Olaf Scholz is actually in New York for the first time - not only as Chancellor, but also as a person. He had to be 64 before he visited the unofficial capital of the world for the first time. You can tell he enjoys it. So on Tuesday morning the chancellor treats himself to the classic activity of many New York tourists: he jogs through Central Park. And he packs another political excursion into his packed day: a guided tour of the city. A tourist appointment, but with a political aftertaste. Because the chancellor lets himself be guided through the high-rise canyons by the writer Daniel Kehlmann.
The author was present on Monday evening at a dinner hosted by the German UN ambassador, David Gill, for Scholz. Also on the unpublished guest list: "A.G." Sulzberger, editor of The New York Times, and Melinda Gates, the billionaire philanthropist and ex-wife of Microsoft founder Bill Gates.
Kehlmann must have a special connection to Scholz. Because on Tuesday afternoon he picked Scholz up at the UN building and, oddly enough, even took part in a political talk between the Chancellor and nine heads of state and government from the "Small Islands Development States" (Dominican Republic, Suriname, Marshall Islands, Antigua and Barbuda, Tonga, Saint Vincent and the Grenadines, Guyana, Fiji, Vanuatu). The author then took the Chancellor to Bryant Park, one of his favorite spots in Manhattan. Maybe because that's where the New York Public Library is located. Kehlmann actually lured the chancellor into the library. It is not known which books he showed him there. In the evening, Scholz asked him to dinner again, this time with his closest circle of advisors.
Why Kehlman? The German-Austrian author has an apartment in New York. Scholz read his bestseller “Measuring the World” and other Kehlmann books years ago. Apparently he doesn't expect any political following from artists. Because Kehlmann was perhaps the most important intellectual voice against an encroaching state in the Corona debate: “Do we want the masked society?” Kehlmann asked in an essay in the FAZ in July and warned against “favored instruments of coercion” that had long since lost their meaning had. Kehlmann called Karl Lauterbach – after all, not only an SPD comrade but also Minister of Health in the Scholz government – a “genuine populist” who “showed little shying away from exaggerations and half-truths”.
Scholz' walk in Manhattan with the writer shouldn't be a political statement, but it does encourage the impression that has long been widespread in the traffic light factions that the Chancellor is very happy that his proactive Health Minister was recently hemmed in on pandemic policy by the skeptical liberal Minister of Justice Marco Buschmann (FDP). became.
Corona has long played only a minor role at the UN General Assembly - a kind of annual meeting of top politicians from all over the world. Even the American President said a few days ago that the pandemic was "over". The new major crisis is the Russian attack on Ukraine. Or more precisely: its consequences. Because many countries in the southern hemisphere are less concerned about a breach of international law somewhere in Europe than about the resulting food crisis in large parts of the world. This is often not blamed on the Kremlin but on Western sanctions.
Scholz is working on the offensive in New York. He will give his first speech on Tuesday afternoon at a "summit on global food security" organized by the EU and the African Union. Scholz's "bilaterals", the meetings with heads of state and government on the fringes of the General Assembly, have a clear focus on developing countries.
This poses great challenges for the German protocol. Some African leaders don't have planes of their own and are arriving late in New York after attending the memorial service for the late Queen Elizabeth II in London on Monday. Scholz promises the Africans that he will not forget them about Europe's needs: Germany will help fight hunger and stand by its promises to help finance the fight against climate change in the south.
He also delivers his speech to the General Assembly in this spirit – and under special circumstances. Because the rumors that Putin would appear in front of television cameras in Moscow and herald a new phase in the Ukraine war had also reached Manhattan. If a general mobilization or referendums in the annexed Ukrainian territories were announced in Moscow, the chancellor in New York should have reacted immediately.
But then Putin still doesn't speak. So Scholz can stick to his manuscript. It begins in English and after a few paragraphs switches to German. Putin's war is "blatant imperialism" and "not just a disaster for Europe," but "a disaster for our global peace order, which is the antithesis of imperialism and neo-colonialism." It is no coincidence that Scholz uses terminology that is actually used in many developing countries used in accusations against the West. French President Emanuel Macron echoed the same trumpet a few hours earlier in his speech when he shouted at the southern countries: "Imperialism does not only come from the West!"
Scholz justifies his support for Ukraine with the charter of the United Nations, as do the Western sanctions. Then he becomes clear: "I would like to add one thing: not a sack of grain was held back because of these sanctions." Russia alone prevented the Ukrainian grain ships from leaving port, bombed ports and destroyed farms. "Anyone who wants to outlaw hunger must outlaw Russia's war - this war, which is also causing rising prices, energy shortages and famine in countries far away from Russia."
The last speech by a German head of government before the UN General Assembly was 15 years ago. Since chancellors are not heads of state, they have a bad hand in the demanding struggle for prominent places on the agenda - that deterred Angela Merkel. Scholz's turn is at 8.30 p.m. local time - in Germany it is three a.m. at night. Long after Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan or Brazilian Jair Bolsonaro.
The plenum is almost empty, most nations have only one alibi listener on their long benches. But Scholz wants to use this opportunity to design a value-based foreign policy for his traffic light coalition: "But we also have to look and act where hundreds of thousands have to endure suffering, arbitrariness and torture in penal camps or prisons - in North Korea, Syria, Iran or Belarus. We must look and act when the Taliban deprive women and girls of their most basic rights in Afghanistan. And we have to watch and act when Russia commits war crimes in Mariupol, Bucha or Irpin.”
On the other hand, he only hints at criticism of the most powerful dictatorship on earth, China: “A few weeks ago, the former High Commissioner for Human Rights reported to us on the situation of the Uyghurs in Xinjiang. China should implement the High Commissioner's recommendations. That would be a sign of sovereignty and strength.”
So he doesn't put the Chinese KP in the loop, but tries to build a bridge for it. A meeting with the Chinese head of state Xi Jingping does not take place - the Chinese has not come to New York any more than Vladimir Putin. The federal government's only contact with China at the highest level is planned for Wednesday afternoon, when Foreign Minister Annalena Baerbock will meet her Chinese counterpart, Wang Yi.
Remarkably, the Greens did not fly to New York together with Scholz, but arrived a little later by scheduled flight. She listens to Scholz's speech at the General Assembly. The two then complete a parallel program with only one overlap: they want to take part together in a meeting with Jewish organizations on Wednesday.
Baerbock's extra flight is justified with organizational arguments, but raised eyebrows in the traffic light coalition: During a recent visit to Canada, Scholz and the Green Economics Minister Robert Habeck shared the plane and part of the program. With the FDP frontman Christian Lindner, the chancellor will soon travel to the G-20 summit in Bali – in a plane.
Most recently, Baerbock had kept a recognizable distance from Scholz on questions about the delivery of weapons - and had even ensured that a controversial one-on-one meeting in the Chancellery became public. For a few days, Baerbock seemed to want to urge Scholz to deliver tanks – before she switched back to the more cautious government line on Sunday evening, immediately before the trip, on Anne Will's talk show.
A gentle but interesting change in German foreign policy has been agreed between the two. In his speech to the UN, Scholz announced the Federal Republic's candidacy for a seat on the UN Security Council: "Germany is also prepared to assume greater responsibility - as a permanent member and initially as a non-permanent member in the years 2027/28". The Merkel governments also campaigned for a reorganization of the highest but dysfunctional UN body, in which only the victorious powers of the Second World War plus China have been represented. Berlin envisions a body in which Africans, Asians and Latin Americans are also represented – and of course Germany. So far, however, an EU seat in the Security Council has been officially sought and only until then one for Germany. The EU seat, a hopeless undertaking, is no longer mentioned in Scholz's speech.
The excursion into world politics is not entirely successful these days. The German energy crisis always travels with us. Scholz's most important adviser in the Chancellery, Jörg Kukies, made an appointment with American investors on the fringes of the General Assembly. He wants to take away their fear that their money in German energy suppliers is an insecure investment: they still have a business model.
At noon comes the message that the German state is now getting on board with the energy supplier Uniper, and that this should be decided on Wednesday morning in the cabinet meeting. But the date is wrong: the chancellor had the cabinet meeting, which usually takes place every Wednesday, canceled. If it had taken place in his absence, he would have been represented there by Robert Habeck as Vice Chancellor. Whether Habeck's controversial plan for a gas levy is now obsolete? The SPD party leader Saskia Esken indicated this on Tuesday in Berlin. But the Chancellor is silent on this in New York.