German Chancellor Scholz under fire over alleged support for China project

German Chancellor Olaf Scholz faced a barrage of criticism on Thursday after a media report accused him of planning to push through Chinese investment in a Hamburg port despite grave reservations in his government.

Chancellor Olaf Scholz (SPD)
Chancellor Olaf Scholz (SPD) takes part in a debate in the Bundestag on October 20th. Photo: picture alliance/dpa | Kay Nietfeld

Chinese shipping giant Cosco is due to take a 35 percent stake in a container terminal in Hamburg, in a deal agreed last year but not yet authorised by the federal government.

German broadcasters NDR and WDR on Thursday reported that the Chancellery is planning to approve the deal despite opposition from six different ministries in Scholz’s coalition government with the Greens and the liberal FDP.

“This is neither good for our economy nor for our security,” Green party co-leader Omid Nouripour told the t-online news portal.

Michael Kruse, head of the FDP in Hamburg, called the project “dangerous”, while conservative foreign policy expert Juergen Hardt said it would enable China to gain access to “sensitive internal insights”.

“This is exactly what we should not serve up to the Chinese on a silver platter,” Hardt told Die Welt newspaper.

According to the report by NDR and WDR, the deal would effectively be approved automatically if the government does not intervene by the end of October.

Rumours have been swirling that Scholz is planning to visit China in early November.

China is a key trading partner for Germany, especially for its flagship automotive industry.

But the relationship has been soured in recent years by China’s strict zero-Covid policy, the escalation of tensions over Taiwan and concern over human rights issues in the Muslim-dominated Xinjiang region.

Many voices in Germany, including Foreign Minister Annalena Baerbock, have called for more caution in trade with China, warning that Europe’s biggest economy must learn from the breakdown of its relations with Russia.

But Scholz has so far not joined that chorus and even insisted at a business summit last week that Germany should maintain business relations with China.

“We do not have to decouple ourselves from some countries, we must continue doing business with individual countries — and I will say explicitly, also with China,” he said.

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Germany’s Scholz rejects calls for later retirement in Labour Day message

German Chancellor Olaf Scholz (SPD) has rejected calls for later retirement in a video message for Labour Day published on Wednesday.

Germany's Scholz rejects calls for later retirement in Labour Day message

“For me, it is a question of decency not to deny those who have worked for a long time the retirement they deserve,” said Scholz.

Employees in Germany worked more hours in 2023 than ever before: “That’s why it annoys me when some people talk disparagingly about ‘Germany’s theme park’ – or when people call for raising the retirement age,” he said.

Scholz also warned of creating uncertainty due to new debates about the retirement age. “Younger people who are just starting out in their working lives also have the right to know how long they have to work,” he said.

Scholz did not explicitly say who the criticism was targeted at, but at its party conference last weekend, the coalition partner FDP called for the abolition of pensions at 63 for those with long-term insurance, angering its government partners SPD and the Greens.

Scholz saw the introduction of the minimum wage nine years ago – and its increase to twelve euros per hour by his government – as a “great success”. “The proportion of poorly paid jobs in our country has shrunk as a result,” he said.

READ ALSO: EXPLAINED: Is it worthwhile to set up a private pension plan in Germany?

However, he said there were still too many people “who work hard for too little money,” highlighting the additional support available through housing benefit, child allowance and the reduction of social security contributions for low earners.

“Good collective wage agreements also ensure that many employees finally have more money in their pockets again,” he added. 

And he said that the country wouldn’t “run out of work” in the coming years.

“On the contrary! We need more workers,” he said, explaining that that’s why his government is ensuring “that those who fled to us from Russia’s war in Ukraine get work more quickly.”

Work means “more than making money,” said Scholz. “Work also means: belonging, having colleagues, experiencing recognition and appreciation.”