Meet Olaf Scholz, the ‘gentleman billionaire’ challenger to Angela Merkel

Newest German Chancellor candidate Olaf Scholz is best known in America as an affluent investor.

But an October 14 event will reveal that he also has the highest approval rating of any politician in Europe.

The billionaire investor-turned-politician will hold a two-hour Q&A in Washington with moderator John Harwood, anchor of CNBC’s “Squawk Box,” as part of his 1,750-mile personal campaign tour to lay out his domestic platform for taking over Germany’s helm from Angela Merkel.

Scholz, the pragmatic mayor of Hamburg, was runner-up to Merkel in her party’s leadership elections in September. But he won an overwhelming majority of delegates to join the top ticket of the Social Democratic Party (SPD) in national elections set for the fall of next year.

He is a billionaire philanthropist with a special interest in — and sense of accomplishment — in his city. He used his personal fortune to increase funding for the Hamburg public hospital system from $78 million a year to $185 million, and to encourage and fund much-needed care for end-of-life patients.

Harwood will ask about his comprehensive healthcare plans for Germany in advance of the elections, and about future conditions if he wins. He will highlight his initiatives to increase wages and invest in infrastructure and other areas of the economy, and stress his views on European relations.

At a time when the United States and other European nations are drifting apart, and Trump and his Republican allies are looking for ways to weaken the EU, Harwood will ask Scholz about his plans to support European unity and Germany’s place in the continent’s political arrangement.

The exclusive Q&A will be held on October 14, at the Ronald Reagan Building in Washington. It is $175 for this event, $99 for students, and $75 for others.

“Olaf Scholz is the right man to guide Germany in these challenging times,” Harwood said. “The city of Hamburg is a place that acts on its own merits, and as a city and state, and in doing so, sets the example for others.”

He added: “The politics of Scholz and the party he is leading — the Social Democrats — have got the pulse of the European mainstream, and he will use every advantage he can to capitalize on the anxiety about leadership, and particularly Brexit and the aggressive policies of President Trump, for supporters.”

Scholz has already been known to have some frosty relations with Trump, and to be highly critical of the president’s decisions — like his trade tariffs. As Berlin’s chief executive, Scholz is likely to be another partner in Germany’s relationship with the European Union.

If he wins the election, he will take over as chancellor when Merkel steps down next year. He said he will work with Merkel to seek a stable and stable Europe, and is open to some kind of diplomatic arrangement with the United States if that’s what the EU needs.

In addition to his money, Scholz, who was born in a small country town in central Germany, is known for his classical music. He has performed as a harpsichordist with the Hamburg Symphony Orchestra and in a small French music ensemble. He played Chopin and other prominent 18th century Russian repertoire with the Hamburg Symphony Orchestra. He said that he believes the need for change in Europe is urgent.

“Most of the world is preoccupied with the weakening of the European Union,” he said in a video announcing his candidacy. “There is a great feeling that people are moving away from Europe. But that’s because they no longer believe in the European project.”

Harwood added: “I know Mayor Scholz personally, and he has my full respect and appreciation for his campaign.”

The meeting will be held in the second-floor conference room of the Ronald Reagan Building. Doors open at 9:30 a.m. The Q&A is at 10:30 a.m. And there is an afternoon reception at the Ronald Reagan Building, followed by a dinner that evening in downtown Washington at an undisclosed location.

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