Germany’s Greens to put forward first chancellor candidate

Germany's opposition Greens party, currently surging in the polls, said Wednesday it would name its first chancellor candidate this month ahead of September's general election to replace Angela Merkel.

Germany's Greens to put forward first chancellor candidate
Annalena Baerbock and Robert Habeck in March 2021. Photo: DPA

The centre-left ecologist party said its leadership would tap one of its co-presidents, Annalena Baerbock or Robert Habeck, on April 19th, with final approval expected at a party congress in June.

“We have a strong duo at the top with Annalena Baerbock and Robert Habeck for the general election 2021,” the Greens’ executive director Michael Kellner tweeted.

“And on April 19th we’ll present which of the two will take on the chancellor candidacy. #AllesistDrin (Anything’s Possible).”

While both Baerbock, 40, and Habeck, 51, have said they want to lead their party into the election, they have long stated they want to take the decision by consensus.

A poll by the Forsa institute Wednesday put Baerbock slightly ahead of Habeck in voter preference.

Who will be the conservative candidate?

The Greens’ move throws down the gauntlet to Merkel’s ruling CDU/CSU conservatives, who have said they would name their top candidate between Easter last weekend and Pentecost on May 23rd.

The battle is between CDU chief Armin Laschet, who has repeatedly sparred with Merkel over coronavirus shutdown measures, and the far more popular CSU head Markus Soeder, who as Bavarian state premier has largely toed the chancellor’s line in the pandemic.

READ ALSO: Germany after Merkel – does the new CDU leader have what it takes to be future chancellor?

The CDU/CSU, which has played a dominant role in German post-war politics for decades, is polling at around 27 percent, with the Greens hot on their heels at about 23 percent.

The conservatives have suffered a dramatic reversal of fortune in the wake of the raging third wave of the virus outbreak, a sluggish vaccine rollout and a rash of corruption allegations against several MPs.

The numbers suggest the most likely election outcome would be a first-ever federal government made up of the conservatives and the Greens when Merkel retires after 16 years at the helm of Europe’s top economy.

But analysts haven’t ruled out a Greens victory.

If it shapes up to be a race of Laschet versus Baerbock, “the probability that the Greens may win and lead the next German government may rise from 25 percent to at least 30 percent and possibly to 35 percent, in our view,”

Berenberg Bank’s chief economist Holger Schmieding said. The Greens served as junior partners in a Social Democrat-led German government 1998-2005 and have occasionally linked up with the CDU at the state level.

The Social Democrats, trailing badly at about 15 percent, have named Finance Minister Olaf Scholz as their candidate for chancellor.

READ MORE: Life after Merkel: Is Germany ready to think about what’s next?

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How Germany is reacting to far-right election victory in Italy

While far-right groups have been celebrating, other politicians in Germany see the results as worrying. Here's a look at the reaction.

How Germany is reacting to far-right election victory in Italy

According to initial projections following Italy’s election on Sunday, the coalition led by Georgia Meloni and her radical right-wing Fratelli d’Italia party has won a majority of seats in the two chambers of the Italian parliament and will lead the next government. 

Meloni is a euro-sceptic who has previously spoken about having an “aversion” to Germany and referred to German Chancellor Olaf Scholz as “socialist” while on the campaign trail.

However, Chancellor Olaf Scholz’s deputy spokesman Wolfgang Buechner told reporters on Monday: “We of course have to wait for the official final result from this election but at this time what the chancellor would say is that Italy is a very Europe-friendly country with very Europe-friendly citizens and we assume that won’t change.” 

READ ALSO: What will a far-right government mean for Italy?

A Finance Ministry spokesperson added that Berlin expected the new Italian government to continue to respect the stability pact that sets the fiscal rules for the eurozone.

Despite these reassurances from the central government, German politicians in the EU parliament have expressed concern about the new direction for Italy.  

Rasmus Andresen, spokesman for the German Greens in the EU Parliament, said the “unprecedented Italian slide to the right” will have massive repercussions for Europe and for the European Union.

“Italy, as a founding member and the third strongest economy in the EU, is heading for an anti-democratic and anti-European government.”

Though Meloni no longer wants Italy to leave the eurozone, she has said that Rome must assert its interests more and has policies that look set to challenge Brussels on everything from public spending rules to mass migration.

The Greens’ co-leader in Brussels, Thomas Waitz, told Die Welt that the EU can only function if it sticks together, for example on cooperation in energy markets, decisions on Russian sanctions or dealing with the Covid crisis. “Meloni, on the other hand, would back national go-it-alones. It can be a disaster for Europe,”  he said. 

READ ALSO: Euro falls to 20-year low against US dollar

The FDP’s expert on Europe, Alexander Graf Lambsdorff, takes a similar view. He said on ARD’s Morgenmagazin that cooperation with Italy in the European Union will become more difficult. He said that it will now be much more difficult to achieve unity in Europe, especially on the issues of migration, reform of the Stability and Growth Pact and the single market.

Speaking on RTL, Green Party leader Omid Nouripour called the election results in Italy “worrying” and pointed out that people within the Italian right-wing nationalist alliance have “very close entanglements with the Kremlin”.

“We can’t rule out the possibility that people in Moscow also popped the corks last night,” he said.

Germany’s own far-right party – Alternative für Deutschland (AfD) – has been celebrating the victory. 

AfD member of the Bundestag Beatrix von Storch wrote “We cheer with Italy!” on Twitter late Sunday evening.

Referring to the recent elections in Sweden, where the right was also successful, von Storch wrote: “Sweden in the north, Italy in the south: left-wing governments are so yesterday.”

Her party colleague Malte Kaufmann tweeted, “A good day for Italy – a good day for Europe.”

With reporting from AFP