It sounds like a matter of course. But is it really? When Angela Merkel receives the Order of Merit of the Federal Republic of Germany at Bellevue Palace on Monday evening, Olaf Scholz will also be present. To sum it up roughly, this is the Chancellor, who for months has been blaming Angela Merkel’s government for all the failings that his coalition has to rectify.

“That’s the difference from before,” Scholz called out to the plenary session of the Bundestag shortly before Easter, when he praised the results of the last coalition committee for energy and economic policy: “There will be speed, acceleration, and these tasks will all be pursued in a targeted manner . The standstill of the last few decades, which we owe to conservative politics, is finally over.”

Responsible for this conservative policy condemned by the successor was his predecessor Merkel. She will now receive the Grand Cross in a special edition, which only Konrad Adenauer and Helmut Kohl have received so far. And Scholz will be there when Frank-Walter Steinmeier honors the ex-Chancellor for her 16-year term with the highest award that the country has to give. Isn’t that a bit contradictory, Mr. Scholz?

No, says government spokesman Steffen Hebestreit. The ex-Chancellor invited Scholz. “Despite all the political differences, they both share a mutual personal respect.” It is appropriate for Scholz to “do the honors” to the predecessor in such an appreciation.

Interestingly, the chancellor has always made a notable distinction when speaking about Merkel and her governments. Shortly before taking office, he wrote about his predecessor on Facebook: “Angela Merkel was a successful chancellor. I have great respect for her work and her achievements: she worked tirelessly for our country and in the 16 years in which she changed a lot, always remained true.” And when he handed over office, he praised Merkel for having “achieved great things.”

Even before his visit to Vladimir Putin and after the Russian invasion of Ukraine, Scholz stayed in contact with Merkel. During his first solo on Maybrit Illner’s talk show at the beginning of March 2022, the Chancellor repeatedly missed the opportunity to criticize Merkel: Could Germany have prevented the war by delivering arms earlier? “No.” Were Putin’s intentions underestimated? “The danger has been seen.” And it remains true, according to Scholz, that Ukraine was not given a fast route to NATO in 2008 – a decision that Merkel had pushed through against the then US President George W. Bush.

However, Illner already showed Scholz’s pattern of sparing the chancellor, but not her ministers and the Union parties. At that time it hit Karl-Theodor zu Guttenberg. The Bundeswehr was well prepared under all social democratic defense ministers, said the Chancellor. It was only afterwards that one “experienced a period of frugality that began with a CSU defense minister.”

Scholz’ preferred target, however, is the former Economics Minister Peter Altmaier. Even if he does not name his CDU colleague, it has been clear for months who the chancellor is referring to, for example when he repeatedly complains that when he took office, his government had no plans for the eventuality of gas supplies from Russia faltering.

Altmaier has so far avoided defending himself against the allegations. On Monday evening at Bellevue Palace, the two gentlemen can talk about it: Altmaier, Minister of the Chancellery in Merkel’s third legislative period, has been invited to the palace like all previous heads of office.

Occasionally, Scholz also suggests that Merkel might have wanted to, but was prevented from doing so by her party. He had heard, Scholz said on November 23, 2022 in the Bundestag to the CDU chairman and Union parliamentary group leader, “that you, Mr. Merz, stand up at the CDU party conference and claim in all seriousness that you have not spent the last 16 years led federal governments are the problem of our country, but the last 16 weeks under the leadership of the traffic light coalition”. Anyone who believes that, the Chancellor continued, “also believes in talking white rabbits.” The reality is different: “This federal government has set in motion, implemented and cleaned up more in twelve months than was possible in the governments of the past twelve years.”

Scholz also has a tactical interest in not straying too far from Merkel as a person. He suspects that many Merkel voters in the past, who were not convinced of the Union candidate Armin Laschet in 2021, could have voted for him. In addition, according to surveys, Merkel is still relatively popular with the population. On the other hand, there was notable criticism from the CDU of the award of the medal to the ex-Chancellor.

The deputy party leader Carsten Linnemann said on Monday in the RTL and ntv program “Frühstart” that it was obvious that Merkel “has great merits, especially internationally”. But of course she “also made mistakes, even blatant ones”. He cited energy policy and the refugee crisis as examples. The chairman of the CDU Basic Values ​​Commission, the historian Andreas Rödder, had already described the award as a mistake in the “Tagesspiegel” on Friday. The Federal President is harming democracy and its credibility. Against the background of the attack on Ukraine, Rödder criticized Merkel’s Russia policy as “the biggest foreign policy mistake since 1945”.

On the other hand, Peter Altmaier praised his ex-boss: “I was happy about the award because Angela Merkel has worked with all her might in German politics for the last 30 years,” said Altmaier RTL and ntv. Asked whether Merkel had also made mistakes, Altmaier said: “Anyone who does politics also makes mistakes.”

Scholz should acknowledge such differences with a gentle smile. He can only benefit from a CDU in which loyal Merkelians and determined opponents distance themselves from each other.