BERLIN – The two main German parties, the Christian Democrats and the Greens, have finally decided who will compete to replace Chancellor Angela Merkel, setting up not only an ideological battle but also a generational battle.
Annalena Baerbock of the Greens is a 40-year-old woman who has never served in government and who promises a new start for Germany. She faces off against Armin Laschet, a 60-year-old governor from Merkel’s party who has pledged to continue the chancellor’s dominant conservative policies.
The September election will be crucial not only for Germany, but also for Europe. A new leader will be chosen for the continent’s most powerful economy, and one of its main strengths for democratic values, as nationalist and populist movements gain strength.
The question many analysts are asking is whether the Germans will vote for change or if they stick to the policies of Merkel, which has ensured nearly two decades of economic strength and political stability.
“Are the Germans really ready to come out of their cocoon of the past 16 years,” said Sudha David-Wilp, a transatlantic fellow with the German Marshall Fund in Berlin. “Are they really ready to tackle head-on the types of challenges that the Greens want to take up, such as digital and energy transformation?”
While the Christian Democrats remain the strongest political force in the country, their socially conservative and pro-free brand, anchored in traditional Christian values, has been severely battered by an inability to deal with the latest waves of the coronavirus, a deployment of vaccines plagued by a shortage of doses and an emphasis on bureaucratic details rather than gunshots.
Then, as the Germans wondered when they could get vaccinated and whether schools would be forced to close again, a fierce battle erupted between Mr Laschet and his counterpart in the Bavarian branch of the Conservative Party, Markus Söder, who enjoyed of greater popularity. in the polls.
For a week, instead of focusing on changes to a law governing the pandemic, which Merkel said were necessary to ensure the country could fend off a dangerous third wave, the Tories were consumed by the battle between the two. leaders.
Mr Söder agreed to back down after senior conservatives threw their weight behind Mr Laschet. But Mr Laschet will now have to focus on reuniting the Tories at a time when his disapproval rate in his home state is 69%.
In his acceptance speech on Tuesday, Mr Laschet painted a vision of Germany as a diverse country, where everyone has the opportunity to make their dreams come true, but gave few details on what the future would look like. Instead, he focused on the need for unity and rebuilding confidence, both among conservatives and with voters.
“The CDU has never been a party of ideas,” said Christian Odendahl, chief economist at the Center for European Reform, referring to the Christian Democratic Union by its initials. “Does the CDU even have a vision for Germany’s future?”
Without a clear vision, the Conservatives risk losing young voters, many of whom only really knew a Germany led by Merkel. The conservative youth wing, which had supported Mr. Söder, reprimanded the Christian Democrats and their candidate, in particular for their chaotic videoconference which started Monday evening and ended early Tuesday morning with the choice of Mr. Laschet.
“This ability is needed more than ever,” the group said in a statement on the need to unify. “Because last night’s image was not of an election winner, and we can’t go into the election campaign like that – in terms of organization and internal relations with the party.”
Mrs Baerbock, on the other hand, has her party entirely behind her. She was chosen over her more experienced male co-leader – gender parity, including a duo of male-female leaders, is one of the core policies of the Greens. In her acceptance speech, she spoke of the need to tackle climate change and reshape the country’s political systems to meet the needs of Germans in the 21st century.
With a background in climate law and human rights, she is known as a strong networker and a person who focuses on the people she represents. In her speech, she presented herself as a candidate who only knew a reunified Germany. She was open about her lack of experience in the office, but presented it as an opportunity for a country that has been under the same leadership for a decade and a half.
“A green candidacy for chancellor means a new understanding of political leadership,” said Ms Baerbock. “Decisive and transparent, capable of learning and self-criticism. Democracy thrives on change. “
Although the two main candidates are the best candidates for the race, German Finance Minister Olaf Scholz, 64, is also in the running for the Social Democrats. Traditionally rivals of the Christian Democrats, with an emphasis on a strong safety net, the party has spent the past eight years relegated to the rank of junior partner in Chancellor’s governments.
But in the aftermath of the coronavirus crisis, which saw the government shatter its balanced budget to pay € 1.3 trillion, or $ 1.6 trillion, in compensation for lockdowns and vaccines, the party could earn money. support with a smart campaign focused on social justice. and Mr. Scholz’s willingness to spend to keep people afloat.
With a Conservative vote just below 30%, the Greens hovering just over 20%, followed by the Social Democrats at around 18%, what seems clear is that whichever party wins elections, he will have to form a coalition to govern.
One idea was that the Greens would become the junior partner in a Tory-led government that would be more environmentally focused than the coalitions of Tories and Social Democrats led by Ms Merkel, but still heavily influenced by the Christian Democrats. .
But even if the Conservative bloc emerges as the strongest force, the Greens, as the second strongest party, could try to build a progressive government with the Social Democrats and one of the smaller parties, the Liberals. Free Democrats, or the Left Party. , forcing the Conservatives to oppose.
The three main parties have ruled out a coalition with the far-right Alternative for Germany, which liquidated the largest opposition party after the Social Democrats joined the Christian Democrats in government in 2017.
“If they have the numbers, the Greens should be mad for turning down an opportunity to form a progressive government like this,” Odendahl said. “A conservative-green government would be the status quo with a green tint.”