In Depth

Is Germany on the verge of electing its first Green chancellor?

Polls put the left-wing party just behind Angela Merkel’s CDU

When Angela Merkel became the first-ever female chancellor of Germany back in 2005, the opposition Green Party  was the fifth-largest in the country after winning just 51 seats in the 614-strong Bundestag.

But while Merkel’s Christian Democrat Union (CDU) has continued to dominate Germany’s political landscape under her leadership, the nation now appears to be on the verge of another first. Pundits are predicting that “whatever government fills the vacuum” following the long-serving chancellor’s departure “will be tinged with green”, The New York Times (NYT) reports.

And that green tinge could extend all the way to the top. The rival party is just behind the CDU in the polls and yesterday announced the young and popular Annalena Baerbock as its candidate to succeed Merkel - leaving the Greens poised to win a “watershed” victory “in Europe’s largest and richest country”, the paper adds.

Rising climate

Accepting the Greens’ nomination, Baerbock said that she was ready to lead “a new chapter for our party, and if we do it well, for our country”. Baerbock “has called for a political renewal” that encompasses not just “the challenges posed by a warming planet” but that also “delivers prosperity to all Germans, from poor single-parent families to industrial workers”, reports Al Jazeera.

Meanwhile, after almost 16 years in office, Merkel’s CDU is “slipping and stagnant”, says the NYT. The ruling party is facing criticism over the country’s Covid vaccine rollout and appears to be “short of ideas on how to keep Germany vibrant and rich in a world where its industrial and export model is outdated”. 

The other traditional mainstay of German politics, the left-wing Social Democratic Party of Germany (SDP), is “in even worse shape, both electorally and ideologically”, the paper adds.

By contrast, says Al Jazeera, “worries about climate change, frustration with the government’s pandemic response, and fatigue at 15 years of conservative rule” are boosting public support for the Greens ahead of the upcoming elections, scheduled for September.

Formed in the 1980s, the Greens had a stint in federal government as junior partner to Gerhard Schroeder’s SPD for seven years up to 2005. But as Deutsche Welle (DW) notes, “they rather stumbled into a coalition that few had expected, having gained just 6.7% in the 1998 election”, and were widely mocked for hosting conventions that featured “hours of chaotic arguments”.

However, Baerbock’s Greens “are not the Greens of the Cold War, a radical party appalled by the nuclear stand-off between the Soviet Union and the United States over a divided Europe”, says the NYT.

The Greens “are now centrist, eager for power, with a surprisingly gimlet-eyed view of international affairs”, the paper continues.

Indeed, says DW, they are “united as never before, standing united behind their party leadership and avoiding ugly attacks on political opponents”.

Baerbock, a former trampolinist who studied Public International Law at the London School of Economics, has co-led the party with Robert Habeck for three-and-a-half years. Announcing Baerbock’s candidacy on Monday after weeks of speculation over which of them would stand, Habeck promised to throw himself into her election campaign, saying: “Annalena, the stage is all yours.”

The would-be chancellor has been a Green Party member since 2005 and joined the Bundestag in 2013, and has been widely praised for her political savvy. In fact, “some commentators liken her style and analytical approach” to that of Merkel, says CNBC - a comparison that bode wells for the Greens’ chances in September’s vote. 

Seismic shift?

While the Greens have come a long way since their Cold War days, they have “remained largely true to their 40-year-old founding principles”, DW says. The party still champions “the fight against climate change”, pledging to cut greenhouse gases by 70% by 2030. 

The Greens are pragmatic when it comes to the economic agenda, advocating for a “debt brake” that would allow Germany “to raise more money on public markets”, as well as calling for “higher taxes on the wealthy”, CNBC reports.

On foreign policy, “there will be a lot of continuity with the Greens”, says DW. Like most of Germany’s other parties, “they are betting on a strong Europe, or better, on making the EU strong again; they are betting on reviving the transatlantic relationship”.   

However, DW continues, the Greens have agitated for a more “critical approach toward Russia and China”, calling to cancel the controversial Nord Stream 2 pipeline from Russia through the Baltic Sea, which Merkel’s government has strongly defended.

The NYT also predicts that Baerbock’s arrival in the chancellery “would potentially herald a shift toward a more assertive foreign policy”, in marked contrast to Germany’s current flexibility as global politics becomes a “competition between authoritarian and democratic ideals”.

“The Greens are the only party that can rock the boat a bit, especially on China and Russia,” Jana Puglierin, the director of the European Council on Foreign Relations in Berlin, told the paper. “They will strike a better balance between the economy and human rights.”

The Greens have “openly shown support for opposition groups in China, Russia, and Belarus”, reports DW, “and we can expect clearer tones from the Greens toward China on its treatment of the Uighurs” if the party claims power - an outcome that looks increasingly likely.

However the cards fall, the Greens “will be part of the next government”, Norbert Rottgen, a prominent CDU member of the Bundestag, predicted recently. “Either a big part or even the leading part.”

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