Germany’s Greens get an early edge in race to succeed Merkel

Co-leader of Germany's Green party Annalena Baerbock (center) leaves a digital announcement event on the party's federal election campaign and the announcement of candidacy for chancellor at the malt factory in Berlin, Germany, April 19, 2021. (ANNEGRET HILSE / POOL / AFP)

Germany’s Greens are in position to make history, surging past Angela Merkel’s conservative bloc in the race to replace the four-term chancellor after September’s election.

The party that’s vowing to increase spending and tighten controls on the finance industry – which finished a distant sixth in the last national vote in 2017 – held a seven percentage-point lead in a poll published just hours after Christian Democratic Union (CDU) leader Armin Laschet secured the conservative nomination in a bruising battle.

READ MORE: Germany's Laschet gains upper hand in fight to succeed Merkel

The Greens named their chancellor candidate, Annalena Baerbock, on Monday in a perfectly choreographed event meant to display unity and show that the party is ready to take on the serious business of running Europe’s largest economy.

The Forsa poll for German broadcaster RTL published Tuesday night showed the Greens jumping five percentage points to 28%, while Merkel’s bloc slumped seven points to 21%, their worst result since at least 1998

The Forsa poll for German broadcaster RTL published Tuesday night showed the Greens jumping five percentage points to 28 percent, while Merkel’s bloc slumped seven points to 21 percent, their worst result since at least 1998. The Social Democrats scored 13 percent – ahead of the liberal Free Democrats at 12 percent, the far-right Alternative for Germany on 11 percent and the Left party on 7 percent. The euro slipped to the day’s low on the news.

While it’s just one poll in the immediate aftermath of a nasty power struggle that damaged the conservatives and their lead candidate, it shows that many Germans are ready to trust the Greens with the chancellorship and sets up a tough campaign for control in Berlin.

With the traditional anchor of German politics damaged by the power struggle and voter’s already frustrated by missteps made during the coronavirus pandemic, Baerbock – a 40-year-old political scientist with no previous government experience – is poised to become one of the most powerful leaders in the world.

She’s the top choice for Germans. While the country doesn’t directly elect the chancellor, people vote for a specific party knowing who will be in charge if the party wins. In the new poll, Baerbock was the candidate of choice for 32 percent of respondents, with Laschet and Social Democrat challenger Olaf Scholz each at 15 percent.

With Scholz’s SPD a distant third in the polls, the main battle for the chancellery is between Baerbock and Laschet, the 60-year-old CDU chief. A moderate in Merkel’s mold, Laschet is already politically wounded. The bruising nomination contest exposed just how many people in his own bloc doubt his ability and laid bare the divisions among conservatives that Merkel’s authority had papered over.

ALSO RAED: Germany's Greens take aim at top job

North Rhine-Westphalia's State Premier and head of Germany's conservative Christian Democratic Union (CDU) party, Armin Laschet, addresses a press conference following talks of the conservative Christian Democratic Union (CDU) party and its Bavarian affiliate Christian Social Union (CSU) in Berlin on April 11, 2021. (TOBIAS SCHWARZ / POOL /  AFP)

With little time and margin for error, he’s already set his sights on attacking the Greens.

“Everybody knows what’s at stake,” Laschet said Tuesday in Berlin as he gave an early glimpse of his likely campaign strategy, warning that a left-leaning coalition led by the Greens would be “a different republic.”

To cast doubt on Baerbock’s credentials, he played up his experience running Germany’s most-populous state of North Rhine-Westphalia, while implying that his Green rival lacks the same know-how because she’s never run a German state or federal ministry.

In the new poll, Annalena Baerbock of the Greens was the candidate of choice for the chancellery for 32 percent of respondents, with CDU leader Armin Laschet and Social Democrat challenger Olaf Scholz each at 15 percent

But with many Germans frustrated by the government’s handling of the coronavirus pandemic and turned off by infighting, Baerbock on Monday positioned herself as the candidate of change and attacked the “mudslinging” among the conservatives.

A Green-led Germany would be very different from how the country looked under Merkel for the last 16 years. It would spend more aggressively to accelerate a transition to a cleaner economy and it would borrow and tax the wealthy to achieve its goals.

Here’s a look at the Greens’ key policy proposals:

Spending spree

The party’s 10-year investment program is equivalent to an annual boost of about 1.5 percent to the Germany economy, based on current levels. The program calls for spending in a wide array of initiatives including high-speed Internet, research in quantum computers and biotechnology and climate-neutral infrastructure.

Looser debt brake

One of the most controversial policies could be plans to reform Germany’s constitutional debt limits. The proposal calls for investment to be treated as public assets, allowing the state to take on more debt and take advantage of low interest rates.

‘Boring banking’

The Greens plan to target the finance industry, with a return to what they call “boring banking.” That means strict regulation on capital-market speculation and obligatory leverage ratios. Investment banking would be split from the deposit business. All parts of the finance industry would be regulated, and watchdogs would get more teeth to prevent a repeat of the Wirecard AG scandal.

ECB reform

On the European level, the party says that the ECB should pursue high employment and social welfare alongside controlling inflation — a difficult change to push through.

The burden on the central bank would be eased by a common fiscal policy in the euro-area. Meanwhile, banking union should be completed through a European Union guarantee for savings, and the European Stability Mechanism should be developed into a European IMF, which would grant member state credit lines.

Tax the rich

The Greens would raise taxes on well-paid people as well as increase levies on capital gains and wealth. Manager remuneration would no longer be written off as an operating expense. Meanwhile, tech companies such as Google and Facebook would be subject to a digital tax.

Ending fossil fuels

The auto industry would face the end of an era, with no combustion cars registered from 2030. The shift to renewable power would be accelerated under a plan that includes solar panels on every new roof and using 2 percent of German land for wind power. The phase-out of coal energy would be moved forward to 2030, eight years earlier than planned.

To encourage more efficiency, the Greens would set a minimum price for carbon-dioxide for industry and increase the CO2 price for transport and heating to 60 euros a ton in 2023.

ALSO READ: EU clinches deal on climate law, tougher 2030 emissions goal

Startup kick-start

To prod a wave of new companies, the Greens want to offer a program to provide easy access to as much as 25,000 euros in seed funding. The program includes targeted support for women entrepreneurs. Also, startups should have better access to public tenders.

NATO overhaul

The Greens want an overhaul of NATO, claiming the alliance lacks a strategic perspective. The party also rejects the target of spending at least 2 percent of gross domestic product on defense.