In Germany, the arduous return of Olaf Scholz

In Germany, the arduous return of Olaf Scholz

Federal Chancellor Olaf Scholz on August 18, 2022 in Berlin. Chancellor Olaf Scholz, in Berlin, August 18, 2022. ODD ANDERSEN / AFP

There are weeks that look like stations of the cross. For Olaf Scholz, this is the case that is coming to an end. In four days, the German Chancellor has endured three ordeals which, although of very different nature, testify to the fragility that accompanies him just eight months after taking office and on the eve of a return to school that is difficult to announce for his entire government.

Olaf Scholz’s black week ended on Friday, August 19 in Hamburg’s parliament. For three and a half hours, the Federal Chancellor answered the questions of the responsible investigative commission in order to understand why the financial administration of the Hanseatic city decided in 2016 not to demand back tax payments of 47 million euros from a local bank, MM, Warburg & Co, involved in the gigantic tax optimization scandal “CumEx files”.

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Olaf Scholz, mayor of Hamburg from 2011 to 2018, always presented himself as a stranger in this affair. “I had no influence on the Warburg tax proceedings,” he hammered again in front of the commission of inquiry on Friday, annoyed by the “conjectures” and “innuendos” of those who claim the opposite.

This line of defense has proven itself in the past. In April 2021, Olaf Scholz, then finance minister and SPD candidate for chancellor, made it possible to get out of an initial hearing before the Hamburg parliamentary committee of inquiry without too much difficulty. And despite their attempts, his political opponents failed to exploit this affair to prevent his victory in the September 2021 general election.

Fear of a “Winter of Fear”

A year later, the position of what is now chancellor is less comfortable. In the meantime, the investigations have indeed progressed, and new questions arise. For example, on the exchange between Olaf Scholz and the heads of the Warburg Bank in 2016, the year in which she lost 47 million euros in tax equalization. For a long time, the future Chancellor claimed to have only met her once. Now he admits to having had three meetings with them. However, he does not want to remember the content of their conversations.

For the opposition, such amnesia is suspicious. “There are not many people in Germany who swallow Olaf Scholz’s memory gaps,” joked CDU chairman Friedrich Merz. In this case, the conservative right is in line with the left-wing party Die Linke, with whom it already seems ready to organize a new hearing of the chancellor before the Hamburg parliamentary commission in the coming months.

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