Chancellor on State Visit: A Germanman in New York

Olaf Scholz traveled to the UN General Assembly. The much-demanded German leadership role sometimes seems uncomfortable to him.

Olaf Scholz walks the streets of Manhattan accompanied by his government spokesman and his bodyguards

He has never been to New York: Olaf Scholz in Manhattan Photo: Michael Kappeler/dpa

NEW YORK taz | The man sitting in the shade of the plane trees on this sunny late summer day in New York's Bryant Park looks like one of many New Yorkers who have their lunch break here. An inconspicuous guy, white shirt, black leather shoes, he has hung his jacket over the backrest of the folding chair. He eats a hamburger and talks to the man next to him.

Only the beefy security guards shielding the two attract a little attention. Ask a young couple standing nearby. Do you know who that is? "No idea." The German Chancellor. "Really? How exciting. The man after Mrs Merkel?” Exactly that one. By the way, his name is Olaf Scholz.

Olaf Scholz has been in office for almost a year. His name hasn't gotten around as far as New York. Everyone knew Merkel after 16 years as chancellor. For the first time – as Chancellor and in general – her successor traveled to New York this week, to the 77th General Assembly of the United Nations. Scholz enters the world stage inconspicuously, almost through the side entrance.

Before he speaks in front of the UN in the evening, the writer Daniel Kehlmann shows him his favorite places in New York – the library and the park behind it. Kehlmann lives in Berlin and New York. In January he was a guest at a cultural event in the Chancellery, he invited Scholz to New York, so it came to lunch in the park.

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But somehow it fits. Kehlmann's bestseller is called "Measuring the World" - a "great book", says Olaf Scholz. And the UN General Assembly of the 193 member countries, the annual parade of democrats and potentates, is also about remeasuring the world.

With his attack on Ukraine in February, Russian President Vladimir Putin called the European post-war order into question. What does the inviolability of borders count, what does international law matter when you think you can invade another country simply because you have a powerful army? Well, before Russia, other members of the Security Council have already tried that, think of American bombers over Vietnam.

But the fact that a member of the Security Council is attacking his neighboring country so unabashedly and in the middle of Europe has a new quality. The UN normally stays out of conflicts in which one of the five members of the Security Council is directly involved. It's different this time. In March, the UN General Assembly condemned the Russian attack by a majority of 141 countries.

Russia's war against Ukraine is one of the big issues here. In the middle of the annual general meeting on Wednesday, Putin also announced “referendums” in the occupied territories and the mobilization of reservists. The EU announces tightening of sanctions. The battle for Ukraine is raging in many fields, while politicians are discussing peaceful conflict resolutions on the UN premises.

The war in Ukraine also reminds the UN of its inability to fulfill its role as a peacemaker and to really enforce the rules that everyone has signed. If a permanent member of the Security Council violates them, what prevents other countries from doing the same?

A reform of the UN Security Council is overdue. Even US President Joe Biden acknowledged the need for reforms in his speech. He advocates increasing the number of five permanent and ten non-permanent Council members and bringing in countries from Africa, Latin America and the Caribbean. They are not permanent members of the UN's sole decision-making body.

Neither does Germany. It is now the second largest financier of the United Nations after the United States. Scholz announces a renewed candidacy for 2026 in New York. But the calls that Germany should throw its weight into the international balance and lead it - politically, humanitarian, militarily - can no longer be ignored. Scholz once promised: Anyone who orders a tour will get it from him. Now he has to deliver.

Seats sparsely occupied

The Chancellor embodies the opposite of a leader. He often speaks so softly that one can hardly understand him. The big stage is not his favorite place. Sometimes he doesn't seem too comfortable with the new German leadership role. You don't necessarily get the impression that the world has been waiting for Olaf Scholz, as he is escorted to the lectern in the General Assembly meeting room on Tuesday evening. The 1,800 seats in the hall are sparsely occupied, tired diplomats sit behind flickering laptops.

After all, ten minutes before Scholz's appearance, Green Foreign Minister Annalena Baerbock slips onto the Deutsche Bank, together with the State Secretary in the Chancellery and the foreign policy adviser. When the boss speaks, attendance is mandatory.

By the way, that's how the other countries do it too, you come, clap and go again. What looks like German humiliation is business as usual. Only when US President Joe Biden speaks, accusing Russia of a “shameless” violation of the UN Charter “with its brutal, unnecessary war”, the hall is so full that even people have to stand.

The war in Ukraine is also about narratives. The Russian narrative that the West, with its sanctions, is to blame for the rising prices is caught up in the Global South. Scholz disagrees in front of the green marble wall in the General Assembly. "Not a sack of grain was withheld because of these sanctions."

Sounds like a lot of pathos

It is undisputed that the pressure waves of this war reach far beyond the equator. It drives up energy and food prices, making them unaffordable in the countries of the Global South. Ghanaian President Nana Addo Dankwa Akufo-Addo put it this way in his speech: "Every bullet, every bomb that hits a target in Ukraine also hits our pockets and our economies in Africa."

In the afternoon, before the speech at the General Assembly, Scholz received the African heads of government, including Akufo-Addo, in the German House, a slim skyscraper with Art Deco details within sight of the UN headquarters. Fifty minutes were planned, it takes longer. Scholz seems satisfied after the conversation. According to participants, it was possible to counteract the Russian narrative. But Africans have high expectations of Germany.

The sentence fell: One wanted to feel the German weight in Africa. Many countries in the South also expect Germany to play a leading role in development policy; it should be sustainable and take place on an equal footing.

That can be an opportunity. Because Scholz also set out for New York with the goal of looking for new allies in this world that has to be remeasured, in which great powers such as Russia and China are staking out their claims with violence and money.

"There will be great successful nations in Africa and South America," Scholz said on Deutschlandfunk last Sunday, one day before his departure. Not all countries are democracies, but they do not invade their neighbors and have more or less the rule of law. These are allies. "To promote cooperation in this world and for the values ​​that also make up the Charter of the United Nations, that's my mission," said Scholz.

Sounds like a lot of pathos, but Scholz is actually trying to do it in New York. He will meet the Presidents of Niger, Guinea-Bissau and Chile, among others. After the G7 summit in Elmau, Bavaria, he had not only the heads of state of the richest industrialized countries, but also those of India, Indonesia, Argentina, Senegal and South Africa invited.

War has exacerbated hunger crisis

But Scholz also knows that nice words and gestures alone are not enough. It is important to regain lost trust. Germany has withheld patents on vaccines during the pandemic. In times of crisis, the rich industrialized countries also tend to be the first to cut their development aid spending.

From the 196 invitations that the German UN representation had received in advance, Scholz picked these two: On Tuesday he will speak at a food security summit convened by the head of the African Union, Sengalese President Macky Sall.

The war in Ukraine did not trigger the hunger crisis, but exacerbated it: The number of starving people has been increasing for three years, up to 325 million people are currently affected worldwide. The main driver is climate change. Scholz promises not to leave the countries "struggling most with losses and damage from climate change" alone. By the time of the climate conference in Egypt, they want to develop a global protective shield against climate risks.

Then on Wednesday he will give a short speech to mark the replenishment of the Global Fund to Fight Malaria, AIDS and Tuberculosis. Germany intends to contribute 1.3 billion euros over the next three years. The amount is relative. The UN Secretary-General has put the funding gap for all humanitarian aid programs at $32 billion. But under Scholz's predecessor, Angela Merkel, the FDP wanted to stop making payments to the fund a decade ago.

Still a long way

There is still a long way to go to "a cooperation that not only maintains an eye level, but creates it", as Scholz describes it in the general assembly. But these alliances are needed in the fight against global crises such as climate change. Whether you will recognize Olaf Scholz in New York at some point will also depend on how far he gets.

The Chancellor will be on the road again at the weekend, traveling to Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates and Qatar. This time it's not about values. But about gas and oil. To mean self-interests.

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