leader.

He was then sworn in on Wednesday afternoon as Germany’s ninth postwar chancellor.

Yet Mr. Scholz will not enjoy a grace period. Several pressing crises demand his immediate attention, chief among them a pandemic that continues to spiral and the risk of a looming conflict with Russia on the Ukrainian border. He will also have to maintain European cohesion in the continuing wake of Britain’s departure from the European Union, and contend with Washington, an ally that has grown less dependable in recent years.

Angela Merkel, top center, in Parliament in Berlin on Wednesday.Credit…Stefanie Loos/Associated Press

How much of a change Mr. Scholz’s coalition government with the progressive Greens and the business-friendly Free Democrats will prove to be is unclear. The Social Democrats governed with Ms. Merkel’s conservative Christian Democrats for three of her four terms, and Mr. Scholz himself was her finance minister for the past four years.

The transition of power was in many ways set in motion when the country held elections in September. Ms. Merkel invited Mr. Scholz to accompany her to a Group of 20 meeting in Rome in October to introduce him to leaders like President Biden. And last week the incoming and departing chancellors jointly presided over a coronavirus emergency meeting with the governors of Germany’s 16 states.

In her farewell remarks at the chancellery on Wednesday, Ms. Merkel congratulated her successor and told him, “Dear Olaf Scholz, I know from my own experience that it is a moving moment to be elected into this office.”

“It is an exciting, fulfilling duty — a challenging duty, too,” she said. “But if you embrace it with joy, it is perhaps one of the most beautiful duties there are to be responsible for this country.”

Mr. Sholz in turn said to her: “It was a big period during which you were chancellor of this country, and you did big things. There were big crises we had to deal with — some of them we weathered together.”

The transition has been so harmonious that Germans said it gave them a sense of pride.

“I am a little proud of our democracy the way it’s managed this transition,” said Christoph Heusgen, who served as Ms. Merkel’s chief foreign policy adviser — “without schadenfreude, without hatred, without malice.”

Chancellor Olaf Scholz taking the oath of office in Berlin on Wednesday.Credit…John Macdougall/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images

Olaf Scholz’s swearing in as Germany’s chancellor on Wednesday followed well-practiced protocol — with one exception: Unlike his eight postwar predecessors, Mr. Scholz took God out of his oath.

When Mr. Scholz omitted the final four words — “so help me God” — of the traditional oath, it was rare for a new German chancellor. But it was not a first for Mr. Scholz: The oaths he took as mayor of Hamburg in 2011 and as finance minister in 2018 were also nonreligious.

The new chancellor was baptized as a Protestant as an infant but later formally left the church. Asked a week before September’s election by the tabloid Bild what he believed in, Mr. Scholz replied: “That we humans are responsible for one another. That we need to be just with one another. Call it solidarity of loving one’s neighbor. These values of Christianity have marked me a lot.”

The oath for an incoming chancellor, as laid out in article 56 of Germany’s Constitution, reads as follows: “I swear that I will dedicate my strength to the good of the German people, that I will enhance their prosperity, avert harm from them, respect and defend the Constitution and the laws of the federal state, fulfill my duty conscientiously and exercise justice toward everyone. So help me God.”

Correction: Dec. 8, 2021

An earlier version of this briefing item incorrectly described the nature of Olaf Scholz’s omission of “God” from his oath of office. He was not the first chancellor to do so.

Olaf Scholz leaving Parliament on Wednesday after lawmakers voted to approve him as chancellor.Credit…Christian Mang/Reuters

Olaf Scholz officially took over the German chancellorship from Angela Merkel on Wednesday, but onlookers were not presented with a U.S.-style inauguration. Rather than pomp and circumstance, the modern German transition of power involves a slew of documents, parliamentary procedure and plenty of commuting.

Although Ms. Merkel was given her departing documents in late October and was bid adieu with a grand military ceremony on Thursday, she remained chancellor until Mr. Scholz was handed his nomination papers by President Frank-Walter Steinmeier.

The day started with a secret-ballot parliamentary vote on Mr. Scholz’s chancellorship, an exercise that ran roughly along party lines. Because his Social Democrats and the two parties they will be governing with have a total of 416 of the house’s 736 seats, he got at a majority on the first round of voting.

Ms. Merkel, who no longer has a seat in the Parliament, watched from the visitors’ gallery during the moring’s proceedings. Seated to her left was Joachim Gauck, a former German president who like Ms. Merkel is from the former East Germany. To her right sat a former president of the Parliament and longtime conservative colleague, Norbert Lammert, who swore her into office in 2005.

Once the vote tally was official, Mr. Scholz was then driven roughly a mile west through Berlin’s Tiergarten park to the Bellevue Palace, the German president’s residence. Mr. Steinmeier gave him the nomination document in a leather-bound folder. Although Mr. Scholz then legally became chancellor, the transfer of power was not complete until he headed back east and was sworn in by Parliament’s president, Barbel Bas.

Mr. Scholz’s parents, Christel and Gerhard Scholz, were among those present to witness the swearing in — an event that his father told the German news media had been a dream of the new chancellor’s since childhood.

Then the members of Mr. Scholz’s cabinet made a similar dash across the park to get their working documents before traveling back to be sworn in. (While most went by car, the Green lawmaker who is the incoming agriculture minister, Cem Ozdemir, traveled by bike.) They became Germany’s new government after Mr. Steinmeier delivered a speech and a group photo was taken — with added distance because of the pandemic.

The day ended with a symbolic handover of the chancellery, where Ms. Merkel worked for 16 years. There, she thanked her staff before handing over the day-to-day affairs to Mr. Scholz.

Walking out after the handover, she told him: “Now to work.”

As Germany’s Parliament approved Olaf Scholz as chancellor on Wednesday, many Germans expressed pride in having a transfer of power that was so peaceful as to almost be businesslike.

They also took the opportunity to contrast it with the most recent leadership handover in the United States, when President Donald J. Trump claimed that the 2020 vote that elected President Biden was “stolen,” and when some of his supporters stormed the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6.

“Peaceful transfer of power. We should value them,” wrote one Twitter user, posting a picture of Mr. Scholz being congratulated on Wednesday’s parliamentary vote beside one of Jacob Chansley, the former actor and Navy sailor better known as the QAnon Shaman, who was part of the storming of the Capitol.

Cem Ozdemir, who will be the first German minister with a Turkish background when he is sworn in as agriculture minister on Wednesday, tweeted: “We can be proud of the great matter-of-factness with which change is taking place in our democracy. To defend it is the task of government, opposition & all of us.”

And Armin Laschet, who was earlier expected to inherit the chancellorship from Angela Merkel but lost out to Mr. Scholz, expressed his admiration for the process over Twitter. “Even if we fought for a different result, we can be happy that respect among democrats is so strong in our country,” he wrote minutes before Mr. Scholz was voted in.

He was also among the first to offer his erstwhile rival a congratulatory fist-bump.

The departing and incoming chancellors have also taken moments to exchange praise and encouragement.

During a military farewell ceremony for Angela Merkel last week, she wished Mr. Scholz — whom she called “Dear Olaf” — “all the best, a lucky hand and much success.” He promptly replied with a compliment of his own on Twitter: “Angela Merkel was a successful chancellor,” he said. “She tirelessly stood up for her country and during 16 years in which a lot changed, stayed true to herself.”

Some people meanwhile used the opportunity to muse about how Angela Merkel might spend her days now that she is no longer at the country’s helm.

President Vladimir V. Putin of Russia with Chancellor Angela Merkel of Germany at the Kremlin in August.Credit…Pool photo by Evgeny Odinokov

President Vladimir V. Putin of Russia, who spent years sparring with Angela Merkel over Ukraine and his crackdown on domestic dissent, sent her an unusually emotive farewell note that was published on the Kremlin website on Wednesday.

“We were always in contact and tried to find ways out of even the most difficult situations,” he wrote, using the informal form of address, to the departing German leader, who over the years stood up to him, even when he tried to intimidate her with his dog.

“In your years leading the German government,” Mr. Putin wrote on Wednesday, “you rightfully earned great authority in Europe and in the whole world.”

Indeed, when Mr. Putin’s forces invaded Crimea in 2014, it was Ms. Merkel who united Europe behind a move to punish Moscow with sanctions.

“I am sure that your rich experience as a statesman and a politician will invariably be in demand,” he wrote. “And, of course, we will continue to keep in touch as friends.”

Olaf Scholz, the incoming chancellor, left, with members of his new cabinet in Berlin on Monday.Credit…Filip Singer/EPA, via Shutterstock

For the first time in 16 years, Germany will be run by a man. But although Angela Merkel is handing over the chancellery to a male successor, the incoming cabinet will have more women than ever before. Half, to be exact.

Olaf Scholz, the incoming chancellor, kept his election promise to appoint as many women as men to his government — and not only that, women will run all the briefs related to security and diplomacy.

Germany will have its first female foreign minister and its first female interior minister. It will also get its third female defense minister in a row.

“Security will lie in the hands of strong women in this government,” Mr. Scholz said on Monday. “Women and men account for half the population each, so women should also get half the power,” he added. “I’m very proud that we have succeeded in realizing this.”

That he is doing something Ms. Merkel never achieved herself — gender parity in the cabinet — speaks to the mixed legacy on gender for the departing chancellor, who for over a decade was the most powerful woman in the world.

Ms. Merkel long shunned the word feminist, and until her final years in power rarely publicly promoted the issue of advancement for women. There are notoriously few female business leaders in Germany. And even in politics, where Ms. Merkel has proved a role model for many, the number of female ministers and lawmakers on her watch remained about a third.

Still, many credit her long and popular tenure with the fact that Mr. Scholz and his team felt compelled to endorse gender parity.

“Germany has evolved in the last few years, and Ms. Merkel played a big part in that,” said Jutta Allmendinger, the president of the research institute WZB Berlin Social Science Center and an expert on gender and inequality. “So in a way, Scholz followed the call of the country.”

“Merkel always did her gender politics in secret,” Ms. Allmendinger said. “She is an absolute feminist. The fact that she didn’t proclaim it publicly has to do with the fact that she probably would have lost her power.”

The women taking office this week have made clear that they intend to put their mark on their ministries.

Annalena Baerbock, the new foreign minister, has been vocal about her plan to take a tougher line toward strategic rivals like China and Russia. The incoming interior minister, Nancy Faeser, vowed on Monday to “fight the biggest threat currently facing our liberal democracy: far-right extremism.” And Christine Lambrecht, who will become defense minister, promised to get Germany’s notoriously underequipped military the resources it needs.

Unlike Ms. Merkel, these ministers seem to have no qualms in proclaiming their feminism.

Klara Geywitz, the new minister for housing and urban development, called the gender-equal cabinet “an important signal for all women in our country.”

Cem Ozdemir of the Green Party in Berlin.Credit…Carsten Koall/Getty Images

Sixty years after Germany first invited Turkish workers to help rebuild the country after World War II, it has appointed its first Turkish-German minister. It’s a historic move in a country where more than one in four people have migrant roots and where Turks have been the main immigrant group for more than half a century.

“It is a very special moment,” Naika Foroutan, an immigration expert and professor at the Humboldt University in Berlin, said of the appointment of Cem Ozdemir as agriculture minister. “For a lot of people in this country it means: If he can do it, I can do it, too.”

But to many, the promotion for Mr. Ozdemir, a prominent Green politician from the Swabia region in southwestern Germany, underscores how slow the country has been at promoting members of ethnic minorities into positions of leadership.

“Cem Ozdemir is the first federal minister with migrant roots — it’s almost absurd to say that 60 years after we signed the guest worker program,” Professor Foroutan said, referring to the initiative that brought many Turkish people to Germany to help drive its postwar economic revival, including Mr. Ozdemir’s parents.

“Visibility and recognition of one’s own group is not just symbolically relevant, but a sign of political participation,” she added.

Though Germany has had a few ministers with overseas heritage before, their backgrounds were not typical of most postwar migration to the country: Katarina Barley, a former justice minister, had a British father; Philipp Rosler, who held several senior positions a decade ago, was born in Vietnam and adopted by a family in Germany at the age of 9 months.

Change has also been slow in the Bundestag, Germany’s Parliament. Eleven percent of its newly elected lawmakers have a migration background, up from 8 percent previously, according to the Berlin-based Migration Media Service, which asked sitting parties to help identify people who have a least one parent not born in Germany or were not born there themselves.

Mr. Ozdemir, 55, was born in Germany to Turkish parents four years after the first Turkish “guest workers” arrived. That initiative was designed to bring in immigrant labor only temporarily, but many participants settled in their host country, including Mr. Ozdemir’s parents.

His father had been a farmer in Turkey before emigrating to work in a German textile mill. Mr. Ozdemir’s mother, who died last summer, worked as a tailor.

In politics for almost three decades, Mr. Ozdemir won a seat in Parliament in 1994 at age 28, becoming the first lawmaker with Turkish roots in the country. He is now popular in Germany, having served as a co-leader of the Greens for almost a decade until 2018. He is also the first vegetarian to be Germany’s agriculture minister.

In a television interview this week, Mr. Ozdemir quoted a letter of support he had received from a fellow German with Turkish roots, in which its author told him: “You are now where none of us have been before.”

Chancellor Olaf Scholz with his certificate of appointment in Berlin on Wednesday.Credit…Martin Divisek/EPA, via Shutterstock

Olaf Scholz’s incoming government has drawn much attention to its aims to bring Germany into the 21st century by expanding its digital infrastructure, digitizing the Civil Service and easing the crush of bureaucracy in regulatory processes.

But his official ascendancy into the post of Germany’s ninth postwar chancellor depended on something more old-fashioned: a piece of paper.

Even after 395 lawmakers in Parliament voted him into office on Wednesday, Mr. Scholz was not yet officially in his new role. That transfer of power happened only once he had accepted his official certificate of appointment from President Frank-Walter Steinmeier.

Paper in hand, Mr. Scholz and the ministers in his new government — they, too will each be handed certificates to make their appointments official — will be able to set off on their task of trying to modernize a country that has remained deeply wedded to paper, despite being Europe’s leading economy and a global industrial powerhouse.

Chancellor Angela Merkel’s government had pledged to digitize 500 of the country’s administrative processes, but only 71 had been achieved by mid-2021 and many administrative offices lack basic connection to high-speed digital networks, according to a study by Toplink, a digital-communications company.

Germany remains decades behind many of its global peers when it comes to modern communication in administration — a fact laid bare early in the coronavirus pandemic when many local public health offices relied on fax machines to inform the country’s central health authority about the spread of the virus in their regions.

Parliament will start that process — by scrapping the roughly 1,600 fax machines in its own offices.

Chancellor Angela Merkel on Nov. 22, 2005, the day she took the oath of office in Parliament.Credit…Michael Hanschke/European Pressphoto Agency

When Angela Merkel became Germany’s chancellor 16 years ago, George W. Bush was in the White House and Tony Blair was prime minister of Britain. There was no Twitter and no iPhone. Liberal democracy was in seemingly irreversible expansion, with the Orange Revolution having swept Ukraine.

On Wednesday, as Olaf Scholz takes over as chancellor, Twitter is a veritable tool of diplomacy, Russian troops are gathering on a divided Ukraine’s border, and democracy itself seems far less certain around the world.

In the intervening years, Ms. Merkel stood up to President Vladimir V. Putin of Russia., bonded with President Barack Obama and scolded President Donald J. Trump. She also became an icon of hope for refugees and an object of scorn for populists the world over.

Her political career, which began in an era of hope after the Berlin Wall came down, now ends at a time of great uncertainty.

Here is a look back at pictures from her time at the helm.


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Chancellor Angela Merkel of Germany addressed the nation at a military ceremony commemorating the end of her 16 years in office. At the send-off, a military marching band performed three songs selected by the chancellor.CreditCredit…Stefanie Loos/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images

At a ceremonial send-off to mark the end of Angela Merkel’s 16 years as Germany’s leader last week, one highlight was the military marching band’s playing three songs picked by the chancellor herself.

Her predecessors Helmut Kohl and Gerhard Schroder had asked for conventional fare from the likes of Beethoven and Frank Sinatra. And two of the songs Ms. Merkel chose were equally predictable: a Christian hymn — little surprise, for the daughter of a Protestant pastor — and a popular enough cabaret song by the German actress and singer Hildegard Knef.

But one of Ms. Merkel’s choices intrigued many and set the German Twittersphere alight: “Du hast den Farbfilm vergessen,” or “You Forgot the Color Film,” a 1970s hit from the Communist East by Nina Hagen, who later emigrated to the West and went on to become West Germany’s punk rock idol of the 1980s.

Until recently, Ms. Merkel had rarely spoken about her East German background. But she was more forthcoming when recently asked about the song, which tells of a couple going on vacation on the island of Hiddensee in the Baltic Sea.

“The song was a highlight of my youth, which as everyone knows took place in the G.D.R.,” she said, referring to the German Democratic Republic, the official name of Communist East Germany. “The song came from the G.D.R., and as it happens, it also takes place in a region that was in my former constituency. And so it all fits together.”

Even Ms. Hagen could not quite believe it when she heard that the departing chancellor had picked her song. “I reckon it is fake news,” she wrote on Facebook a few days before the ceremony.

The choice was said to have caused some anxiety for the marching band, which is more accustomed to playing military marches. It had to write an arrangement for the song from scratch — with tubas and saxophones taking over the parts for the electric bass and guitar — and rehearse it within a week.

The ceremony, broadcast live on television and hosted by the defense minister, a personal friend of Ms. Merkel’s, is known as the Grosser Zapfenstreich, or Grand Tattoo. Dating to the 16th century, it is the highest honor the military can bestow on civilians and has been performed as the official farewell to departing chancellors since German reunification.

Compared with her predecessors, Ms. Merkel invited relatively few guests, owing to the pandemic. Her successor, Olaf Scholz, was in the crowd, as were many of the 52 ministers who served in her governments over four terms.

In a short address, just hours after presiding over her last pandemic emergency meeting and announcing a partial lockdown for people who refuse to get vaccinated against the coronavirus, Ms. Merkel left Germans with a final message: Trust one another.

“The last two years of this pandemic have shown how important the trust in politics, science and societal discourse is — but also how fragile it can be,” she said, adding that democracy “depends on solidarity and trust, including the trust in facts.”

Karl Lauterbach on Monday.Credit…Filip Singer/EPA, via Shutterstock

Perhaps the most immediate task facing Germany’s new leaders: tackling a fourth wave of the coronavirus.

After announcing tough restrictions for unvaccinated people and an intention to make vaccinations mandatory, the incoming chancellor, Olaf Scholz, took the popular step this week of tapping Karl Lauterbach, a Harvard-trained public health expert and medical doctor, to run the health ministry.

Mr. Lauterbach, often in a bow tie, has been a fixture on television debate shows and in newspaper interviews since the pandemic began. His Twitter account, where he comments on scientific studies, gives advice and makes predictions, has over 700,000 followers.

“We’ve been at this for so long now to try to get a handle on viral infections,” Mr. Scholz said in making the cabinet announcement on Monday. He added, “I’m sure most of the people of this country wished that the next minister of health would be an expert in the field — would be really good at this — and that his name would be Karl Lauterbach.”

The latest coronavirus wave has led to a record infection rate in the country, overcrowded intensive-care units, the reintroduction of restrictions on public life, a financial hit to shops, restaurants and other businesses reeling from 20 months of lockdown politics, and the risk of further dividing society.

The new coalition initially stumbled in the weeks after the election, letting lapse a state of emergency that had given the central government powers to set national pandemic policies. But it soon found its footing, passing new restrictions in Parliament, appointing a general to guide a national vaccine drive and announcing a general inoculation requirement that politicians of all stripes had promised for months would never come.

Mr. Lauterbach’s nomination is part of this more aggressive stance on Covid.

The public health expert, who says he reads scientific developments on the new Omicron variant on “an hourly basis,” has publicly argued for restrictions and warned that the fourth wave must be broken before Omicron can send the numbers spiraling even higher.

About 69 percent of people in Germany are fully vaccinated against the virus, and the number of people getting the jab has increased since infections started increasing last month and restrictions for unvaccinated people were announced recently. On two days last week, doctors and nurses in the country administered more than a million jabs a day, a number not seen since July.

On Tuesday, the authorities registered nearly 70,000 new cases and more than 500 deaths. While that’s only a slight increase over two weeks ago, it’s more than double the peak of early pandemic waves.

Mr. Scholz is expected to meet the country’s state governors on Thursday, and he has not excluded the possibility of further restrictions.

For the photographer Herlinde Koelbl, the end of Angela Merkel’s tenure as Germany’s chancellor isn’t just the end of a political era — it’s also the end of one of the longest-running art projects in world politics.

Since 1991, Ms. Koelbl has visited Ms. Merkel almost every year to take two portraits for a project, “Traces of Power,” that aimed to understand how politics changes people’s appearance and character.

“She was shy when I first photographed her, and a bit awkward,” Ms. Koelbl, 82, recalled in a recent telephone interview. “She told me, ‘I’m not used to being photographed all the time. I don’t know what to do with my arms and hands.'”

The photographer initially chose 15 politicians for the project, including established names like Gerhard Schroder, who went on to become Germany’s chancellor in 1998. Ms. Merkel, a former scientist, immediately stood out, not least for her lack of vanity.

For their early photos, Ms. Merkel wore no makeup and “didn’t seem to pay any attention to what she was wearing” unlike some of Ms. Koelbl’s other sitters. Fashion “just wasn’t important to her,” Ms. Koelbl said. “For her, what was important was what she was doing: the work.”

As Ms. Merkel gained confidence as a politician, she started to relax in front of the camera, Ms. Koelbl said. In 1998, she posed with her hands in a diamond shape for the first time — something that would become a trademark gesture.

Angela Merkel, 1998. Credit…Herlinde Koelbl

Ms. Koelbl said she thought there was a simple reason behind her use of the diamond: Pushing her thumbs together forced her shoulders up, making her look engaged. “If you have to stand and listen for hours to speeches, you look very attentive, even when you’re not,” Ms. Koelbl said.

During the first eight years of the project, Ms. Koelbl also interviewed Ms. Merkel at length, asking probing questions about her political ambitions, as well as others that seemed more suited to therapy sessions.

In 1993, she asked Ms. Merkel how she coped when feeling rejected, and whether there were any childhood situations in which she had felt powerless. (Ms. Merkel replied by mentioning the day her parents had learned about the construction of the Berlin Wall and her mother broke down in tears. “I wanted to help them, to make them happy again, but I couldn’t,” she said).

Ms. Koelbl stopped “Traces of Power” in 1999, but after Ms. Merkel became chancellor in 2005 decided to return to photographing her. Ms. Merkel no longer had time for interviews, but agreed to sit for photos once a year until she left office, and the pictures were all published in a book this year.

The photographer Herlinde Koelbl posing for a portrait in November.Credit…Roderick Aichinger for The New York Times

The recent photos show Ms. Merkel as the politician so well-known today: wearing pants and blazers, staring calmly into the lens. But Ms. Koelbl insists that the leader’s appearance has kept changing over the years.

“In the beginning, she had very lively eyes,” Ms. Koelbl said, “and now she looks at you, but the liveliness is gone. The glow disappeared in her eyes.”

Ms. Koelbl insisted that the change didn’t mean that becoming chancellor was a bad thing. “I think that’s just part of the tribute you have to pay if you get this job,” she said.

Chancellor Angela Merkel with President Xi Jinping of China in Beijing in 2019.Credit…Pool photo by Michael Kappeler

Germany’s new government is promising a tougher stance toward Russia and China, a change in mood music that will affect the rest of Europe, where Berlin has traditionally been the moderating voice and defined the center ground.

For the moment these are just promises, soothing words for the members of the coalition’s three unusually divergent political parties. But the government’s commitments to Europe, NATO and the trans-Atlantic relationship are solid, part of postwar Germany’s DNA. And based on tradition and the importance for Europe of the Berlin-Paris relationship, Chancellor Olaf Scholz will visit France almost immediately after being sworn in.

In a modest but important shift in tone, the coalition is promising a more robust and practical military positioning, backing the notion that the European Union must become better able to defend its interests as the United States focuses more on China and the Indo-Pacific. Mr. Scholz speaks regularly of “European sovereignty,” a softer version of the “strategic autonomy” favored by President Emmanuel Macron of France.

Veering from a traditional demand for a “European army,” the governing agreement instead calls for “increased cooperation between national armies of E.U. members willing to integrate, especially in training, capabilities, operations and equipment” — a position that will please Mr. Macron, whose country takes over the rotating European presidency on Jan. 1 and is himself running for re-election in April.

The agreement also promises to improve the woeful state of Germany’s armed forces, though it is silent on the country’s 2014 pledge to increase military spending to the 2 percent of economic output promised to NATO by 2024. Instead, there is a fuzzy promise to spend, “in the long run,” 3 percent on diplomacy, international development and defense.

Jana Puglierin of the European Council on Foreign Relations assessed the plan’s defense and foreign policy planks as “carefully balanced” and “stronger than I expected.” She pointed in particular to a commitment to continue “nuclear sharing” with NATO, whereby German airplanes would drop U.S.-owned nuclear bombs in the case of all-out war and replace aging aircraft.

On China, said Janka Oertel, the same research institute’s Asia director, talk of the country as “a strategic partner is definitely gone,” with much more emphasis on Beijing as “a systemic rival” and economic competitor. There are explicit mentions of Taiwan, abuses in Hong Kong and rights violations in Xinjiang, which will not please Beijing, she said.

There is a promise, however vague, to at least coordinate Germany’s policy on China with European policy. And the coalition is pulling back from Angela Merkel’s support for an E.U.-China investment treaty. But given the power of German industry and its reliance on an export model, it remains to be seen how confrontational the new government will be with China.

The language on Russia, too, is “very sober,” Ms. Puglierin said, and takes account of the concerns of Central European and Baltic nations. “Germany is no longer looking for good relations with Russia,” she said, “but for stable relations and constructive dialogue.”

Olaf Scholz on a screen at the headquarters of the Social Democrats in Berlin on election night.Credit…Laetitia Vancon for The New York Times

Olaf Scholz has promised continuity and stability as he takes over from Angela Merkel, but he also intends to make Germany a political laboratory of sorts — to try to repair the bridge between his Social Democrats and the working class, an effort with parallels to President Biden’s political agenda in the United States.

Once a fiery young socialist who joined his party as a teenager, Mr. Scholz defended workers as a labor lawyer in the 1970s before gradually mellowing into a post-ideological centrist. Today he is considered to be to the right of much of the party’s base, not unlike Mr. Biden, with whom he is sometimes compared, even though, like Mr. Biden, he has demonstrated some liberal reflexes.

“He was an idealist in his youth, then became a technocrat and even a hyper-technocrat,” Kevin Kuhnert, a prominent figure in the Social Democrat’s left wing, said of the incoming chancellor. “But I think he might be getting more radical again, at a more advanced age.”

Mr. Scholz has traveled extensively in the United States, including in the years before the 2016 election. He also spent months analyzing why the Democrats lost that vote and reading a raft of books by authors from working-class backgrounds in the United States, France and Germany.

“He studied very carefully what happened in the United States,” said Cem Ozdemir, a prominent member of the Greens who is a minister in Mr. Scholz’s government.

When Mr. Scholz’s party collapsed in the 2017 election, he wrote an unsparing paper concluding that it had lost their core voters in part because it had failed to offer them “recognition.”

During the pandemic, Mr. Scholz, then finance minister, impressed critics on the left when he unleashed hundreds of billions of euros in state aid to help struggling workers and businesses. The pandemic, in turn, highlighted how people suddenly deemed essential often were not paid much.

“The pandemic has shown whose shoulders our society is built on,” he told reporters on the campaign trail — “who works hard and still benefits too little from an economic upswing.”

An assembly line for electric cars in Sindelfingen, Germany, in September.Credit…Lena Mucha for The New York Times

Cutting bureaucratic red tape, holding off on new taxes, easing immigration restrictions to attract skilled workers — those are among the goals proposed by the new government of Chancellor Olaf Scholz that businesses in Germany have applauded.

Such aims are part of a pledge by the incoming administration to upgrade Germany’s economy by investing in infrastructure and anchoring the country in the digital age, all while achieving carbon neutrality by 2045.

“We are setting the course for a social-ecological market economy and ushering in a decade of investment in the future,” the lawmakers stated in a 177-page agreement laying out their plans.

The new governments ambitions have been welcomed by many businesses and industries across Germany, Europe’s largest economy, for their scale and for the focus on growth in a digital age.

“The strength of this coalition agreement lies not only in its willingness to take risks in order to seize opportunities,” Clemens Feust, head of the Ifo Institute in Munich, a business research group, wrote in a commentary for the newspaper Handelsblatt. “It also lies in the fact that many of the projects are well thought out and take scientific concepts into account.”

Under Mr. Scholz, electric cars are to flood German freeways, with an aim of having 15 million battery-powered vehicles and the charging infrastructure they require by 2030. That will mean a huge restructuring of Germany’s powerful automobile industry, which is lagging behind competitors in China and the United States in the innovation and technology necessary for such a change.

The cannabis industry is also expected to benefit, with the new government planning to legalize the drug for private consumption in the hope of ensuring quality control and bolstering the protection of minors by allowing controlled distribution.

Yet some people have expressed concern about how the government will pay for the economic changes, worrying that the burden could fall on businesses.

The government wants to move up the time when Germany quits coal, to 2030, from the previously agreed date of 2038. That would require a 15 percent increase in renewable energy from the country’s current levels by the end of this decade if it is to keep the lights on and the factories humming.

It has also proposed reserving 2 percent of land for wind farms and amping up the amount of energy produced by turbines off the country’s northern coast. In addition, a proposed law would require the installation of solar panels on the roofs of all new commercial buildings, with the amount of solar-powered energy in the country to be tripled by the end of this decade.

Yet some industry leaders fear that such moves could eat away at competitiveness.

“The climate protection requirements in Germany as a business location are significantly higher and more binding than in other economic areas,” said Peter Adrian, the president of the Association of German Chambers of Commerce and Industry, “and even among our E.U. neighbors.”

Preparing a pipe for Nord Stream 2 in the Baltic Sea onboard a pipe-laying ship in 2019.Credit…Stine Jacobsen/Reuters

The Nord Stream 2 pipeline, a 750-mile structure built to carry natural gas directly from Russia to Germany, was one of Angela Merkel’s most disputed policy decisions in her 16 years as chancellor.

Reviled by Poland and the Baltic countries for financial reasons and the United States for geopolitical ones, the pipeline was completed this year. But no gas will flow through until it gains approval from Germany’s regulator.

Now, it will be up to Chancellor Olaf Scholz to figure out what to do about it — at a time when energy prices are rising and his government has committed to end Germany’s burning of coal by 2030 and exit nuclear power by the end of next year.

“We need this gas pipeline,” said Manuela Schwesig, the Social Democratic governor of the state of Mecklenburg-Western Pomerania, where it reaches Germany, told Der Spiegel newsmagazine. “If we are to quit nuclear energy and coal, at least until they can be replaced by renewable energy, we need to rely on natural gas.”

The pipeline is owned by a consortium that is based in Switzerland but led by Gazprom, the Russian energy monopoly. Last month, Germany’s regulator halted the process to approve it, saying that the consortium needed to set up an independent division based in Germany to comply with European Union law that bars producers of natural gas from owning pipelines that transport it to customers.

That ruling bought the new government some time in figuring out how to proceed. And Annalena Baerbock, Germany’s incoming foreign minister, has indicated that the government will respect E.U. policy.

Ms. Merkel signed the Nord Stream 2 pipeline into existence in 2015 and held fast to the project throughout her term in office. That angered several E.U. partners and Ukraine, all of which stand to lose income from transit fees through their countries, and the United States, which has repeatedly threatened sanctions against companies involved in the project over concerns that it will make Germany too dependent on Russia for energy.

Natural gas prices have soared in recent months, and with them Europeans’ heating and electricity bills.

President Vladimir V. Putin of Russia suggested last month that swift regulatory approval for the pipeline would be the best way to make gas on the continent more affordable.

That idea was rejected by Siegfried Russwurm, the president of the Federation of German Industries, who stressed the global nature of the energy market. At the same time, he argued that Germany would need to import a steady supply of natural gas if it wanted to remain an industrial powerhouse — including natural gas from Russia.

“We need a secure supply of gas security, despite all of the clear political differences with Russia,” Mr. Russwurm said. “For industry, it is better to have a wide array of options. Every energy option that we have increases our freedom.”

Stephen Wendlinger, a baker in rural Bavaria, took advantage of parental leave legislation that Angela Merkel’s government passed.Credit…Lena Mucha for The New York Times

As Chancellor Angela Merkel leaves office after 16 years, to travel the country she leaves behind is to see it profoundly transformed.

There is the father taking paid parental leave in Catholic Bavaria. The married gay couple raising two children outside Berlin. The woman in a hijab teaching math in a high school near Frankfurt, where most students have German passports but few have German parents.

There is the coal worker in the former Communist East voting for a far-right party that did not exist when Ms. Merkel took office. And two young brothers on a North Sea island threatened by rising sea levels who do not remember a time when Ms. Merkel was not chancellor and cannot wait to see her gone.

Whereas many of her postwar predecessors had strongly defined legacies — Konrad Adenauer anchoring Germany in the West, Willy Brandt reaching across the Iron Curtain, Helmut Kohl becoming synonymous with German unity — Ms. Merkel’s is less tangible but equally transformative.

As she steered her country through successive crises and left others unattended, Ms. Merkel changed Germany into a modern society, a country less defined by its history.

“In a way we’ve become a more normal country,” said Karin Marre-Harrak, the headmaster of a high school in the multicultural city of Offenbach.

Almost everywhere, however, there is also a nagging sense that the new normal is threatened by epic challenges, that things cannot go on as they are.

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