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Election 2021: Germany’s Greens holding onto hope for change after Merkel

Rattled by a shaky start to their campaign, Germany's Greens are trying to regroup ahead of next month's general election with a renewed focus on climate protection as floods and fires ravage Europe.

Election 2021: Germany's Greens holding onto hope for change after Merkel
Green chancellor candidate Annalena Baerbock on Tuesday. Photo: picture alliance/dpa | Kay Nietfeld

The ecologist party’s bid to crown their candidate Annalena Baerbock as Angela Merkel’s successor as chancellor seemed to falter this summer over a series of gaffes.

Now hoping to seize on the urgency of the climate issue in many voters’ minds, the Greens chose the central city of Hildesheim to launch the “hot phase” on the hustings, as it is known in Germany, ahead of the September 26 poll.

“A lot is at stake with this election” after 16 years of Merkel at the helm, Baerbock told a crowd assembled on the historic town square.

“It’s about our future,” said Baerbock, stressing that the Greens were ready “to shape it”.

Western Germany last month experienced devastating floods that left at least 190 people dead and washed away billions of euros in housing, businesses and public infrastructure.

Meanwhile thousands of German holiday-makers recently returned from Greece after witnessing first-hand raging forest fires.

An alarming UN report said this week that such catastrophes would grow more frequent as global warming is occurring far more quickly than previously forecast.

READ ALSO: Climate change – Germany says time is ‘running out’ to save planet

The Greens, who have been warning of the dangerous impact of fossil fuel emissions since their founding four decades ago, have laid out a “climate protection now” plan as part of their platform.

It includes a proposal to create a “super ministry” for the environment with the power to veto government policies deemed potentially harmful.

‘Because she’s a woman’ 

This year is the first time the Green party, in opposition since 2005, has fielded a candidate to lead the country.

In April, its ambition seemed realistic when it tapped Baerbock, an energetic 40-year-old MP, as their standard bearer.

READ ALSO: 

For weeks the party was leading the polls ahead of Merkel’s conservative CDU-CSU alliance, which was hobbled by infighting.

But a failure by Baerbock to declare a pay bonus, inaccuracies on her CV and plagiarism allegations did lasting damage to her credibility and shaved several points off their support.

Currently the CDU-CSU is leading the Greens by around a 10-point margin, putting their candidate Armin Laschet in pole position to become Germany’s
next chancellor after Merkel retires this year.   

Rosa Wagner Kroeger, a Greens member in her 50s at the rally in Hildesheim, said she was still confident the party could turn the tide.

“Annalena Baerbock is a strong candidate – very intelligent. She was attacked because she’s a woman,” Kroeger said.

“Now we should return to the Greens’ issues in the campaign which have a lot to offer.”

READ ALSO: How the extreme flooding in Germany is linked to global warming

 ‘A card to play’

“Of course the personality of the candidate plays a big role,” political scientist Thorsten Faas of the Otto Suhr Institute told AFP.

“But the political agenda does too and the Greens of course have a card to play with the climate, the environment and energy which are their foundational issues – all the more so after the floods which focused the agenda on the climate.”

Voters say they’re ready for change after Merkel’s long tenure, according to a study released in mid-May by the Allensbach demographic institute.

Sixty percent said they wanted a new government to replace the right-left “grand coalition” made up of the conservatives and the Social Democrats (SPD), as well as a more “ambitious” government, particularly on climate policy.

In Hildesheim, Greens supporters were keeping the faith.

“It’s going to be tough but she’s good and convincing,” Marion Olthoff, 66, said of Baerbock.

“Yes, she’s definitely got a chance. And the others are so bad,” particularly Laschet, she added with a smile.

The conservative state leader has piled up a series of own-goals in recent weeks, including being caught on camera joking with local officials on a visit to a flood-stricken town and getting ensnared in his own plagiarism scandal.

And given the potential vagaries of coalition building, the election’s ultimate outcome is still seen as wide open.

“A lot of things have already happened during this campaign,” Faas, the political scientist, said. “And it’s certainly not over.”

By Isabelle LE PAGE

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TRAVEL NEWS

Germany approves €9 public transport ticket for summer

It's official - people in Germany will get cheap public transport for three months this summer after the €9 ticket was approved.

Germany approves €9 public transport ticket for summer

As part of a host of energy relief measures to cushion the cost of living crisis, the German government is offering cheap public transport for the months of June, July and August. 

Monthly tickets will be available at a price of €9 (or €27 for all three months) and they will allow people to use all buses, trains and trams in local and regional transport throughout the country.

So even if people buy the ticket in Munich, they will also be able to use local and regional buses, trains and trams elsewhere in Germany, whether it’s Hamburg or Cologne. 

READ ALSO: How to explore Germany by train with the €9 ticket

The ticket will not be valid, however, on long-distance transport such as ICE trains or Flixbus.

The offer was put together by the coalition government – made of the Social Democrats, the Greens and the FDP.

The Bundestag voted for the initiative on Thursday, agreeing to give federal states a subsidy of €2.5 billion to fund the project. 

And on Friday, the Bundesrat – the upper house of parliament that represents the states – gave the green light to the ticket, paving the way for it to begin on June 1st. 

States had wanted an extra €1.5 billion funding boost to deal with lost revenue, however it would have been hugely controversial if they had blocked it.

READ ALSO: German states threaten to block the €9 ticket in the Bundesrat

During a debate on Thursday, federal Transport Minister Volker Wissing (FDP) said the €9 project was “already a success”.

“All of Germany is talking about local public transport,” he said, adding that it is also being viewed with interest abroad. 

READ ALSO: ‘Fantastic’: Your verdict on Germany’s €9 ticket

The Left party (Die Linke) voted in favour of the €9 ticket, but leader Bernd Riexinger said he thought the plan didn’t go far enough. “Three months is simply too little,” he said.

The opposition, however, slammed the move. Christian Democrat Michael Donth called it an “expensive experiment”.

Rail operator Deutsche Bahn will offer the ticket for sale as early as Monday. Local public transport providers across the country are also preparing their ticket machines for the initiative. It will also be available in travel centres.

People with subscriptions to local transport will automatically benefit from the offer. 

In some regions, such as Stuttgart and Freiburg, the ticket is already available for purchase.

READ ALSO: How to get a hold of the €9 ticket in Berlin

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