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Annalena Baerbock: Germany’s First Green Chancellor?

On April 19th, 2021, the German Greens will announce the name of their first candidate for Chancellor. It will have to be the party’s co-chairperson Annalena Baerbock. At least it would be a big surprise if they did not pick her.

Berlin, April 10th, 2021 (The Berlin Spectator) — Annalena Baerbock heads ‘Bündnis 90/Die Grünen’, the German Greens, with her colleague Robert Habeck. Among center-left and left wing parties in Germany, it is very fashionable to have a leadership consisting of a woman and a man. But when it comes to choosing one leader, or one candidate for Chancellor, it will have to be the woman. Anything else is politically incorrect in those circles. But it is not all about gender, even in the Green party.

Not Without the Greens

Annalena Baerbock and is holding her position at the right moment. While former and actual big tent parties are losing voters by the millions, the Greens now stand at about 23 percent, meaning they are stronger than all other parties, except for Angela Merkel’s conservative CDU with its Bavarian sister party CSU. Unless things change drastically until September 26th, 2021, which is when the next elections for the Berlin Bundestag are scheduled to take place, it will be hard or even impossible to govern without the Greens.

When the party was founded at a convention in Karlsruhe on January 13th, 1980, Annalena Baerbock, who is 40 years old, was not even conceived. She has been part of the Berlin Bundestag since 2013. In 2018, she became one of the chairpersons of her party in a team of two, with her colleague Robert Habeck. So, if Annalena Baerbock becomes Chancellor, would she take office as part of a team of two as well? No.

No Nukes or Pershing IIs

The Greens have come a long way. In the mid to late 1970s, left-wing groups in West Germany opposed nuclear power plants and NATO’s rearmament. 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).

Annalena Baerbock and the former Green icon Joschka Fischer discuss something. Photo: Imanuel Marcus

Back then, Chancellor Helmut Schmidt supported NATO’s Double-Track Decision. He wanted Pershing II missiles equipped with nuclear warheads in West Germany, because the Soviets were increasing the number of their nuclear missiles, the SS-20, in East Germany. Deterrence was the strategy. The ‘peace movement’ which opposed NATO’s policy was a melting pot for future Greens. So was the movement against the peaceful use of nuclear power.

Colorful and Green Lists

Apart from the ‘Colorful List’, a ‘Green List’ appeared. It was one of the predecessors of the Greens as we know them today. In early 1980, eleven months before Annalena Baerbock was born, ‘Die Grünen’ became an official party. After Germany’s reunification, in 1993, they merged with the East German movement ‘Bündnis 90’.

But long before Germany was finally reunited, the Greens entered parliaments in several federal states. In 1982, the liberal party FDP ended its coalition with the SPD, and the conservatives took over, with Helmut Kohl as Chancellor. The Greens got a sensational 5.6 percent of the vote in the general elections which followed. They were now part of the Bundestag.

Greens in the Government

At that point, there were quarrels inside the party, mainly between so-called fundamentalists and realists. The ‘Fundis’ were muesli-eating, bearded Jim Morrison or Janis Joplin clones who wanted everyone to become vegetarian. They populated the Bonn Bundestag looking like a bunch of hippies who had just returned from Woodstock. The less exaggerated version: This fraction within the Greens was not really ready to govern, for instance 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 had been Environment Minister in Hesse and became Germany’s Foreign Minister. He and his supporters were ‘Realos‘ who even cracked a big taboo. They made sure Germany would launch its first military operation since WWII.

The Black-Green Option

This kind of step became necessary when Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic and his henchmen started their campaign of genocide and ethnic cleansing in the former Yugoslav republics 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.

Annalena Bearbock was not even born when the Greens were founded in early 1980. Photo: Imanuel Marcus

What this means is that they would provide the Chancellor in a center-left coalition, with the SPD and ‘The Left’ as junior partners. What the Germans call ‘traffic light coalition’ could be another option. It would include the Greens, the ‘red’ Social Democrats (SPD) and the ‘yellow’ FDP. That way, the far-left ‘Die Linke’ could be bypassed. Dealing with the neo-liberal FDP would likely be very difficult, but still easier than agreeing on foreign policies with ‘The Left’. On the other hand, and this seems more likely right now, the Greens could become the junior partner — or, depending on the election results, even the senior partner — in a new kind of grand coalition with the conservative ‘Union’ parties. This would be what the Germans call a ‘black-green coalition’.

Most Likeable Chancellor

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, since the SPD is falling apart.

The Green star Annalena Baerbock is married and has two daughters. She was born and raised near Hanover, in West 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.

The ‘Lady Next to Robert’

As an environmentalist, Annalena Baerbock is a typical ‘Green’. Her background in law and her experience from a longer stay in Brussels are more qualities she brings in. She still does volunteer work, in spite of her full schedule. This definitely 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 part of her expertise comes in handy. German Chancellors need a European vision. Social policies are yet another area the possible future head of government, Annalena Baerbock, concentrates on.

Robert Habeck will likely let his colleague become candidate for Chancellor. Photo: Imanuel Marcus

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. “Good politics require acknowledging the reality, in order to be able to change things”, she told her collaegues. And she made another thing crystal clear: “We are not only voting for the lady next to Robert, 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.

‘Progressive Force’ with ‘Radicality’

When she was elected, Annalena Baerbock could have been a little more careful with labels which might have turned off more conservative voters. Back then, she said the Greens were the “progressive force in the center of the left”. 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 at an event in 2019.

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. One thing is certain: Annalena Baerbock is not a greenhorn, but rather the incarnation of the modern German ‘Green’. She is always well prepared, has lots of good contacts, and she is a true ‘Realo’, meaning she knows there is more to being a Green than just trying to make Germans stop consuming pork or driving SUVs. She is definitely aware of the fact that reaching Green goals in the federal government, or anywhere, requires compromise.

The Gender Aspect

In the ongoing Corona crisis, the opposition, including the Greens, did not play a big role at first. Chancellor Angela Merkel’s government managed the crisis, while everyone else kept an involuntary low profile. But this changed in late 2020. It was Annalena Baerbock who introduced a Green anti-Corona plan in November. It included a lot of Corona testing and ventilation devices for schools.

Annalena Baerbock will likely become the Greens’ candidate, because she is the female part of her party’s leadership, but also because she is even more popular than Robert Habeck, and experienced in several important areas, in spite of being young. A pragmatist like her might be more eligible than a dreamy philosopher like Habeck. The gender aspect will likely play a role in the elections, also because, in this regard, the conservatives are now back to where they were before Angela Merkel’s era, namely in the 1980s, when the Greens were founded. This does not exactly make them attractive to emancipated voters, no matter what gender they are.

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