Sometimes it must be for Olaf Scholz as if he were living in two parallel worlds. There is the political universe with its committees, committees, party events, the natural range of social democrats. There “Olaf, our chancellor” (SPD German) is successful, unchallenged. No SPD chancellor had ever had such an obedient party behind him.
But there is another world. Because there is still reality outside of politics, that of the everyday life of millions of citizens. And there Olaf Scholz comes off much worse.
This is because many Germans are increasingly concerned about war, the threat of energy shortages and rising prices. But also because this world is often a constructed one, which also only shows a section of this country. Because the chancellor usually only meets the average consumer on talk shows. And the moderators want their programs to be as controversial as possible, so that things crackle and crackle when the chancellor answers questions from the citizens in front of the camera. That was also the case with Maybrit Illner and her last talk on Thursday evening before the summer break.
But although Scholz felt unable to score there in the cross-examination of five guests, on closer inspection this show showed that the Chancellor’s communication strategy is more clever than many think – and why Scholz keeps going on television to push his way through the trellis of questions allow.
This time the chancellor sat across from a couple of bakers, an intensive care nurse, a student and a Ukrainian. People who are particularly worried right now. The Thuringian master baker Steffen Stiebling is desperate because the costs are getting out of hand. “The prices for flour and packaging have doubled, but I can’t pass that on to customers,” he says. “What are you doing to keep medium-sized and small companies alive?” he asked the chancellor.
The nurse Ralf Berning looks exhausted, burned out from the struggle with Corona. He now puts aside Christmas and vacation pay because life has become so expensive. “Is it still worth going to work for me?” he asks Olaf Scholz. And student Rifka Lambrecht would like to know from the Chancellor why he is now relying on new gas sources and thus less climate protection and why he is leaving huge mountains of debt to the coming generation. “Apart from the 9-euro ticket, I haven’t received anything from the state aid so far,” she says.
Olaf Scholz knows that he cannot convince with the government’s measures. This is due to the measures, the round at Maybrit Illner and the moderator herself, who does not want to let him get away with generalities. So the chancellor doesn’t even do what Vice-Chancellor Robert Habeck (Greens) and the Vice-Chancellor, Finance Minister Christian Lindner (FDP), allow themselves to be tempted to do again and again. He doesn’t commit himself and doesn’t make any promises like Habeck. And given the needs of the people, he is not unimpressed and rams the argument of a solid budget and the debt brake into the debate, as Lindner likes to do. Scholz remains in the dark.
He says: “I’ve been thinking about what we do when energy runs out.” And he says: “We have a plan.” He doesn’t say what it looks like. As in the case of the plan for sanctions against Russia. Or the arms deliveries to Ukraine. This suggests that the chancellor already knows what to do when action is needed. This tactic follows Scholz’s number one rule, which is to only announce and explain what is decided and will be applied. Otherwise it will be torn apart in advance. And his rule number two, that half the government trade is improvisation. In other words, there may not be a detailed plan at all.
Of course, that’s not enough for Maybrit Illner and her group. “You have to communicate more clearly with the citizens,” demands nurse Berning. “Like Robert Habeck. If you answer ‘no’ when asked if you have any energy-saving tips for the public, I feel cheated.”
Scholz accepts this unmoved. He knows that he will not convince either the nurse or the baker and certainly not the climate-moved student that evening. The baker is about to end his existence, the nurse switches to fundamental criticism: “I lack social justice in this country.” And for the student Lambrecht, the chancellor is a climate gangster anyway, no matter what he does. Nevertheless, the Chancellor uses the opportunity that arises from such a talk show.
He puts his messages, again and again, always the same. For he knows that repetition is the mother of skillful communication. He tells intensive care nurse Berning about the emergency programs with a volume of 30 billion euros. The tank discount, the energy money, the 9-euro ticket. The chancellor explains to the master baker Stiebling about the abolition of the EEG surcharge and the construction of LNG terminals, even if that is unlikely to help at the moment.
The student climate activist learns that Germany wants to be CO₂-free by 2045, faster than other countries. Nevertheless, only the Ukrainian author Kateryna Mishchenko is lenient with Scholz.
So the chancellor’s advertising block runs with “minimum wage”, “stable pensions”, “citizen’s allowance”… Olaf Scholz says: “We don’t leave anyone alone.” Or: “We have to join hands.” He knows: Sentences like these remain easier in memory, make it into the headlines like the complaints of the other guests or Maybrit Illner’s probing questions. That’s why Olaf Scholz goes on talk shows – they’re just shows.