Scholz Visits Flood-Hit Zone With EU Parliament Vote Looming

(Bloomberg) -- German Chancellor Olaf Scholz visited an area of Bavaria hit by severe flooding to demonstrate his support for those affected — and potentially tap into some positive optics ahead of Sunday’s European Parliament election.

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Scholz’s trip Monday to Reichertshofen north of Munich came after Economy Minister Robert Habeck of the Greens already traveled to the flood region on Sunday. Habeck is Scholz’s deputy in the three-party ruling coalition and could challenge the Social Democrat for the chancellery at the next election due in the fall of next year.

Clad in a dark raincoat, blue jeans and knee-length rubber boots, Scholz told reporters it’s important to recognize that extreme weather events that may previously have occurred once a century were now happening much more frequently. He linked them to harmful climate change he said was caused by humans.

“This is also an indication that something’s going on,” added the Social Democrat, speaking alongside Interior Minister Nancy Faeser and Bavaria Premier Markus Soeder of the conservative Christian Social Union.

“We cannot allow ourselves to ignore the task of halting man-made climate change,” Scholz said. “This is also a warning which we must take away from this event, this catastrophe.”

The nation’s latest flooding emergency comes nearly three years after intense rainfall caused devastation in Germany and neighboring countries in July 2021 — a few months before the national ballot that propelled Scholz to power.

More than 240 people were killed across the region and some 170 in Germany alone, with cleanup and reconstruction costing tens of billions of euros.

It would become another example of how the contrasting reactions of politicians to a natural disaster influenced the outcome of an election in Europe’s biggest economy.

The chancellor candidate for the ruling conservative CDU/CSU alliance, Armin Laschet, was caught on camera chuckling during a speech by President Frank-Walter Steinmeier, forcing retiring Chancellor Angela Merkel into damage control.

Footage of the incident was widely shared on social media and seen as helping Scholz’s SPD erase a big deficit in the polls to pull off an unlikely victory.

In 2002, SPD Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder got what was possibly a decisive boost from a visit to eastern Germany, where the Elbe river had flooded after torrential rainfall.

Schroeder showed “leadership in rubber boots,” one commentator wrote. His conservative challenger, former Bavarian Premier Edmund Stoiber, stayed away from the disaster area and ultimately failed to topple Schroeder from power despite leading by as many as eight percentage points.

Scholz pledged Monday that the federal government will do all it can to ensure help for those affected by the flooding can be provided quickly.

“We will also continue to promote the practice of solidarity that we have in Germany,” he said. “We have done this in many, many places, and we will do the same here. That’s the way it should be, and that’s Germany.”

As of 2:30 p.m. in Berlin, Deutscher Wetterdienst, the country’s meteorological service, was forecasting more heavy rainfall in the south, as well as severe thunderstorms in south-east Bavaria.

(Updates with detail on weather outlook in final paragraph)

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