German Greens back weakened leader Baerbock after polls slump

Members of the German Greens party on Saturday officially nominated Annalena Baerbock as their candidate to replace Chancellor Angela Merkel, despite recent setbacks and slip-ups that Baerbock herself acknowledged.

German Greens back weakened leader Baerbock after polls slump
Annalena Baerbock at the Green party conference on Saturday. credit: dpa | Kay Nietfeld

Green delegates voted by a huge majority of 98.5 percent for the party to be co-led by Baerbock, who is to be the candidate for chancellor, and Robert Habeck.

Baerbock, 40, was clearly relieved at the result, and voiced regret for “errors” that had “really bothered” her and which have weakened support for the environmental party ahead of general elections scheduled for September 26.

She thanked party delegates for providing a “tail wind, especially after the headwind of recent weeks”.

A week ago, the party was hammered in a regional vote in Saxony-Anhalt as its focus on climate protection failed to resonate with electors in Germany’s poorest state.

The Greens garnered just six percent of the vote, less than a point higher than in the last state election in 2016.

Merkel’s Christian Democrats (CDU) scored a resounding win with 37 percent of the vote, pushing the far-right AfD into a distant second place with 21 percent.

The strong outcome put wind in the sails of CDU leader Armin Laschet, Baerbock’s main opponent to run Europe’s top economy after 16 years with Merkel at the helm.

A national poll this week by public television station ARD had the CDU at 28 percent, while the Greens slipped by six points from the previous month to 20 percent.


Baerbock is held responsible in large part for the drop, owing to her failure to declare to parliament a bonus she had received from the party.

In addition, inaccuracies on her CV that have since been corrected undermined the Green’s message of improved transparency.

Comments by Habeck on a visit to Kiev last month that appeared to back supplying arms to Ukraine added to negative headlines, even though he quickly rowed them back.

Green proposals for hiking petrol prices and cutting back domestic flights in favour of rail and bus connections have also gone down badly in some quarters.

Senior Green officials admit it will now be an uphill battle to counter conservative bids to paint them as a party for latte-sipping, electric
vehicle-driving urbanites.

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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