By GEIR MOULSON
BERLIN (AP) — Chancellor Olaf Scholz vowed Wednesday that his new government will win the fight against the coronavirus pandemic and make Germany “structurally fit” for the 21st century, promising that efforts to combat climate change will be central to its agenda as he made his first major policy speech to parliament.
Scholz, who took over from longtime Chancellor Angela Merkel last week, declared that “we have no time to waste” as he opened a presentation of his government’s platform. He hammered home the message that the novel alliance of his center-left Social Democrats, the environmentalist Greens and the pro-business Free Democrats will be a progressive coalition.
Scholz starts work as Germany is grappling with its biggest wave of infections of the pandemic so far. There are signs that restrictions imposed in recent weeks are beginning to slow infections, and the new chancellor said the country is well-placed to fulfill a pledge made in November to get 30 million vaccine shots in arms by the end of this year.
“Yes, things will get better; yes, we will pursue the fight against this pandemic with the greatest determination; and yes, we will fin this fight,” he told lawmakers.
“We will do everything that is necessary; there are no red lines for the government,” Scholz said. “The government will not rest for a moment, and we will pull every available lever until we have all regained our old lives and all our freedoms.”
Scholz also said that his government is open to criticism and will listen to doubters, but it won’t tolerate “a tiny minority of uninhibited extremists” trying to impose their will on society. German security agencies have warned that parts of the Querdenken movement — a loose collection of groups opposed to the pandemic restrictions — are becoming increasingly radicalized.
Turning to the new government’s wider theme of pursuing progress, Scholz declared that “we will use the coming four years to make Germany structurally fit for the world of the 21st century.” He said that aim encompasses everything from modernizing the country’s administration to investing in offshore wind parks, via building new housing and investing in railways.
“Climate protection will be a central cross-cutting task in this government, and we want to be measured by how successfully we deal with this task,” Scholz said.
The new government aims to step up efforts against climate change by expanding the use of renewable energy and bringing Germany’s exit from coal-fired power forward from 2038, “ideally” to 2030. It also wants to do more to modernize the country of 83 million people, including improving its notoriously poor cellphone and internet networks.
The government also plans to increase Germany’s minimum wage and to get hundreds of thousands of new apartments built to curb rising rental prices. And it plans more liberal social policies, including legalizing the sale of cannabis for recreational purposes and ending a ban on doctors advertizing the fact that they perform abortions.
It aims to attract more qualified immigrants and plans to ease the path to German citizenship, while also lifting restrictions on dual citizenship. At the same time, it is pledging greater efforts to deport immigrants who don’t win asylum.
“We are a country of immigration … but we must become an even better country of integration,” Scholz said.
The new leader underlined his message of continuity in foreign policy. He told lawmakers that “the success of Europe is our most important national concern.”
Scholz warned that Russia would face “a high price” for further aggression against Ukraine but also stressed Germany’s offer of “constructive dialogue” with Moscow.
And he said that “we must orient our China policy toward the China that we find in reality.”
“This also means not closing our eyes to the critical human rights situation, and calling violations of universal norms by their name,” Scholz said. But “that doesn’t change the fact that a country of the size and history of China has a central place” in the international community, he added.
That means offering Beijing cooperation on challenges such as climate change and the pandemic, and “we offer China fair economic competition for mutual benefit, with the same rules for all,” Scholz said.
Follow AP’s pandemic coverage at https://apnews.com/hub/coronavirus-pandemic
Copyright 2021 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed without permission.