In less than two weeks and after 16 years of leadership, Angela Merkel will be withdrawing from the political arena. Not only will Germany have a new chancellor, but also the upcoming election will reveal the face of the one who will become a crucial stakeholder in the international political landscape. Germany has the biggest economy in the European Union and is one of the most important allies of the United States. The 26th of September will therefore be a tipping point on the future of the Western World, in a period where there is a threat of shifting powers with the rise of China.
Back in April, there was a wave of enthusiasm and polls indicated that Annalena Baerbock, co-leader of the German Green Party (Bündnis 90/ die Grünen in German)was likely to become the new chancellor. This possibility gradually faded away, as her team has failed to manage the different reputation crises that the leader has faced. She was accused of plagiarism by unrigorous quotation in her recently published book, has lied on her resume and above all, she had an slow reaction reaction to the floods that hit Germany this past summer.
But even if Germany will probably have to wait four more years before aspiring to see another female chancellor, surveys seem to indicate that no matter which coalition wins, Baerbock and her party will be included in it. She and the Greens will definitely be a strong voice in the Bundestag or German Parliament. This ensures Baerbock, her views and the Green Party of central importance to the Germans and their future.
Who is Anna Baerbock?
An old trampolinist, an activist from a young age and a mother, Annalena Baerbock is co-president of the German Green Party. She has a clear vision of what she wants for Germany: Green policy, inseparably linked to the establishment of a stronger welfare net. She wants to relaunch Germany in international relations, and this through a strong integration within the European Union.
What could the Greens do in the new coalition that Merkel couldn’t?
The major question remains, who will be able to replace such a respected politician as the incumbent chancellor? Angela Merkel’s popularity largely relies on her ability to address crises, ranging from the 2008 economic shock to the migratory crisis in 2015. As a matter of a fact, she bears the nickname “Mutti”, as she was considered like mom for having reduced the damage of these crises upon germans.
But as Malte Lehming points out, even if she is admired by the way she faces crises, she has failed, however, in the eyes of many, to properly solve them. She has neglected various issues that are important to the German electors,
: the pandemic, climate change and geopolitical competition. This requires breaking the status quo, something that an 67 years old. Merkel and her preference for stability was not willing to do.
On the other hand, Baerbock appears to be determined to shake up the German political landscape. She is willing to address the crises that Merkel has left largely unattended, decarbonizing the german industry, weaning the country off coal and shifting to renewable energies and reimagining trade relationships with strategic competitors like China and Russia. She has indeed stated her desire of strengthening transatlantic bounds, clearly highlighted in their political platform, with the “new transatlantic agenda.”
“We Europeans, including the German government, need to take advantage of the current situation to realize the proposals that the US administration has put forward concerning climate-neutral cooperation. We need to get moving and point the way towards a European and transatlantic Green Deal.”
Furthermore, willingness of die Grünen to fight for human rights and democratic values seems to align with the Biden rhetoric, at least on paper. This vision and aim to be the defender of human rights, could be seen as an implicit target on the rise of major powers like China. This is why the Biden administration seems to be so optimistic about the German Greens, as the specialist in German-American relations Jeffrey Rathke raises.
What major challenges will they face?
Die Grünen certainly have an ambitious and defined program, but the path to apply most of their promises is not an easy one.
On one hand, they will have to face problems inherent to the German political system. They will have to counterbalance the complications that can be encountered in a parliamentary system. As no party tends to have a single majority in a proportional system, coalitions shall be made, and the compromises that will be reached will shape their politics. So to what extent can the Greens implement the policies that are part of their political agenda?
If we take the most plausible scenario, in which there will be Traffic light coalition , a wink to the parties’ respective colours (Green, Yellow, and Red), which are respectively the Greens, the Free Democratic Party and the Social Democrats or SDP)
As the Greens share most of their values with the Social Democrats, this could allow a fluid dialogue where deals are likely to be achieved. But some major disagreements are already on the table: The SPD wants to reach carbon neutrality in 2040, something largely insufficient in the eyes of the Greens. This can only be accentuated with the FDP or Free Democratic Party, a center right wing party that seeks a Free Market and lower regulation, something quite antagonistic with the social political agenda of the Greens. This could only be worsened if the Coalition ends up being with the conservatives, or Christian Democratic Union.
Geopolitics and Europe
Even if what brings them close to the US and more specifically the Biden administration is how they stick to their values, their vision on many other things might slightly differ. The recent statement of Baerbocks on the US withdrawal from Afghanistan is a clear example of potential future disagreements. They will have to be open to making concessions, and that is something that the Green Party of Germany will have to achieve without losing the credibility among their home voters that brought them so close to the victory.
European politics, on the other hand, are no less tumultuous. Well over and above Brexit, several dichotomies between the different member states are beginning to surface in a more accentuated way each time the Union faces a crisis. An example can be the North-South differences (Netherlands, Germany and Scandinavia vs. Spain, Portugal and Italy respectively) which caused tensions at the beginning of the Covid crisis regarding aid programs. Although this turned out to be a diplomatic victory, leading to the implementation of the European Recovery Plan, it pointed out the gap between different European countries that arises every time the Union faces an emergency, which makes more than one sceptic towards the EU cohesion.
The Green party and its coalition will therefore have to be up to the challenge of taking over as a leading nation of the European Union, and this with Macron whose term ends in 2022 and whose re-election is not guaranteed.
On the whole, the withdrawal of Merkel certainly marks the end of an era, and this goes far beyond the mere fact that we all got used to seeing her in global summits. Merkel represented stability, and most importantly: she was the living symbol of the triumph of a united Germany, being herself originally from the Communist side of the country back in the fifties. As Cerstin Gammelin, journalist in the german newspaper Süddeutsche Zeitung points out, none of the current candidates was born in eastern Germany.
How should this be perceived? The fact that a Green Party has emerged as a major political actor shows an obvious desire of the Germans for change. We could be facing the final culmination of a nation that has rebuilt itself, and that has been able to leave its past behind to move forwards.
However, this wind of hope shall not make us lose sight of another very alarming truth: for the first time in its recent History, Germany has a far-right populist party as part of the Bundestag. Alternative for Germany (AfD) which aims to withdraw from the EU as well as from the Paris agreement and to restore military service, is on the rise.
So are we at the dawn of a revolution, or a new polarisation of the political sphere? Only time will tell, and we most certainly should keep an eye on the upcoming events. So far, the German election stands as one of the most important events of this year for the future of our planet, and this election will undoubtedly baritone the Western world. So only one thing remains certain: for good or ill, change is coming.
Anne Hamon Martinez