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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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POLITICS

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

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