Out of maybe five to ten Germans who might become chancellor within the next two years, possibly even a lot earlier, Annalena Baerbock may be one of three individuals with the best chances.
She is chairlady of ‘Bündnis 90/Die Grünen’, the German Greens, and she is holding that position at the right moment. While former big tent parties are losing voters by the millions, the Greens now have 25 percent support, more than all other parties, except for Angela Merkel’s conservative CDU/CSU, which has one percentage point more, according to the latest polls published by German-language media.
Annalena Baerbock is a person ‘like you and me’, a 38-year-old woman who has been part of the Berlin Bundestag since 2013. Last year, she became chairperson of her party in a team of two, with her colleague Robert Habeck.
So, if Baerbock becomes chancellor, would she take office as part of a team of two as well? No, there can only be one chancellor, but we are getting ahead of ourselves here.
The Greens have come a long way. In the mid to late 1970s, left-wing groups in Western Germany opposed nuclear power plants and the rearmament implemented by the United States and NATO. It was the Federal Republic of Germany’s version of the ‘No Nukes’ movement which founded the so-called ‘Colorful List’ (‘Bunte Liste’), a political organization positioned to the left of the ruling Social Democrats (SPD) at the time.
Back then, Chancellor Helmut Schmidt supported NATO’s Double-Track Decision. He wanted Pershing II missiles equipped with nuclear warheads in Western Germany, because the Soviets were increasing the number of their nuclear missiles, the SS-20, in Eastern Germany. Deterrence was the strategy.
The so-called peace movement consisted of ‘early Greens’, among others. But just wanting “peace”, without missiles, was rather starry-eyed, especially from today’s perspective, since the threat from the Soviet Bloc existed. Rejecting nuclear power plants was a more realistic demand, as we know today.
Apart from the ‘Colorful List’, a ‘Green List’ appeared. It was one of the predecessors of the Greens as we know them today. In 1980, the year Annalena Baerbock was born, ‘Die Grünen’ became an official party. After Germany’s reunification, in 1993, they merged with the Eastern German movement ‘Bündnis 90’.
But long before Germany was finally united again, the Greens entered parliaments in several federal states within Germany. In 1983, the liberal party FDP ended its coalition with the SPD, and the conservatives took over, with Helmut Kohl as Chancellor. In the general election which followed, the Greens got a sensational 5.6 percent of the vote. They were now part of the Bundestag.
At that point, there were quarrels inside the party, mainly between so-called fundamentalists and realists. The ‘Fundis’ were Musli-eating, bearded Jim Morrison or Janis Joplin clones who wanted everyone to become vegetarian. They populated the Bonn Bundestag looking like a bunch of freaks who had just returned from Woodstock.
The less exaggerated version: This fraction within the Greens was not really ready to govern, since they wanted to restrict the industry too much, and they were not known to be willing to compromise.
But it did not take long until the Greens became part of their first provincial government, in Hesse. Then, in 1998, they were in the Federal Government in Berlin, with Social Democrat Gerhard Schröder as Chancellor.
One of the most important Green personalities was Joschka Fischer, a former stone-throwing protester, who became Foreign Minister. He and his supporters were ‘Realos‘ who even cracked a big taboo. They made sure Germany would take part in its first military operation since WWII.
This kind of step became necessary when Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic and his henchmen started their campaign of genocide and ethnic cleansing in several former Yugoslav republics, mainly Croatia, Bosnia and Kosovo.
Today, decades after powerful conservatives like the late Franz-Josef Strauss called them undemocratic, maybe because many of of them did not look like they were compatible with Bavarian beer tents, the Greens have become the second-largest party in Germany, according to the polls mentioned.
What this means is that they would provide the Chancellor in a left-wing coalition, with the SPD and ‘The Left’ as junior partners. At this stage, the Greens and the SPD alone have far more support than the CDU with their natural coalition partner FDP, but neither have enough.
Will there be a shift to the left again in Germany? Possibly. Will it happen soon? It could, depending on the question whether Angela Merkel’s grand coalition will survive until 2021 or not. At this stage, anything seems possible.
Annalena Baerbock would possibly be the most likable Chancellor the Federal Republic of Germany has had. But does she also have what it takes? Most conservatives in Berlin would probably say no.
Some of them keep on saying what a nightmare a Green government would be in the first place, how the industry would flee the country and what not. Others in the CDU want to keep their options open, meaning they know they might need the Greens as a coalition partner one day soon, since the SPD is falling apart.
The new Green star is married and has two daughters. She was born and raised near Hanover, in Western Germany. As a schoolkid, she went to Florida for a year, as part of a student exchange. Later, she studied law in Hamburg and London. Somehow she ended up in Brandenburg province, where she was elected into the Bundestag.
As an environmentalist, Annalena Baerbock is a typical ‘Green’. Her background in law and her experience from a longer stay in Brussels are advantages she brings in. She still does volunteer work, in spite of her full schedule. This makes her a convincing politician. It is easy to believe she really wants to do good “because we have only borrowed the Earth from our children.”
The fact that Europe is in the center of what she is working on as well, comes in handy. Every German Chancellor needs that European vision. Social policies are yet another area the possible future head of government, Annalena Baerbock, concentrates on.
In January of 2018, shortly before she was elected chairlady of her party at a Green party congress, her speech sounded a bit less confident or professional than her statements do today. But she seemed self-confident.
“Good politics requires acknowledging the reality, in order to be able to change it”, she told her collaegues. And she made another thing crystal clear: “We are not only voting for the lady next to Robert”, she meant Robert Habeck, the chairman she is cooperating with today, “but for the new chairwoman of the Greens.” The party would have known she did not want to become some kind of a mannequin, even if she had not said so.
When she was elected, Annalena Baerbock could have been a little more careful with labels which might turn off more conservative voters. Back then she said the Greens were the “progressive force in the center of the left”. But in spite of that statement the party is now one of the two strongest in the Bundestag.
Today’s chairlady of the Greens sounded like the Swedish activist Greta Thunberg, when she stated that simply fighting for climate protection was not enough anymore. “We need radicality here!”, she shouted.
Annalena Baerbock likes discussing details in party committees, and she has been part of many of those. But she is also good at bringing the message across. Thus far, most Greens also like her general approach on the job.
One thing is certain: Annalena Baerbock is not a greenhorn, but rather the incarnation of the modern German ‘Green’.