At the end of his first year, the Chancellor travels to Albania. His most important goal: to find allies for his plans to save the world of democracies in times of global turning point.
I don’t know anymore it’s so little clear
What I know for sure is becoming less and less
All can still be reached in the last hole
Talk to her apartment and she answers
Everything is the same in Albania
In Albania it is like it never was
In Albania everything is like it used to be and that’s wonderful
(Rainald Grebe, Albania)
So now also Tirana. Albania, country number 36 in 363 Chancellor days. EU-Western Balkans Summit. A fairly large station in the small country: 40 participants from the EU, from the Balkans, from international banks. Nothing really particularly exciting at the end of the first year in the Chancellery. On the one hand. On the other hand, Olaf Scholz has made it a Scholz matter to admit the six countries in the western Balkans to the EU as soon as possible.
After all, he thinks that Serbia, North Macedonia, Bosnia-Herzegovina, Montenegro, Albania and Kosovo shouldn’t be left hanging forever after the EU has offered them the prospect of membership. It is “important that new impetus” has come into the accession process, which can already be seen from the choice of Tirana as the summit location. After all, disappointed friends quickly become bad friends. And: Even small signs maintain friendship.
Which is extremely necessary for a second reason. The chancellor has a “common strategic interest” in tying the Balkan states to the West – and thereby isolating Russia a little further. The renewed commitment to admit the six countries was “deeply shaped by Putin’s brutal attack on Ukraine,” says Scholz.
This example shows very nicely how Scholz always tries to think about the big picture. And geostrategy now plays a very important role in Olaf Scholz’s existence as chancellor. We’ll come back to that. In theory, his thought constructs always work flawlessly. Only, reality is sometimes a bit stubborn. So, to stay with the example of the Balkans, Serbia is anything but a flawless democracy in the EU sense; Kosovo is not only not recognized by Serbia, Greece and Spain also refuse to take this step. And these are just two of many problems for which no real solution was found at the meeting in Tirana. Then the nice Scholz formula of progress that still has to be “organized” applies.
Olaf Rastlos: A good two weeks in the air in the first year as chancellor
Incidentally, Scholz took the somewhat simpler Bundeswehr Airbus A310 for the flight to the Albanian capital; the two large, comfortable machines are in use elsewhere. The Economics Minister is currently touring the south of Africa with one; it’s mainly about energy partnerships, what else? The Foreign Minister is traveling in India with the other; it’s all about winning the big country that just took over the presidency of the G20 to the West, away from Russia and as a counterbalance to China. Next year, Scholz wants to visit India himself.
There is a lot of travel in this government. Scholz in particular is on the move as if he were trying to keep a record: even more, even further, in ever shorter time. Roughly estimated, he flew 250,000 kilometers by plane in his first year as chancellor. Roughly speaking, that’s 350 hours in the air, a good two weeks.
He flew to Beijing and returned immediately without an overnight stay. He was in Japan for a few hours, with at least one night in a hotel. And in June he galloped through the Western Balkans to Kosovo, Serbia, North Macedonia and Bulgaria; he spent the night in Thessaloniki, Greece, when a conference was taking place. And he took the overnight train to Kyiv, too, but there was no other choice. He was in the USA anyway, in Canada, in three African countries and at the G20 meeting in Bali. Among other things. And next year it will continue like this. Twice India (G20), Japan (G7), at least one USA, Latin and South America are on the itinerary. Again: among other things.
Olaf Restless. SPD chairman Lars Klingbeil calls the program that the chancellor tears down “crass.” He says this with a mixture of admiration and disbelief. And a little bit of uneasiness resonates in his words: does that really have to be everything?
Scholz likes to think in larger dimensions
It has to, Scholz would reply. And this “must” differs significantly from the “must, yes,” with which he endures the sometimes strange greeting customs of other peoples. In Tirana, for example, men and women in traditional costumes perform folk dances in front of the lined-up presidents and heads of government, then there is a choir for friends of Italian opera, and finally girls in blue sportswear dance to hip-hop music. While the Estonian Prime Minister Kaja Kallas claps behind him and takes a photo of the students, Scholz stands in the second row for almost the entire ten minutes with a largely impassive expression. You can see what he thinks of such demonstrations: a waste of time.
And time is a rare commodity. The world is currently being reorganized, and the chancellor certainly has ambitions to sort things out more extensively. It is Scholz like any of his predecessors and also the predecessor. At some point, something international grabs you, the desire to intervene in world affairs and not just regulate what is necessary at home in the country. For some, it has even become annoying over time. With no one, however, was the change to the government’s chief foreign policy officer as rapid as Scholz’s, of course promoted by Russia’s attack on Ukraine with all its consequences. But not only. As I said, Olaf Scholz just likes to think in larger dimensions.
In a long, sometimes lengthy essay for the renowned newspaper “Foreign Affairs” entitled “The global turning point,” he has just set out his world view – and described Germany’s role in trying to avoid a new Cold War and new bloc formation. In a nutshell: False restraint was a thing of the past. “Given its history, my country has a special responsibility to fight the forces of fascism, authoritarianism and imperialism. At the same time, the experience of our country’s division in the wake of ideological and geopolitical competition makes us particularly aware of the dangers of a new Cold War ‘ writes Scholz.
“One needs such face-to-face meetings”
What the Chancellor means by this in concrete terms was already apparent during the German G7 presidency under Scholz, with his attempt to strengthen the large democracies of Africa, Asia and South America, which stand between the West on the one hand and China and Russia on the other to involve and win for the West. Scholz considers the fact that the G7 summit in Bali was able to pass a final declaration against Russia to be a success and the result of his efforts. Not entirely wrong.
And whoever succeeds in doing so, then also has the confidence to unite the Western Balkan states and steer them into the EU. Doesn’t have to be in Tirana right away. From Scholz’s point of view, the trip should have been worth it – despite the dancing. “You need such face-to-face meetings,” the chancellor said just now star said. “You sometimes discuss something on the side. And in direct conversation you understand what makes someone tick.” Which of course applies to everyone. And for some it could be helpful to learn to understand Olaf Scholz a little better.
Perhaps even Emmanuel Macron will succeed. The chancellor has already spent a night with the French president on the train to Kyiv, he has met him almost every month, and now in Tirana they have had a longer one-to-one talk with their Dutch colleague Marc Rutte. And yet the following applies: they may respect each other, even by virtue of their office. But the extroverted Frenchman and the cool Hanseatic still don’t really want to warm up to each other. But that might still work itself out. You will see each other more often in the future.
With this in mind: Have a safe trip, Mr. Chancellor.