ELMAU, Germany — Olaf Scholz could breathe a sigh of relief Tuesday as he headed to Madrid for a NATO summit knowing that he was reverting to being a mere participant and not a host after a three-day meeting of G7 leaders in the Bavarian Alps.
It was the first big international meeting on German soil since Scholz replaced Angela Merkel as chancellor last year. But how did it go?
Here are nine takeaways from the Scholz’s debut summit as a host.
1. Unity counts
For Scholz, the G7 showed they had the “unity and determination” to stand up against Russia, and they acted in “an impressive way,” he told reporters at his closing press conference on Tuesday. He had a point: It wasn’t a given that Scholz would be able to get the group to agree on a final, joint statement and plans to take action.
There was one main message from the summit: The seven big economies stood together and stood up against Russia, with symbolic moves such as an import ban on Russian gold and much bigger plans such as a global price cap on Russian oil — if that works, and it’s a big if.
2. Getting results was essential
The G7 group is small but it contains some of the most powerful people in the world — and people who know a thing or two about how to win power and stay there. For them to send a strong signal to Vladimir Putin was necessary to justify the group’s existence: Merely going to a luxurious Alpine retreat and having (lots of) photos taken would not have been enough in the midst of a bloody war (perhaps that was a reason for poor attendance by the leaders’ spouses — this couldn’t be seen as a mountainside shindig).
3. Change of perspective
The meeting gave Scholz a chance to demonstrate his determination to crack down on Russia, after months of hesitation — and criticism of his leadership.
The summit coincided with news that German Panzerhaubitze weapons had been deployed to Ukraine, a boost for Scholz ahead of a NATO summit at which the alliance is expected to announce plans to beef up its presence in Eastern Europe. Germany was making an “appropriate” contribution, Scholz said.
4. Biden’s backing
The G7 managed “to stay united, which obviously Putin never expected,” Scholz said before a bilateral meeting with U.S. President Joe Biden on Sunday. Biden’s response will have cheered Scholz no end — after all, there are allies and then there’s the U.S.
That unity “was in no small part because of you,” Biden said to Scholz. “Seriously. Because there was a lot of discussion of whether or not, in the transition, how it was going to work. But you’ve done an incredible job. I want to thank you for it.”
5. German diligence
When it comes to international relations and summits in particular, unity and determination require behind-the-scenes professionalism. Participants and their top aides — who negotiated the text of the communiqué — were full of praise for the host, and the German manner of preparing, leading and concluding the talks made them plenty of friends.
It was “not easy, because we have different leaders with different views from different angles,” said one senior EU official, adding: “I have to say it was a very successful and quite effective presidency in the way they’ve managed this.”
6. More to be done
Scholz’s sherpa is Jörg Kukies, a secretary of state in the chancellery and Scholz’s main adviser on European affairs as well as on economic and financial matters. The former senior Goldman Sachs banker is Scholz’s man for turning political concepts into policy — and he helped the G7 use its collective power as buyers to push for a lower price on Russian oil.
The work on that front will not be over anytime soon: Scholz cautioned that plans to enforce a price cap on Russian oil would require lots more effort. “This is a very ambitious and demanding project, and there is still a lot of work to be done,” he said.
7. Wartime priorities
In a room full of people with strong opinions, Scholz had vowed to not aggressively fight for his own agenda in Elmau. He had promised German leadership, though, on the fight against climate change — and he disappointed activists on what was supposed to be the main deliverable of Germany’s G7 presidency (as conceived before the war). The group bought into his idea of a Climate Club and kept a pledge to end international financing for fossil fuels this year — but Germany and Italy were keen to add a clause to the text to make an exemption during the current energy crisis.
“Transitionally, and indeed this is true of the policies of all of our countries that were gathered here, gas is needed, and therefore there may be investments that make sense in this transitional period and that then need to be supported,” said Scholz.
8. Domestic leadership
Scholz has been overshadowed by his vice-chancellor, Robert Habeck, and Foreign Minister Annalena Baerbock in the past months. Both Green politicians found clear ways to speak about Russia’s war in Ukraine and what it means for Germany in ways that the chancellor did not — he even called his ministers “boys and girls,” giving the impression that he wants to put limits on his coalition team’s ambitions.
The Elmau summit was a clear statement about who is in charge: Who dealt with some of the world’s most powerful politicians on how to deal with the Russian war? Scholz. And who was sent to Luxembourg for nitty-gritty EU talks on climate change? Habeck.
9. The car fight goes on
On climate policy, Scholz had to acknowledge that his coalition has yet to deal with an epic fight about a highly symbolic EU plan to ban the sale of new combustion engine cars by 2035. The Greens are all for it, the Free Democratic Party has issues with the plan. Asked during the G7 to clarify Germany’s position, Scholz said: “There’s still a lot of back and forth, and that’s why interim statements don’t make sense right now.”