It’s been a momentous week in Germany’s “super election year” (Superwahljahr), which began in mid-March with two state elections and will reach its peak on 26 September with the Bundestag general election – and the end of Angela Merkel’s 16 years as chancellor.
On Monday, Annalena Baerbock became the Green Party’s candidate – and likely the only woman in the race – to take over from Merkel after September’s election. The 40-year-old MP, who is part of the centre-left party’s more moderate wing, was anointed after a “smoothly organised” and disciplined process that reflects the Greens’ ambition to become a party of government.
In contrast, Germany’s ruling conservatives – which includes Merkel’s Christian Democratic Union (CDU) and its Bavarian ally, the Christian Social Union (CSU) – have been engulfed in chaos amid rows and briefing leaks over who should lead them into the election battle.
It was on Tuesday that Armin Laschet, the CDU leader and premier of North Rhine-Westphalia, finally gained the support of 77.5% of the party board at an internal meeting. His rival, CSU leader and state premier of Bavaria Markus Söder, conceded defeat soon after.
Yet Laschet’s candidacy is far from the formidable option to take Merkel’s mantle that the conservatives have been under pressure to present. And that could come at a cost.
The most recent survey, carried out over the two days during which both the Greens and the conservatives named their candidates, shows one of the sharpest swings in modern German history. The Green Party is in first place at 28% of the vote for the first time, while 21% of voters would support the Union, which has gone down from more than 40% in the summer.
Although the Greens have historically over-polled and underperformed on election day, Germany has changed after 16 years of a distinctly anti-emission chancellor Merkel. And so have the Greens: while the party’s origins were characterised by a more radical and aggressive stance towards industry, it has now moved to a more mainstream political position with clear views on foreign policy.
Under Merkel’s leadership, Germany became Europe’s most influential country, as well as its financial anchor in the aftermath of the eurozone crisis. Now, Green leadership in Germany could lead the continent towards stronger climate policies and a more hawkish stance towards Russia and China, whose leaders the Greens oppose on human rights principles.
There’s still a long way to go before September, but if Baerbock and the Greens eventually win this election, we can expect the wind of change to blow far beyond German politics.