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German Scholz promises ‘we will win’ the fight against COVID

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BERLIN (AP) – Chancellor Olaf Scholz on Wednesday pledged his new government would win the fight against the coronavirus pandemic and make Germany “structurally fit” for the 21st century, promising that efforts to tackle climate change will be at the heart of his program as he made his first major political speech in parliament.

Scholz, who took over from longtime Chancellor Angela Merkel last week, said that “we have no time to waste” by opening a presentation of the platform of his government. He hammered home the message that the new alliance of his center-left Social Democrats, Green Environmentalists and pro-business Free Democrats will be a progressive coalition.

Scholz begins work as Germany grapples with its biggest wave of pandemic infections to date. There are signs that the restrictions imposed in recent weeks are starting to slow infections, and the new chancellor has said the country is well positioned to deliver on the November pledge to get 30 million vaccines in arms by the end of this year.

“Yes, things will get better; yes, we will continue to fight this pandemic with the utmost determination; and yes, we will end this fight, ”he told lawmakers.

“We will do whatever is necessary; there are no red lines for the government, ”Scholz said. “The government will not rest for a moment, and we will pull all available levers until we have all returned to our old lives and all our freedoms.”

Scholz also said his government is open to criticism and will listen to skeptics, but will not 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 set of groups opposed to pandemic restrictions – are increasingly radicalizing.

Turning to the new government’s broader theme of pursuing progress, Scholz said that “we will use the next four years to make Germany structurally fit for the world of the 21st century.” He said the goal encompasses everything from modernizing the country’s administration to investing in offshore wind farms, building new homes 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 handle this task,” said Scholz.

The new government aims to step up efforts against climate change by expanding the use of renewable energies and by advancing Germany’s exit from coal-fired electricity from 2038, “ideally” to 2030. It also wants to do more to modernize the country of 83 million inhabitants. people, including upgrading its notoriously poor mobile phone and Internet networks.

The government also plans to raise the minimum wage in Germany and build hundreds of thousands of new apartments to curb rising rental prices. And it provides for more liberal social policies, including legalizing the sale of recreational cannabis and ending the ban on doctors announcing that they are performing abortions.

It aims to attract more skilled immigrants and plans to ease the path to German citizenship, while lifting restrictions on dual citizenship. At the same time, it pledges to redouble its efforts to expel immigrants who do not obtain asylum.

“We are a country of immigration (…) but we have to become an even better country of integration,” said Scholz.

The new leader underlined his message of continuity in foreign policy. He told lawmakers that “Europe’s success 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 Chinese policy towards the China that we find in reality”.

“It also means not turning a blind eye to the critical human rights situation and calling out violations of universal standards by name,” said Scholz. But “that does not change the fact that a country of the size and history of China occupies a central place” in the international community, he added.

This means offering cooperation to Beijing on challenges such as climate change and the pandemic, and “we are offering China fair economic competition for mutual benefit, with the same rules for all,” said Scholz.

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