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GREENS

Will Germany’s Greens face tougher election race after series of gaffes?

Germany's resurgent Green party, its sights set on the chancellery in September's election, has stumbled on the campaign trail over undeclared bonus payments and controversial comments about arming Ukraine.

Will Germany's Greens face tougher election race after series of gaffes?
Annalena Baerbock at a Greens Press Conference on May 17th. Photo: picture alliance/dpa | Kay Nietfeld

But although support for the centre-left, ecologist Greens has slipped in the wake of the missteps, the party remains neck-and-neck with Chancellor Angela Merkel’s conservatives.

The Greens dipped by one percentage point in this week’s Forsa poll for broadcasters NTV/RTL but held on to the top spot at 25 percent. Merkel’s CDU/CSU bloc, which has selected the unpopular Armin Laschet for the race to succeed Merkel, came a close second at 24 percent.

A different poll, carried out by Insa for Bild newspaper, put the
conservatives ahead at 26 percent followed by the Greens on 22 percent.

READ ALSO: From trailblazing radicals to Germany’s ‘most popular party’: Who are the Greens?

Tax slip

Last week, Greens co-leader Annalena Baerbock admitted she had failed to declare around 25,000 in supplementary income to parliament. It is Baerbock who has been tapped to lead her party into the September 26th vote.

The 40-year-old, who is thought to have a realistic shot at becoming Germany’s first Green chancellor, called it a “stupid oversight” that has since been corrected.

But opponents have leapt on the slip-up as a sign of hypocrisy from a party championing more transparency in politics.

The Sueddütsche daily said the case did not amount to a corruption scandal like the one that has snagged several of Merkel’s conservatives, who are accused of profiting from face mask contracts early on in the pandemic.

“But it weakens (Baerbock), because her campaign thrives on being more upstanding that her competitors,” it noted.

READ ALSO: ‘Stupid oversight’: German Green Chancellor candidate stumbles after failing to declare bonus

Annalena Baerbock on May 20th. Photo: picture alliance/dpa | Kay Nietfeld

‘Defensive weapons’

Fellow Greens leader Robert Habeck meanwhile caused a storm when he suggested during a trip to eastern Ukraine that the country should be allowed to buy “defensive weapons” from the West.

The traditionally pacifist Green party was quick to disown the suggestion, saying it supported the current German government policy not to supply weapons to war zones.

Habeck’s remarks nevertheless rattled the centre-left Social Democrats, potential coalition partners in a future Green-led government.

The charismatic but gaffe-prone Habeck rowed back on Wednesday, saying he was referring to “night vision goggles, reconnaissance equipment and ammunition clearance”.

The turmoil comes at a delicate time for the Greens because Baerbock “is still cementing her image among the public”, Thorsten Faas, a political scientist at Berlin’s Free University, told AFP.

Baerbock, an expert in international law and mother of two, was chosen in April over Habeck to be the Greens’ chancellor candidate.

The nomination gave the Greens a boost that saw them overtake Merkel’s bloc in opinion polls for the first time.

But the honeymoon didn’t last long.

‘Ironic’ racism

Baerbock quickly became the subject of a barrage of fake news and online attacks, from false claims about her green policies and scrutiny of her education, to a photoshopped nude picture.

The Greens have pushed back, condemning the at times sexist attacks and launching an online “fire service” to expose false stories.

But the party had to put out more fires earlier this month when Green mayor Boris Palmer posted racist remarks on Facebook about a black soccer player.

Palmer claimed his comments had been meant ironically, but members of the Greens in Baden-Württemberg state overwhelmingly voted to exclude him from the party.

Baerbock herself denounced the comments a “racist and repulsive”.

“The Greens are still doing well in the polls,” the Handelsblatt daily
said. “But the election is still four months away. A lot can happen.”

Member comments

  1. The comment on arming Ukraine is not a ‘gaffe’, the Greens are anything but ‘pacifist’. All their comments on international affairs show they favor following whatever geopolitical adventure Uncle Sam commands.

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GREENS

ANALYSIS: Greens face dashed hopes – and new leverage in German vote aftermath

With growing fears about global warming, deadly floods linked to climate change and a new political landscape as Angela Merkel leaves the stage, it should have been the German Greens' year.

ANALYSIS: Greens face dashed hopes - and new leverage in German vote aftermath
The Greens co-leaders Annalena Baerbock and Robert Habeck at the Greens' election event in Berlin. Photo: picture alliance/dpa | Christoph Soeder

After launching their campaign for Sunday’s general election in the spring with a youthful, energetic candidate in Annalena Baerbock, the sky seemed to be the limit – perhaps even taking the chancellery.

But although Germany has never seen an election campaign so focused on the climate crisis, the party turned in a third-place finish behind the centre-left Social Democrats (SPD), leading the race by a whisker, and the outgoing Merkel’s conservative Christian Democrats.

However Baerbock, 40, proved popular with young voters and her party with around 14 percent strongly improved on its 8.9 percent score from four years ago.

It is now widely expected to play a key kingmaker role in the coalition haggling to form a government.

“We wanted to win the chancellery, unfortunately that wasn’t possible,” Baerbock said late Sunday.

“We made mistakes but we have a clear mandate for our country and we will respect it. This country needs a government that will fight global warming – that’s the voters’ message.”

A fateful series of missteps by Baerbock as well as a perhaps more tepid appetite for change among Germans than first hoped saw the Greens’ initial
lead fizzle by early summer.

LIVE: Centre-left Social Democrats edge ahead in German election results

It never recovered.

“It was a historic chance for the Greens,” Der Spiegel wrote in a recent cover story on Baerbock’s “catastrophic mistakes”.

“The Greens stand like no other party for the big issue of our time but that doesn’t begin to ensure that they win majorities. They need a broader base.”

Annalena Baerbock and Robert Habeck. Photo: picture alliance/dpa | Kay Nietfeld

‘Shameless and complacent’

Baerbock captured the imagination of Germans when she announced her candidacy in April, and her promise of a fresh start after 16 years of Merkel rocketed the party to the top of the polls.

But by this week, even her co-party leader Robert Habeck admitted that the Greens had been forced to set their sights lower.

“The distance to the chancellery has grown quite large of course,” he told the daily Die Welt.

“We saw that our political rivals didn’t have much interest in change and kept saying ‘Yes, yes, climate protection is nice but it shouldn’t be too expensive’.

Without recognising that not protecting the climate is the most expensive answer.”

He said the Greens’ rivals “want to continue the Merkel era in the campaign, as shameless and complacent as possible”.

‘Hold all the cards’

Critics sought to portray the Greens as a “prohibition party” that would lead to rises in petrol, electricity and air ticket prices.

The party has advocated stopping coal energy by 2030 instead of the current 2038, and wants production of combustion engine cars to end from the same year.

While Germans pay lip service to climate protection, a recent poll for the independent Allensbach Institute found 55 percent oppose paying more to ensure it.

“The Germans have decades of prosperity and growth behind them – there were hardly limits and that burned its way deep into the public consciousness,” Spiegel said.

“Doing without is linked to dark times – triggering memories among the very old of (wartime) turnip soup and alienation among the young used to having more and more to choose from.”

On the other hand climate activists, who rallied in their hundreds of thousands across Germany on Friday, said even the Greens’ ambitious programme would fall short in heading off climate-linked disasters in the coming decades.   

Meanwhile Baerbock’s relative inexperience was laid bare under the hot campaign spotlight.

“She overestimated her abilities and then she doubted herself – not a good combination,” Ursula Münch, director of the Academy for Political Education
near Munich, told AFP.

“She should have been more patient and waited until next time.”

Despite the sobering outcome, the Greens nevertheless look well-placed to make the most of a junior role, under either SPD candidate Olaf Scholz or the

Armin Laschet, political analyst Karl-Rudolf Korte told ZDF public television as the results came in.

He said “all eyes” would be on the Greens and the other potential kingmaker, the pro-business Free Democrats, who came in fourth place with about 11.5 percent.

“Those two parties hold all the cards,” he said.

By Deborah COLE

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