Annalena Baerbock: German Greens’ star fades in election campaign

For a while, it seemed party co-leader could be the first Green chancellor. But it’s been a tough road.

Annalena Baerbock: German Greens’ star fades in election campaign

GELSENKIRCHEN, Germany — When Annalena Baerbock entered the race for German chancellor as the Greens’ first-ever candidate for the job, she had a bold plan to change the country and a seemingly decent chance of winning.

Today, with her party lagging in the polls, those hopes have all but evaporated — and a big part of that comes down to Baerbock and the campaign she’s run.

At the outset, the 40-year-old politician had a lot going for her. The party’s co-leader since 2018, she had helped shape the Greens into a pragmatic, centrist force that performed well in state and European elections. 

Due to climate-driven disasters like the deadly flooding in western Germany this summer, the impact of global warming — the Greens’ signature issue — has never been more prevalent in voters’ minds. And Baerbock’s campaign rollout in April was nearly flawless, standing in stark contrast to the public infighting within Angela Merkel’s conservative bloc over who would become chancellor candidate.

For a short period, the Greens were first in the polls, and some felt Germany was on the cusp of a Green revolution.

But soon, Baerbock and her team came under the intense scrutiny that comes with being a real contender for the chancellery. She made a series of avoidable missteps, and she and her team seemed unprepared to handle the fallout. That, combined with her lack of government experience, damaged Baerbock’s credibility at a time when many voters’ impressions of her were not fully formed, a dynamic from which she’s struggled to recover.

According to POLITICO’s Poll of Polls, the Greens currently stand at 16 percent, down from a high of 25 percent in the spring. The center-left Social Democrats (SPD), meanwhile, have surged to 26 percent, and the conservative CDU/CSU bloc is at 21 percent.

Although she has acknowledged shortcomings in her campaign, Baerbock attributes much of her troubles to attacks by political enemies resistant to change. 

“Of course there are forces in society that greatly profit from the status quo,” she told POLITICO after a recent campaign rally in the industrial city of Gelsenkirchen. “We knew that they would try and oppose our agenda of change with everything they have,” she added. “We were prepared for that — perhaps not for every difficult moment, for every campaign and personal attack — but still.”          

Despite her party’s decline, Baerbock almost certainly has a key role to play in any future German government. If the polls are right, the Greens could still nearly double the 8.9 percent they received in the last general election in 2017. It’s hard to see how Germany’s next coalition government doesn’t include the Greens.

Under other circumstances, that would be considered a major success. But by setting their sights on the chancellery, the Greens’ high expectations gave Baerbock further to fall.

New generation

Baerbock was born in 1980, the same year the Greens formed in West Germany. She joined while she was still a student in 2005, the year the party finished their first stint in a federal governing coalition, with the Social Democrats. 

After studying political science and law in Hamburg and London, Baerbock worked as a staffer for a member of the European Parliament and as an adviser on foreign affairs and security policy for the Greens’ faction in Germany’s Bundestag. In 2013, she won a Bundestag seat representing Potsdam, outside the capital, and became the party’s spokesperson on climate issues. 

Baerbock was elected co-leader of the party in 2018 along with Robert Habeck, a minister in a regional state government. Both hail from the party’s pragmatic realo wing, so-called because they are seen as more realistic. The new leaders set out to shed the Greens’ reputation as a Verbotspartei, a party that wants to ban everything. Instead, they sought to present an optimistic vision for Germany’s future and to blend the party’s ambitious policy goals with the pragmatism needed to govern with other parties. 

Baerbock has been “a core factor in leading the party to success,” said Bastian Hermisson, the head of the North America office of the Heinrich Böll Stiftung, a political foundation affiliated to the Greens. Her goal, he said, was to broaden the party’s appeal and make it “the defining force of the political center in Germany.”

That new direction helped bring the Greens to significant gains in elections in states such as Hesse and Bavaria in recent years. Those results, taken together with a strong performance in the 2019 European Parliament election helped set the stage for Baerbock’s candidacy and the party’s historic chance at the chancellery.


For more polling data from across Europe visit Poll of Polls.

Good start gone bad

The euphoria of the early days of the campaign wore off relatively quickly, however, once Baerbock came under attack.

First came reports that she failed to report supplementary income from the party. Then it surfaced that her official CV included inconsistencies, seemingly intended to pad her resumé. And in late June, a plagiarism expert presented evidence that she had plagiarized parts of her latest book.

Although none of the allegations on their own were enough to tank her candidacy, they were the sort of things that experienced campaigns vet beforehand. Taken together, they gave the impression that the Greens didn’t have the sort of capable operation their opponents did.

Baerbock’s opponents then pounced.

“She deliberately deceived, worked sloppily, and has again overstated her own work,” Markus Blume, secretary-general of Bavaria’s conservative Christian Social Union, told Focus magazine after the plagiarism allegations surfaced. “This appears to be systematic for Annalena Baerbock, and once again raises doubts about her credibility.”

Bas Eickhout, a prominent Dutch Green MEP who worked with Baerbock during the European Parliament campaign in 2019, said the team at the top of Baerbock’s campaign wasn’t ready for the vitriol that followed her initial surge in the polls.

“You have the backlash [and] there they were just not prepared,” said Eickhout. “When you make mistakes at a sensitive moment, it is difficult to recover.” 

Baerbock’s allies came to her defense, dismissing the drumbeat of small scandals as an orchestrated attempt to destroy her character. Others have said that, as a woman — and especially a young woman — she’s sometimes held to different standards than her male counterparts.

At the same time, Baerbock appears to be in the crosshairs of suspected Kremlin-backed disinformation. She has been the top target of false attacks on candidates during the campaign: One recent study suggested she’s been on the receiving end of around 70 percent of those attacks, compared with 30 percent for the conservatives’ Armin Laschet and almost none for the SPD’s Olaf Scholz.

“It was a mistake not to vet her properly, and these are sloppy mistakes that could have been avoided,” said Arne Jungjohann, a Stuttgart-based political scientist. Still, he said, Baerbock has faced “especially tough scrutiny.”     

Baerbock has acknowledged and apologized for past missteps and she has tried to refocus her campaign on policy issues. But little time remains for her to turn things around.

Final stretch

With an ambitious travel schedule in the final weeks of the campaign — more than 40 cities in seven weeks— Baerbock is criss-crossing the country in an attempt to recover some momentum.

At a series of campaign stops observed by POLITICO — one in her home city of Potsdam and three across Germany’s industrial west — an energetic Baerbock was received by large, enthusiastic crowds. 

At times during her speeches, she went on the attack, depicting Laschet and Scholz as too bogged down in politics-as-usual to combat the climate crisis.

“The gentlemen from the grand coalition stand for more of the same,” she said in Potsdam. “The Greens and I stand for renewal, because we can feel what is possible in this country.”

Baerbock’s message clearly resonated with her audience. But whether it’s enough to boost the Greens’ support by election day remains an open question.

In the final days of what’s been the most volatile campaign in recent German history, Baerbock remained bullish on her chances. 

“Now it’s clear that this race is coming down to the wire,” she told POLITICO.

Joshua Posaner contributed reporting.

Source : Politico EU More   

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The end of Euro-bashing

Euroskeptic posturing might win politicians votes at home, but it's increasingly costing them on the European stage.

The end of Euro-bashing

Alberto Alemanno is Jean Monnet professor of EU law at HEC Paris and the founder of the civic startup The Good Lobby. 

Michel Barnier’s recent attack on the power of the European courts caught many by surprise. How is it that the EU’s former chief Brexit negotiator transformed himself from the most strenuous defender of EU integrity into a patriotic champion of French self-interest against the Union? 

Simple. Upon reentering the French political arena as a presidential hopeful, Barnier — the great European — unabashedly played the ultimate domestic political card: EU-bashing. 

This longstanding practice of shifting the blame for domestic problems from national politics to the Union via inaccurate statements has long been electorally rewarding. Tacit collusion among national politicians, combined with a mutually profitable alignment with mainstream media, has entrenched EU-bashing into political systems across the Continent. 

Brexit is the most spectacular and tangible expression of this phenomenon — unforgettably symbolized by the inaccurate statement that the U.K. sends Brussels £350 million a week, emblazoned on Vote Leave’s bus. Not to mention the endless string of factually inaccurate and/or distorted stories on migration, terrorism and control of borders, according to a Brexit dossier compiled by InFacts. 

Sadly, this practice is not restricted to just the U.K. or a few other EU countries. Nor — as Barnier’s story demonstrates — has it remained purely the prerogative of anti-EU or Euroskeptic voices. Rather, it has consolidated into a bipartisan tradition within the national political systems of each of the 27 EU countries. 

Think of former Italian Prime Minister Matteo Renzi hiding his EU flag in an effort to gain popularity ahead of a self-imposed constitutional referendum, which turned out to be fatal for his political career. Or think of Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte’s strain of Euroskepticism during the latest election campaign, during which he lambasted the Union for interfering in national matters.  

By now, Euroskepticism is clearly embedded in the political DNA of the Hungarian and Polish ruling parties as well.  

EU-bashing has long been shaping the Union as we know it. And vice versa. 

Because behind the often-false Euroskeptic claims lies an inconvenient truth: After 70 years of unprecedented socioeconomic integration, the EU lacks a dedicated political system that is accountable to — and representative of — its over 445 million citizens. 

Instead, EU representatives — whether heads of state and government in the European Council or MEPs in the Parliament — are selected through 27 parallel national political processes. Not only are these processes national in nature (you can only vote for representatives from your own country), they remain mostly unintelligible to most EU citizens, even as they jointly define the European electoral game. 

Over the years, this opaqueness and lack of direct accountability has largely insulated the European political systems from scrutiny. Major political failures have taken place — think the Dieselgate scandal, the lack of a unified EU migration policy or the implementation of costly austerity measures — without anyone paying a political price.  

This lack of political intelligibility nurtures major political incoherence between the national and EU levels. It has allowed the European People’s Party —with the complicity of German Chancellor Angela Merkel — to benefit from the support of Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orbán despite his party, Fidesz, systematically breaching core EU values. It has also permitted the Spanish political party Ciudadanos — a member of the EU liberal family — to cozy up to the ultra-right party Vox at home, while siding with French President Emmanuel Macron in Europe.  

The good news is that Europe is growing its resistance to EU-bashing rhetoric, as actions that once would have gone unnoticed attract unexpected attention. Despite the absence of a genuine European political space, a growing number of Europeans — aided by the media — seem increasingly capable of calling their politicians out when they engage in cheap, factually inaccurate EU-bashing.  

Austrian Chancellor Sebastian Kurz was caught red-handed, for example, trying to shift the blame for vaccine shortages with Euroskeptic rhetoric. In the U.K., Prime Minister Boris Johnson was being prosecuted for misconduct in public office based on alleged lying to the public over his faulty bus statement — a world first.  

Returning to Barnier, the response to his remarks within his own country already suggests that his cheap talk might have backfired. How credible can he still be after nonchalantly disavowing his EU credentials for purely domestic electoral purposes?  

There’s other good news too. A proposed EU electoral law to govern the next 2024 EU Parliamentary election is set to Europeanize the EU electoral competition. If adopted and ratified by all 27 member countries, it will create a Pan-EU college and transnational electoral lists and require that all national parties disclose their party affiliations on the European level. 

As the Pan-EU electoral competition heats up and EU citizens continue their scrutiny of faulty anti-EU rhetoric, national politicians will have to realize that while EU-bashing might win them support at home, it just might cost them in the end.

Source : Politico EU More   

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