How elections in one state could reveal what’s to come in post-Merkel Germany

Baden-Württemberg, one of Germany's prosperous car regions, will go to the polls on Sunday - and the result is set to give a flavour of what might come in the country's national elections.

How elections in one state could reveal what's to come in post-Merkel Germany
The Green's Winfried Kretschmann's election poster has the message: "You know me". Photo: DPA

At first glance, the affluent southwestern German state of Baden-Württemberg with its booming automobile industry might look like an unlikely stronghold for the Green party.

But the Greens, who have headed the government in the conservative industrial region for 10 years, are set to consolidate their grip in the state, opinion polls in the run-up to the next state election on Sunday show.

“We have proven that it can work, even if it is complicated at times,” said Winfried Hermann, Baden-Württemberg’s transport minister – a key post in a region that Mercedes, Daimler and Porsche call home.

READ ALSO: Will Germany soon have it’s first Green chancellor?

The regional poll, which comes just six months before a general election on September 26th, is seen as a bellwether of what might lie ahead as Chancellor Angela Merkel prepares to bow out of politics.

The state’s Green-led coalition government with Merkel’s CDU could in fact be replicated on the federal level, albeit with the conservatives as the senior partner.

In Baden-Württemberg, the Greens are now up to 10 points ahead of the conservatives, who are under pressure because of frustration with the government’s pandemic management and a corruption scandal.

As a result, the ecologists could score their best result since they first came to power in the state in 2011, propelled by fear and anger over the Fukushima disaster.

After five years in coalition with the Social Democrats (SPD), the Greens formed an unlikely partnership with the CDU in 2016, the only coalition partner available to them as the left imploded and the far-right AfD sucked votes away from the centre.

‘Not as radical’

“Who could have imagined this years ago, when the differences between black and green were so great and personal animosity so strong,” 60-something transport minister Hermann said, referring to the parties’ traditional colours.

“We can see that the CDU has moved on climate issues, while the Greens are not as radical as they were 10 or 15 years ago,” he said.

Arthur Roussia, 28, a deputy for a CDU candidate in industrial state capital Stuttgart, agrees that “on the whole, the collaboration has worked well”.

Roussia puts this down to the “pragmatism” of Baden-Württemberg state premier Winfried Kretschmann, who he credits with being “more reasonable” than many Green colleagues.

The 72-year-old, with his crop of white hair and rectangular glasses, features prominently on the party’s main campaign poster for the election, accompanied by the slogan: “He knows what we can do.”

“I appreciate that he is always looking for dialogue and consensus, whether with the business world or farmers,” said one Stuttgart resident, Julia, as she passed a campaign stand.

 ‘Common sense’

For political scientist Ursula Münch, director of the Academy for Political Education in Tutzing, Bavaria, Kretschmann’s political style has been a decisive factor in the success of the Greens in this prosperous region.

“As a Catholic who is attached to his roots, someone who represents a certain common sense, he speaks to traditional CDU voters,” Münch said.

The former biology and chemistry professor is a founding member of the Greens, though his politics sometimes appear out of step with the party’s general ethos.

Last year, for example, Kretschmann supported a scrappage scheme to incentivise the purchase of new cars to help automobile companies struggling in the coronavirus pandemic.

Such stances have angered the region’s more hardcore environmentalists, who have proposed their own “climate list” of candidates for the election.

Peculiarities like these mean it would be “hasty” to predict how a coalition between the Greens and the conservatives might work at the national level based on the regional picture, Münch said.

The Greens at the federal level are also significantly to the left of those in Baden-Württemberg and must appeal to a much more diverse electorate.

READ ALSO: ‘Surfing the Zeitgeist’: How the Greens won over Germany

Johanna Molitor, a candidate for the liberal FDP party in Stuttgart, warned that “such a coalition at the national level would be too unstable”.

Even Hermann admits that “there have been conflicts”.

But he noted that in the end, “everyone knew that there was no alternative but to carry on” and find a compromise.

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Germany’s ‘traffic light’ parties sign coalition agreement in Berlin

Two and a half months after the federal elections on September 26th, the three parties of the incoming 'traffic light' coalition - the SPD, Greens and FDP - have formally signed their coalition agreement at a public ceremony in Berlin.

Traffic light coalition
Germany's next Chancellor Olaf Scholz (front, left) on stage in Berlin with other members of the new coalition government, and their signed agreement. Photo: picture alliance/dpa | Michael Kappeler

The move marks the final stage of a 10-week week process that saw the three unlikely bedfellows forming a first-of-its-kind partnership in German federal government. 

The SPD’s Olaf Scholz is now due to be elected Chancellor of Germany on Wednesday and his newly finalised cabinet will be sworn in on the same day. This will mark the end of the 16-year Angela Merkel era following the veteran leader’s decision to retire from politics this year. 

Speaking at the ceremony in Berlin on Tuesday morning, Scholz declared it “a morning when we set out for a new government.”

He praised the speed at which the three parties had concluded their talks and said the fight against the Covid crisis would first require the full strength of the new coalition.

Green Party co-leader Robert Habeck, who is set to head up a newly formed environment and energy ministry, said the goal was “a government for the people of Germany”.

He stressed that the new government would face the joint challenge of bringing climate neutrality and prosperity together in Europe’s largest industrial nation and the world’s fourth largest economy.

Green Party leader Annalena Baerbock spoke of a coalition agreement “on the level of reality, on the level of social reality”.

FDP leader Christian Lindner, who managed to secure the coveted role of Finance Minister in the talks, declared that now was the “time for action”.

“We are not under any illusions,” he told people gathered at the ceremony. “These are great challenges we face.”

Scholz, Habeck and Lindner are scheduled to hold  a press conference before midday to answer questions on the goals of the new government.

‘New beginnings’

Together with the Greens and the FDP, Scholz’s SPD managed in a far shorter time than expected to forge a coalition that aspires to make Germany greener and fairer.

The Greens became the last of the three parties to agree on the contents of the 177-page coalition agreement an in internal vote on Monday, following approval from the SPD and FDP’s inner ranks over the weekend.

“I want the 20s to be a time of new beginnings,” Scholz told Die Zeit weekly, declaring an ambition to push forward “the biggest industrial modernisation which will be capable of stopping climate change caused by mankind”.

Putting equality rhetoric into practice, he unveiled the country’s first gender-balanced cabinet on Monday, with women in key security portfolios.

“That corresponds to the society we live in – half of the power belongs to women,” said Scholz, who describes himself as a “feminist”.

READ ALSO: Scholz names Germany’s first gender-equal cabinet

The centre-left’s return to power in Europe’s biggest economy could shift the balance on a continent still reeling from Brexit and with the other major player, France, heading into presidential elections in 2022.

But even before it took office, Scholz’s “traffic-light” coalition – named after the three parties’ colours – was already given a baptism of fire in the form of a fierce fourth wave of the coronavirus pandemic.

Balancing act
Dubbed “the discreet” by left-leaning daily TAZ, Scholz, 63, is often described as austere or robotic.
But he also has a reputation for being a meticulous workhorse.
An experienced hand in government, Scholz was labour minister in Merkel’s first coalition from 2007 to 2009 before taking over as vice chancellor and finance minister in 2015.
Yet his three-party-alliance is the first such mix at the federal level, as the FDP is not a natural partner for the SPD or the Greens.

Keeping the trio together will require a delicate balancing act taking into account the FDP’s business-friendly leanings, the SPD’s social equality instincts and the Greens’ demands for sustainability.

Under their coalition deal, the parties have agreed to secure Germany’s path to carbon neutrality, including through huge investments in sustainable energy.

They also aim to return to a constitutional no-new-debt rule – suspended during the pandemic – by 2023.

FDP cabinets
Volker Wissing (l-r), FDP General Secretary und designated Transport Minister, walks alongside Christian Lindner, FDP leader and designated Finance Minister, Bettina Stark-Watzinger (FDP), the incoming Education Minister, and Marco Buschmann, the incoming Justice Minister. Photo: picture alliance/dpa | Michael Kappeler


Incoming foreign minister Annalena Baerbock of the Greens has vowed to put human rights at the centre of German diplomacy.

She has signalled a more assertive stance towards authoritarian regimes like China and Russia after the commerce-driven pragmatism of Merkel’s 16 years in power.

Critics have accused Merkel of putting Germany’s export-dependent economy first in international dealings.

Nevertheless she is still so popular at home that she would probably have won a fifth term had she sought one.

The veteran politician is also widely admired abroad for her steady hand guiding Germany through a myriad of crises.