LThere is a loudspeaker to the left of Olaf Scholz. The chancellor is standing in front of a two-meter-wide plastic wall that separates the zone with the wide seats from the economy section in the federal government’s Airbus A340. Scholz wears jeans, a black T-shirt and a gray sweater. He has put the thumb of his left hand in his trouser pocket and is holding the microphone cable with the remaining fingers.
It’s Sunday evening, Scholz is on his way from Berlin to Washington. A meeting with President Joe Biden is scheduled for the next day. Ten kilometers above the Atlantic, the Chancellor speaks to the journalists traveling with him. At first, pictures can be taken. One must not quote Scholz. This is common in background conversations. Despite the loud noise on the plane, Scholz can be clearly understood through the loudspeaker.
Understood, at least being heard is currently a problem for Scholz. On Sunday it was two months since he was elected chancellor. The head of government and the traffic light coalition started with some credit. The Union licked its wounds after the election defeat, was busy finding its opposition role, the CDU had to elect a new leader once again.
Looking for a consistent course
Then the tide turned quickly. The coalition does not find a uniform course on the central domestic political issue, the introduction of general corona vaccination. Above all, the question arises as to what role the largest member state of the European Union plays in the effort to counter Russia’s military threats against Ukraine with something effective. While London has announced arms deliveries to Kiev and French President Emmanuel Macron has taken over from Scholz’s predecessor Angela Merkel as the key European voice in the struggle with Russian President Putin, the German chancellor has been little heard in the conflict. The fact that he has a soft voice seems to have a political dimension.
Right now this will finally end up here. Those responsible in Berlin have ushered in two weeks of intensive crisis diplomacy. The start is the visit to the American capital. Shortly before the trip, the German government said it was a “classic inaugural visit to our transatlantic ally”. But it is also a visit in times of crisis. Right now the “Biden Administration” is a “stroke of luck”. To counteract the impression that Berlin is just a bystander when it comes to bringing Putin to his senses, it is reported that it is “closely briefed” on Washington’s talks with Moscow.
The same is said about contact with the government in Paris. Macron’s telephone calls with Putin took place “in close coordination” with Berlin. That doesn’t sound like a leadership role for Berlin and the chancellor. Rather after: We are there too.
In the United States, the Chancellor’s soft-spoken manner unsettled many. The public tenor was that it was uncertain whether one could count on Germany in the crisis. Berlin is on the verge of “undermining a united stand against Russian aggression” with its hesitant attitude, according to the television station NBC. The criticism was so clear that the German ambassador in Washington, Emily Haber, complained in an internal letter to Berlin that Germany was being discredited as an “unreliable partner”, as the “Spiegel” reported. Scholz must therefore ensure in Washington that this perception is dispelled. It’s about his credibility.