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The new German parliament has elected Olaf Scholz as chancellor as Angela Merkel departs after 16 years at the helm of Europe’s largest economy.

The German Bundestag elected Olaf Scholz as chancellor on Wednesday morning, as Angela Merkel bows out from the political stage.

The morning vote by Germany’s lower legislative chamber — held by secret ballot and without debate — was seen as a formality.

President of the Bundestag Bärbel Bas opened the voting. Members of the parliament voted by 395 of 707 votes cast for Scholz to become Germany’s new head of government.

However, not all members of Scholz’s so-called “traffic light coalition” voted in favor. Had they done so, he would have had received 416 votes.

There were 303 votes against, and 6 abstentions from a total of 736.

For his part, Scholz tweeted that he had accepted the task when called upon to accept by the Bundestag president. “I said ‘yes’,” he wrote.

Scholz’s center-left Social Democrats (SPD) emerged as the largest party in September’s general election and has since negotiated a coalition deal with the environmentalist Greens and the business-focused Free Democratic Party (FDP).

How will the switch take place?

After the vote, Scholz headed by motorcade to the presidential palace Schloss Bellevue where German President Frank-Walter Steinmeier handed him an official document of appointment. Scholz was then whisked back to the the Bundestag where he was sworn in.

The new chancellor now heads back to the palace with those selected to be members of his Cabinet  for the new ministers to be inaugurated.

The Cabinet is made up of 16 ministers — seven from the SPD, five from the Greens and four from the FDP.

Over the course of the day, Merkel’s ministers will formally hand over portfolios to their successors.

Scholz, who served as finance minister under Merkel, will present his own brief to FDP leader Christian Lindner.

Congratulations from outside Germany

French President Emmanuel Macron on Wednesday told new German Chancellor Olaf Scholz the two countries would work together to shape the future of Europe.

“We will write the next chapter together. For the French, for the Germans, for the Europeans,” Macron told Scholz in a tweet welcoming his election.

Macron also thanked Merkel for “never forgetting the lessons of history, for doing so much for us, with us, to move Europe forwards.”

Meanwhile, European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen — herself a member of Merkel’s CSU — said she looked forward to working with Scholz.  

“I wish you a good start and look forward to further trusting cooperation for a strong Europe,” she tweeted.

Bundestag President Bärbel Bas reads lawmakers’ votes on chancellor, Photo: Print screen DW video

How will things change?

The new government has said it will place dealing with the coronavirus pandemic and tackling climate change at the heart of its program.

DW’s Nina Haase said that, given that Scholz’s SPD had been part of a grand coalition with Merkel’s CDU-CSU bloc, there would be some continuity. However, she added, there would be a marked change.

“The parties are completely different,” said Haase. “The Social Democrats are a center-left party. The conservatives under Anglea Merkel have blocked some of the projects that the Social Democrats had always hoped to push through with the conservatives as their partners.”

“That wasn’t possible so the Social Democrats are now going to try. They say they’re going to make the country fairer, more liberal and more digital.”

Merkel leaves office as Germany’s second-longest serving postwar chancellor, just 10 days short of the 16 years and 26 days that Helmut Kohl spent in office between 1982 and 1998.

DW’s Melinda Crane said Merkel’s departure was “the end of an era.”

“Young Germans aged 16 to 25 really don’t remember any other chancellor but Angela Merkel so this is really momentous for them,” said Crane.

The outgoing chancellor was present for the vote as a guest seated alongside her own predecessor Gerhard Schröder.

Before the September election, Merkel had already said she would not serve another term as chancellor and her conservative Christian Democrats are looking to reshape after suffering their worst-ever election result.

Source: dw.com, rc/sms (AFP, AP, dpa, Reuters) Photo: Odd Andersen /AFP/ Getty Images

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