Why the German Greens are on the rise – Atlantic Sentinel

German Green Party leader Annalena Baerbock delivers a speech in Berlin on February 17, 2021 (DPA / Kay Nietfeld)

The German Greens have for the first time in two years overtaken the ruling Christian Democrats in the polls. Two polls last week gave them 28 percent support in the September election against 21 to 27 percent for the center-right.

These polls are still outliers, but the gap between the parties has been narrowing from poll to poll for months.

I suspect there are two factors at play: leadership and the desire for change. I will take them in turn before explaining the different ways in which the Greens could take power.


Der Spiegel says it clearly: imagine the electoral debates to come. On the left, the former mayor of Hamburg and outgoing finance minister, aged 62, Olaf Scholz, the candidate of the Social Democrats. On the right, the 60-year-old prime minister of North Rhine-Westphalia, Armin Laschet, leader of the Christian Democrats. In the middle, a 40-year-old mother of two who challenges the stereotype of the well-meaning but wide-eyed environmentalist.

Annalena Baerbock worked in international law and as a parliamentary advisor before being fully elected in 2013. She served on economic and family policy committees and participated as a legislator at the Paris Climate Conference in 2015. A centrist in her own party, she criticized the central parties for lacking ambition on the climate and Europe and for not adopting a harsher line against Russia.

Something new

“The question”, argues Der Spiegel, it is “if the old one wins again.” Or if now is the time for something new.

I expect there will be a desire for change after sixteen years of scrambling. This is why I argued that Markus Söder, the Prime Minister of Bavaria, would make a better candidate for the right than Laschet: he represents a modernizing conservatism and more confident than the consensual Christian democracy of Laschet and the woman he hopes succeed, Angela Merkel.

That’s not to say Merkel’s centrism was bad for the time, but it left issues unanswered. Or, as Constanze Stelzenmüller puts it in an excellent profile of the outgoing chancellor in Foreign Affairs, “Even her admirers concede that although she has been extremely adept at outwitting the currents of politics, she has been far too reluctant to shape them.”

Germany produces fewer university graduates per capita than its neighbors. Its 4G network is one of the worst in Europe. Investments in rail are insufficient. Billions of euros spent on a Energiewende at best equalized Merkel’s decision to phase out nuclear power, which increased reliance on coal and natural gas. Just before the pandemic, the World Economic Forum downgraded Germany from third to seventh place in its competitiveness index.

Merkel rarely answered questions about Germany’s identity or its place in Europe for fear of stoking old passions. As a result, many Germans felt that changes, such as a million refugees and bailouts from weaker European states, had taken place. To them. The popularity of the far-right Alternative for Germany, virtually unchanged at 11-12% since the last election and concentrated in the former East, is also its legacy.

The COVID-19 pandemic has cast doubt on conventional wisdom, including Germany’s reluctance to borrow and spend. The effects of climate change are starting to be felt in Europe, with hotter summers and increasingly frequent floods and storms.

It doesn’t necessarily have to benefit left-wing parties per se, but I suspect it will benefit parties that (seem) to have a plan.

The Greens propose to invest 500 million euros in digitization, infrastructure and emissions neutrality. They would phase out coal-fired electricity by 2030, eight years ahead of Merkel’s schedule. They want to stop Nord Stream 2, the extension of the gas link between Germany and Russia under the Baltic Sea. They support a European minimum wage, a European Monetary Fund, a European Security Union for police and military cooperation, European-wide unemployment insurance and they reject multi-speed integration.

I do not support all policies. I think a European minimum wage and European unemployment insurance are at best premature (even America does not have the same policies in all fifty states), and I want the Greens to support their European Union security with higher German defense spending. But I cannot accuse them of lacking ambition.

Nor that they are unrealistic. The Greens’ emissions targets correspond to those of the European Commission. Many of their EU reform proposals match those of French President Emmanuel Macron. America and Eastern Europe also want Germany to withdraw from Nord Stream 2. No one in foreign capitals will lose sleep over the prospect of the Greens coming to power in Berlin.

Possible coalitions

This can happen in two ways, writes Jon Worth, a British-born blogger and member of the Berlin Green Party:

  1. A “Black-Green” coalition, similar to that which governs Austria. This would likely double the reduction in emissions, take a softer line in Brussels and a tougher line against Russia.
  2. A “traffic light” coalition of Greens, Social Democrats and Free Liberal Democrats. It works in Rhineland-Palatinate, but bridging left-right divisions on issues such as labor law, sustainability and taxes will be a challenge.

Many Christian Democrats would prefer a center-right coalition with the Free Democrats while the Greens would be more comfortable in a coalition with only the Social Democrats, but neither option is likely to have a majority in the next Bundestag.

A left-wing coalition made up of Greens, Social Democrats and Die Linke could work at the national level, but Worth doubts they would settle their differences over foreign policy. Die Linke is still anti-NATO and sees the EU as a “neoliberal” project.

Another grand coalition of Christian Democrats and Social Democrats could fail, and neither party wants to continue after seven years anyway.

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