More trains and energy grants: What a Green election win could mean for Germany

Germany's Green Party kicked off its campaign for the upcoming General Election yesterday, with a focus on wage inequality, railways and energy grants - but commentators are questioning why their candidate for chancellor is practically absent from their campaign materials.

More trains and energy grants: What a Green election win could mean for Germany
The Greens unveil their new campaign posters on July 12th. Photo: picture alliance/dpa | Michael Kappeler

After a rocky few months in the polls, the Greens seemed keen to redirect attention away from chancellor candidate Annalena Baerbock and back towards their policies. 

Following the almost unanimous election of co-leader Annalena Baerbock as the Green’s chancellor candidate in June, the party initially saw a massive surge in approval ratings – at one point, even moving ahead of Merkel’s Christian Democratic Union (CDU) party in the polls.

Since then, however, Baerbock’s image has been marred by accusations of misconduct, including failing to declare bonuses to the Bundestag and allegedly plagiarising sections of her campaign book, “Jetzt” (Now).

A campaign launch ‘with a hint of Baerbock’

As Tagesschau’s Sabine Henkel pointed out, though Baerbock has been featured on one or two campaign posters, she is no longer being referred to as the potential successor to Merkel. 

“There isn’t a single poster showing her as a candidate for chancellor,” wrote Henkel. “Does that mean that the Greens are moving away from Baerbock – or do they want to take her out of the line of fire?”

READ ALSO: German Greens’ candidate defends herself against plagiarism claim

When asked whether Baerbock could be replaced, party co-leader Robert Habeck said there was “no debate” about a possible switch of candidate.

Other Green Party activists, meanwhile, defended the decision to focus on policies over personalities.

With the Green’s campaign launch on Monday, the party is trying to win back support under the slogan ‘Bereit, weil ihr es seid’ (‘Ready because you are’).

Here are the key takeaways from the party’s election manifesto, from major investments in Green transport and digital infrastructure to a €12 minimum wage. 

READ ALSO: UPDATE: Germany’s Greens eye comeback as they launch election campaign

Cut emissions by at least 70 percent by 2030 

Though the coronavirus pandemic has taken centre-stage in recent months, recent studies show that the vast majority of German voters see the climate crisis as the country’s greatest future threat – and the issue continues to take centre stage in this election.

In their manifesto, the Greens have pledged to revise the current government’s climate targets up to ensure that the country produces at least 70 percent fewer emissions in 2030 than it did in 1990.

In May, Merkel’s CDU and their junior coalition partner, the Social Democratic Party (SPD), amended their emissions reduction targets under pressure from the EU. The government’s goal is to reduce carbon emissions by 65 percent by 2030, meaning the country could achieve climate neutrality by 2045.

To achieve their targets, the Greens want to implement an “immediate climate protection programme” that will “initiate effective measures in all business sectors, remove existing obstacles to the expansion of renewables, and implement obvious savings opportunities”. 

‘Energy money’ allowance

In addition, the party are keen to use state income from the recently introduced CO2 levy to give German residents an annual ‘energy money’ allowance that they believe will incentivise more climate-friendly behaviour, while also making the CO2 price affordable for lower income people. 

READ ALSO: Germany rings in 2021 with CO2 tax, coal phase-out

Since January 2021, a cost of €25 per tonne of CO2 has been added to climate-polluting products, with plans to increase the figure to €55 per tonne by 2025. The tax revenues from this would be given back to people as a stipend that could be used either to pay the CO2 price on products, or – if someone purchases fewer emissions-hungry products than the average German – enjoyed as a kind of ‘climate bonus’.

According to the Greens, people who are particularly affected by the CO2 price – such as those on social benefits – would receive additional financial support, such as “generous grants” for purchasing an electric car. 

€12 minimum wage and better job security 

As well as their flagship climate policies, the Greens are putting wages and social security at the centre of their election manifesto with the promise of enhanced social security and a €12-an-hour minimum wage.

This is the same as the minimum wage proposed by the SPD in their 2021 election manifesto, and more than the current coalition government has promised: at present, the national minimum wage is set to rise to €10.45 an hour by July 2022.

The Greens want to introduce better workers’ rights for people in the ‘gig economy’. Photo: picture alliance/dpa | Michael Kappeler

To deal with the digitalisation of the job market, the Greens also want to strengthen workers’ rights within the so-called ‘gig economy’, and prevent employees from Scheinselbständigkeit (fake self-employment), which employers may use to avoid make social security payments, for example.

The party has also pledged to introduce a “legal right to training and the strengthening of professional qualifications” to give people a better chance of finding a job. 

Major investment in internet and eco-transport

If the Greens are elected this September, Germany will be in for an unprecedent wave of investment over the next 10 years, according to the party’s manifesto

The Greens plan to spend an additional €50 billion a year on bridging the gaps in the country’s Wifi coverage, improving transport infrastructure with eco-friendly buses, new train routes and additional charging stations for electric cars.

READ ALSO: EXPLAINED: How Germany is finally set to improve Wifi and phone signal on trains

They will also put money aside to support business sectors that have been particularly damaged by the corona crisis. 

“This is how we create sustainable prosperity and secure the competitiveness of our country,” the party says.

Improved access to school and nursery places

Nursery spots for toddlers have become a growing concern in Germany lately: last October, business daily Handelsblatt reported that the country’s nurseries needed almost 350,000 more places to meet demand. 

“Every child has the right to good daycare centers and schools, no matter where they live,” said the Greens. “Our plans will create equal opportunities and cohesion in our diverse society.”

The Greens also want to combine the various forms of state child support into one lump sum for families, termed Basic Child Support. This would mean that every child receives a base amount, while lower-income families receive additional financial support known as GuaranteePlus.

READ ALSO: From Kindergeld to tax benefits: What changes for families in Germany in 2021

“The lower the family income, the higher the GuaranteePlus amount,” the Greens say. “After a one-off application at the time of birth, the amount of the basic child benefit is automatically calculated and paid out.

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German far-right AfD thwarted in mayoral race near former Nazi camp

The far-right Alternative for Germany (AfD) on Sunday lost a tight mayoral race where the party had been tipped to secure the office of city mayor for the first time.

German far-right AfD thwarted in mayoral race near former Nazi camp

The AfD’s candidate Jörg Prophet was defeated by independent incumbent Kai Buchmann in a run-off vote that put the spotlight on the city of Nordhausen in the former East German state of Thuringia.

The prospect of a win for the far-right party was described as a “catastrophe” by the keepers of a nearby concentration camp memorial ahead of the ballot.

Around 60,000 prisoners were held in the Mittelbau-Dora slave labour camp — a sub-camp of the notorious Buchenwald — only six kilometres from central Nordhausen.

They were forced to make V-2 rockets in brutal underground conditions, with around one in three worked to death.

An AfD mayor would not have been welcome at commemorative events at the site’s memorial, Jens-Christian Wagner, director of the Buchenwald and Mittelbau-Dora Memorials Foundation, told AFP.

READ ALSO: Why are the far-right AfD doing so well in German polls?

‘Weight lifted’

“The AfD is an extreme right-wing party whose ideology is congruent or at least very similar in many areas to the ideology of the National Socialists,” he said.

Prophet looked confident ahead of the vote, flashing a brilliant white grin to passers-by at his campaign stand in the small but prosperous city.

The 61-year-old argued he represented a fresh start for Nordhausen after six-year incumbent Buchmann had fallen out of favour with many residents after repeatedly clashing with the city council.

Like many members of the far-right party, Prophet has been accused of extremism and historical revisionism.

In a blog post in 2020, he claimed the Allied forces that liberated the Mittelbau-Dora camp were only interested in snooping on the site’s rocket and missile technology.

He also called for an end to Germany’s Schuldkult, or “guilt cult”, a reference to the country’s efforts to remember and learn from the Holocaust.

But in the end, Prophet failed to gather the support needed to become city mayor, collecting 45.1 percent of the vote.

The result guaranteed a “normal life for Nordhausen”, Buchmann said after the outcome became clear.

With the result “a huge weight has been lifted”, Wagner told news channel NTV.

It made clear that “you cannot win elections with historical revisionism, with an attitude that downplays the suffering of concentration camp prisoners”, he said.

Regional tests

Nonetheless, right-wing extremist attitudes are becoming increasingly widespread in Germany, according to a survey published this week by the Friedrich Ebert Foundation.

Eight percent of Germans can now be classified as having clear right-wing extremist views, compared with two to three percent in previous years, the foundation said.

READ ALSO: Number of right-wing extremists in Germany ‘triples’

The AfD, created in 2013 as an anti-euro outfit before seizing on anger over mass migration to Germany, has had a string of successes of late.

The party secured its first district administrator position in June, also in Thuringia, and its first town mayor in July in neighbouring Saxony-Anhalt.

At the national level, recent opinion polls have put the party on 22 percent, above Chancellor Olaf Scholz’s centre-left SPD and only a few points behind the main opposition conservative party.

The AfD’s support is especially strong in Thuringia, where it is polling  around 34 percent, according to a recent survey by regional broadcaster MDR.

Thuringia will hold a vote for its regional parliament in September 2024, along with two other former East German states, Brandenburg and Saxony.