Germany’s Greens pick Annalena Baerbock as first-ever chancellor nominee

Germany’s Green party has chosen 40-year-old co-head Annalena Baerbock to make history as its first-ever nominee to become chancellor as it prepares for its most competitive elections.

The Greens look to be on the ascendant in the country’s “super election year”, which includes a number of state elections and peaks in September with a parliamentary vote that will bring the curtain down on Angela Merkel’s 16-year career as chancellor.

The party is currently polling at 23 per cent, according to Forsa — just four points behind Merkel’s centre-right Christian Democrats — and is expected to become a part of the next government. It may even have a shot at becoming its senior coalition member. 

Baerbock, a member of the Bundestag, presented her candidacy on Monday as a bid for change in a country whose governments have historically been dominated by the CDU and the centre-left Social Democrats.

“A green chancellor candidacy stands for a new understanding of political leadership — decisive and transparent, adaptive and self-critical. Democracy thrives on change,” she said. 

“We want to make politics for the broad spectrum of society — inviting, and with clear goals. And so a new chapter begins today for our party and, if we do well, also for our country.”

Green leadership of Europe’s largest economy would have a profound impact on the continent, that would likely push for stronger climate policies and a more hawkish stance towards China and Russia, whose leaders the Greens oppose on human rights principles. It could also spell trouble for the embattled Nord Stream 2 gas project between Moscow and Berlin, which the Greens oppose for environmental and political reasons.

The Greens emerged in the 1980s and fought not only for climate protection but against nuclear power, and were active in antiwar movements. Earlier iterations of the party were seen as far more radical and leftwing, with a more aggressive stance towards industry. But the Greens have moved from its chaotic grassroots origins to a more streamlined political operation, set on taking power.

“The party is moving from childhood to adulthood, it is much more pragmatic, radical ideas play a more minor role,” said Uwe Jun, a political scientist at Trier university.

Baerbock, who is well-connected in Berlin, is part of the centre-left party’s more moderate wing, and said on Monday she would be fighting to claim centrist voters, a clear challenge to the CDU and SPD.

Yet she kept climate change at the top of the party’s campaign agenda, calling it “the task of our time, the task of our generation”.

That could prove tricky: the Greens have often been dubbed by critics as the Verbotspartei — or party of prohibitions — for their push for regulations to reach climate policy goals. Seeking to change that image, Baerbock and her co-leader Robert Habeck, 51, have tried to broaden the Greens’ appeal beyond their base of educated elites and passionate young voters.

Baerbock vowed to promote climate policies that could appeal to rural communities as well as industrial workers and low-income families. 

Meanwhile the CDU and its Bavarian sister party, the CSU, have been plagued with growing anger over the government’s handling of the pandemic, and a corruption scandal among several party members emerged. For the past week, they have also been locked in a divisive debate over who should be their own chancellor candidate.

Baerbock and Habeck have, by contrast, kept their party collected ahead of the candidacy nomination, part of their bid to portray the Greens as a responsible choice for Germany’s stability-craving voters.

Baerbock, quite popular within her party, is seen as a young, energetic contrast to older male candidates: the SPD’s Olaf Scholz, finance minister, and whichever candidate emerges from the Christian Democrats, either the CDU’s Armin Laschet or the CSU’s Markus Söder.

Sceptics point out that Baerbock has little experience of government, and may suffer from being seen as a novice as Germany gets closer to the polls.

She addressed those concerns during her nomination. “Yes, I have never been chancellor, nor have I ever been a minister,” she said. “I stand for renewal. Others stand for the status quo.”

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