The election of Annalena Baerbock is a sign of the party’s new confidence
Germany’s Green Party means business. Now only single digits behind the conservative CDU/CSU in the polls (but ahead of all parties in this poll), there is a real chance that the federal elections in September might bring about the country’s first Green leader. It is a sign of the party’s new confidence that it has on Monday picked its first-ever chancellor candidate: Annalena Baerbock.
Only 40 years old, she is the youngest of the candidates for Germany’s central political office. This befits a party that is trying to win over voters on a reform ticket. But make no mistake, Baerbock is an experienced career politician with the potential to convince even risk-averse voters that she would be a safe pair of hands.
The Greens’ consistent course of ‘constructive opposition’ during Merkel’s long tenure in government, and particularly during the pandemic, allowed Baerbock to cultivate a friendly image, devoid of the whiff of corruption and ambition that surrounds the candidates of the ruling coalition parties, the CDU/CSU and SPD. It helps that she speaks with the neutral accent of her North-German home region, avoiding the sometimes divisive regional inflections of her competitors. Her career path has been steep but without scandal: from her middle-class upbringing (which included a brief sporting career as a successful trampolinist, winning her three national bronze medals) to her professional development in journalism and politics at EU level and in Germany. She is a personable and modern politician without rough edges.
The decision this week to choose Baerbock over her colleague and co-leader of the Green Party, Robert Habeck, has not been an obvious one. The latter has long been hailed as the more likely chancellor candidate. While polls have Baerbock slightly ahead of her male colleague internally, the German public still see Habeck as the more capable candidate.
One could take the view that there isn’t much between the two Green leaders. Both have unfailingly sung from the same hymn sheet. Both are also members of the so-called ‘realo’-wing of the Green Party, the pragmatic faction willing to compromise and work with mainstream political parties.
But while both Green leaders are happy to drive a friendly, consensus-driven, centre course, Baerbock is the more Left-leaning of the two. Habeck has in the past worked on programmes with conservative politicians against radical Islamist influences in Germany, while Baerbock has been engaged in groups that furthered the course of Syrian refugees. Her instincts certainly lean a little further Left than his.
The choice to opt for the female, younger and more Left-leaning candidate over the one still favoured by the electorate, shows how confident the German Greens are going into the September elections. They know they don’t need to come first to provide the chancellor. The political system might well see them become the second largest party and pick coalition partners other than the CDU/CSU, even if the latter win the most votes.
Whatever the outcome of the election in September the German Greens are more likely to sit on the government benches than opposite.