Enter Olaf — can he keep Germany’s traffic light blinking?

Enter Olaf — can he keep Germany’s traffic light blinking?

As of this week, for the first time since Gwen Stefani was topping the charts with Hollaback Girl, Germany is not run by a person named Angela.

Olaf Scholz — the pragmatic, robotic, determined leader of the center-left SPD party — now holds the reins of Europe’s largest economy.

But he also leads a three-party coalition, the first in Germany’s modern history, with the progressively, climate conscious Greens and the business-friendly fiscal hawks of the Free Democrats party. The coalition is known as the “traffic light” owing to the colors of its three members.

Here are a few immediate and longer-term challenges for Scholz.

His first big test is COVID. Germany is currently in the throes of its worst surge since the onset of the pandemic. Between the upcoming Christmas holiday and uncertainty about the omicron variant, Scholz has his work cut out for him. So far he has not announced any new society-wide lockdowns or restrictions. But with Germany’s vaccination rate of 70 percent now an EU laggard, he’s embraced a broad vaccine mandate and wants to get 30 million jabs done by the end of the year.

Foreign policy: Russia on day one. Scholz comes into office right as tensions around Ukraine are soaring again. He will quickly have to stake out a position towards Moscow that satisfies German industries, which rely on Russian markets and energy, but that also reflects the views of the Greens, Russia hawks who see the Kremlin as a menace both to the climate and to democracy. With the Greens’ leader Annalena Baerbock as foreign minister, this is going to be a tough balance to strike.

A crucial near-term decision for Scholz is whether he is willing to include suspension of the Nord Stream 2 Russian gas pipeline project as part of a package of German sanctions meant to deter Russian aggression against Ukraine… at a time of sky-high gas prices.

Going green without getting into the red. Scholz’s government has pledged a massive push on the climate front, promising to phase out coal entirely by 2030, eight years earlier than originally planned, and to double the renewable share of electricity generation to 80 percent by then as well.

These goals are practically existential for the Greens, but getting there will require massive investment — where’s the money going to come from? Scholz has already pledged to reimpose constitutional limits on debt, and the Free Democrats, who control his finance ministry, are opposed to raising taxes.

A bigger question: Can Scholz make social democrats cool again? The SDP victory was something of a stunner for a party that had seemed, just months ago, like it was on the brink of extinction. What’s more, across Europe traditional labor-oriented parties have suffered in recent years.

Now Scholz has a chance to prove that the traditional European center left has some fight in it, at a time when the right — in both its centrist and populist versions — has been defining the landscape for the last decade. Scholz believes the SPD can reconnect with working-class voters — and his coalition’s pledge to raise Germany’s minimum wage for about 10 million people is an immediate part of that.

About a third of EU member states are currently run by social democrats of one stripe or another. They will be watching to see if Scholz can use the bloc’s largest economy as a showcase for the center-left’s bonafides after a long time in the wilderness.

The unknown unknown: the next crisis. Will it be immigration? A terror attack? A financial meltdown? A political scandal? Scholz’s predecessor didn’t come into office as a crisis manager, but she sure left as one. How the new German chancellor holds together his somewhat oddball coalition under unforeseen pressures could prove decisive.
People working at computers in a room labeled Malware Lab

Microsoft observed destructive malware in systems belonging to several Ukrainian government agencies and organizations that work closely with the Ukrainian government. The Microsoft Threat Intelligence Center (MSTIC) published a technical blog post detailing Microsoft’s ongoing investigation and how the security community can detect and defend against this malware. Microsoft shared this information over the weekend to help others in the cybersecurity community look out for and defend against these attacks. To read more visit Microsoft On the Issues.

President Vladimir Putin

No one knows whether Russian President Vladimir Putin plans on invading Ukraine. But the president of the United States sure seems to think this is a real possibility, saying Wednesday that Putin will likely "move in" in the near term. Biden, prone to political gaffes, was then forced to awkwardly walk back comments that Russia would face milder consequences from the West in the event of a "minor incursion."

The timing of this blunder is... not great. It comes just as US Secretary of State Antony Blinken prepares to meet his Russian counterpart on Friday in hopes of lowering the temperature after recent diplomatic efforts in Geneva were deemed a failure by Moscow.

Indeed, with the Kremlin having amassed at least 100,000 troops surrounding Ukraine on three sides, the growing threat is impossible to ignore. So what would a Russian military offensive into Ukraine actually look like, and how might the West respond?

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Jon Lieber, head of Eurasia Group's coverage of political and policy developments in Washington, discusses the Democrats voting bill.

What is the status on the Democrats voting bill?

The Democrats are pushing a bill that would largely nationalize voting rules, which today are largely determined at the state level. The bill would make Election Day a national holiday. It would attempt to end partisan gerrymandering. It would create a uniform number of early voting days and make other reforms that are designed to standardize voting rules and increase access to voting across the country. This matters to Democrats because they think they face an existential risk to their party's political prospects. They're very likely to lose at least the House and probably the Senate this year. And they see voting changes that are being pushed by Republicans at the state level that they say are designed to make it harder to vote, particularly for minorities, a key Democratic constituency.

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Omicron has arrived. It's more contagious, but less severe. Some parts of the world are even looking forward to the pandemic becoming endemic.

Not China. Xi Jinping's zero-COVID strategy has worked wonders until now, but it's unlikely to survive omicron, explains Ian Bremmer on GZERO World.

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Chilling at the beach, retired German Chancellor Angela Merkel is so over politics. Or is she?


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Ian Bremmer's Quick Take: Hi everybody. Happy Tuesday after the long weekend for those of us that had a long weekend. I thought I would kick us off with the first major foreign policy crisis of the Biden administration. And that is of course, Russia-Ukraine. Afghanistan, of course, was a debacle, but not exactly a global crisis. This of course has the potential to really change the way we think about European security and about US relations with the other major nuclear power in the world. So, I would say that the level of concern is even higher and there are a lot of things we can say.
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What We’re Watching: Xinjiang at the Beijing Olympics, Boris in deep(er) trouble, Indonesia’s new capital

Selling Xinjiang. Xi Jinping — a man well known for both his grand vision of China’s future, and for his willingness to get large numbers of people to do things they might not otherwise do — said in 2018 that he wanted 300 million Chinese people to participate in winter sports. The Chinese government announced this week that this goal has been met in honor of the Beijing Winter Olympic Games, which open in China’s capital on February 4. Multinational companies are consistently impressed by the commercial opportunities created when 300 million people decide to try new things. But it’s an inconvenient truth that most of China’s most abundant snow and best ski slopes are found in the northwestern region of Xinjiang, a place where Western governments and human rights organizations have accused Beijing of imprisoning more than one million minority Uyghurs in re-education camps. In these prisons, critics say inmates have experienced “torture, and inhumane and degrading treatment.” As China’s government opens new profit opportunities in Xinjiang, multinational corporations will face pressure from multiple directions not to invest there.

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Hard Numbers: Tongan emergency fundraising, EU docks Poland pay, new Colombian presidential hopeful, Turkey gets UAE lifeline

345,000: As of Wednesday afternoon ET, Tonga's Olympic flag-bearer has raised more than $345,000 online to help the victims of Saturday's volcanic eruption and tsunami. Pita Taufatofua, a taekwondo fighter and cross-country skier, has not yet heard from his father, governor of the main Tongan island of Haapai.

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China vs COVID in 2022

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COVID at the Beijing Winter Olympics

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