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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Joint leader of Sweden’s Green Party announces resignation

Märta Stenevi, the embattled leader of Sweden's Green Party, has said she is resigning to focus on her mental health, her children and her partner.

Joint leader of Sweden's Green Party announces resignation

The decision comes less than three weeks after Stenevi took an indefinite period of sick leave, saying that she needed time to recover after a bruising period that saw the party launch an internal investigation into complaints about her management style.

There has also been extensive press coverage over the alleged conflict she has with Daniel Hellden, the man chosen as the party’s other leader at a conference in November. 

“This is a very difficult decision,” Stenevi told the Aftonbladet newspaper. “I put myself forward for reelection and received a renewed mandate from the congress, but I don’t believe I can be my best self right now and I don’t really know how long it will take to get back on my feet.”

“The party deserves better than to be in some kind of limbo, where one of the spokespeople [as the party calls its leaders] cannot fully carry out the role. And I need to focus on getting better again, being a good mum and a pleasant partner.”  

Writing on Instagram, Stenevi’s joint leader Daniel Helldén said that he was sorry to see Stenevi go. 

“I have respect for her decision, but personally I think it’s a real shame. I have very much enjoyed working together with Märtha,” he said. 

Stenevi said that the leaks to the media about complaints about her management style in the autumn had been difficult for her to handle. 

“It put me under enormous pressure. It wasn’t the media attention: I understand that you are going to be continually criticised and investigated, but what happened in the autumn was that there was a lot of anonymous briefing, so you didn’t know who you could trust or where it was coming from, and that made it much more difficult and much more draining.” 

When Stenevi went on sick leave last month, the party’s secretary, Katrin Wissing, told TT that her relationship with Daniel Helldén had not played a role in her departure.

“On the contrary, Daniel has been giving Märta extremely good support,” she said. 

Although Stenevi is resigning as party leader, she intends to remain in parliament is an MP, and has not decided to give up her career in politics. 

“When I’m back on track, I’ll see what happens, but I don’t feel completely finished with politics,” she said. “But this is the right decision, both for me, my family and my party.”