BERLIN — When Chancellor Angela Merkel of Germany meets President Biden at the Group of 20 summit in Rome this weekend, she won’t come alone: Tagging along will be her likely successor, Olaf Scholz.
The buddy act between an outgoing center-right chancellor and an incoming center-left one is striking even by Germany’s hyper-bipartisan standards: After 16 years of representing Europe’s biggest economy on the international stage and becoming an indispensable figure in global diplomacy, Ms. Merkel is not just introducing Mr. Scholz to the world, but also trying to reassure the world that Germany will remain in safe hands.
The aim, officials in Berlin said, is to signal “continuity” and a “smooth transition of power.”
“The German chancellor is changing, the main governing party is changing, but Germany’s commitment to the G20 is not,” said one senior official who in keeping with protocol cannot be quoted by name.
Mr. Scholz, a Social Democrat who beat the candidate from Ms. Merkel’s Christian Democrats in Germany’s elections in September, is expected to be sworn in as chancellor in early December. This weekend, he will also join Ms. Merkel in talks with leaders like President Emmanuel Macron of France, Prime Minister Boris Johnson of Britain and President Recep Tayyip Erdogan of Turkey.
As finance minister, Mr. Scholz would have accompanied Ms. Merkel to the summit anyway. But inviting him along to private meetings with other leaders constitutes “a historic gesture,” officials said. No departing German chancellor has taken a successor to a summit before, let alone one from a rival party.
Ms. Merkel’s and Mr. Scholz’s double act reflects Germany’s ever more fluid political center, where change and continuity now seem to go hand in hand. His party governed with Ms. Merkel’s for three of her four terms, making him more of an incumbent than a candidate of change.
That continuity will be welcomed in many G20 nations, though Ms. Merkel will not be missed everywhere.
On her way to Rome, the chancellor stopped in Greece, a country whose crippling decade-long financial crisis marked her time in office. “I know I asked a lot from Greek citizens,” Ms. Merkel told a joint media conference with Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis on Friday, referring to a wave of austerity measures imposed on Greece in return for international bailouts. “I was always for Greece staying in the euro,” she added.
Although public sentiment toward Germany has improved over the years, many Greeks still blame Ms. Merkel for years of tax increases and wage cuts. Ms. Merkel herself said recently that the harsh demands she made on Greece were the toughest moment of her 16 years in office.