Germany is heading greenward – towards a change in its political constellation that could rival in importance the post-war turning points in 1969, 1982 and 1989-90. At the centre of debate ahead of the 26 September general election are the Greens, led by high-flying but untried Annalena Baerbock, stumbling in latest opinion polls but still one of Germany’s most popular politicians.
In post-election coalition negotiations that may take months, the Greens are likely to emerge as a substantial party of government, possibly with three times as many Bundestag deputies as in the last nationwide election in 2017. The Greens’ policies on financial markets and developing the euro system lag in public consciousness well behind the party’s stance on environmental and social issues. OMFIF has subjected the party’s financial programme to detailed analysis. The manifesto – due to be finalised at a congress on 11-13 June – is still preliminary. We find the proposals sensible and relevant in parts (for example regarding financial supervision, auditing practices, green finance and a digital euro), out-of-date and superficial in others (on recipes for breaking up banks or for a financial transactions tax). The programme provides a compelling test of the party’s maturing prowess in balancing ideological visions against the demands of a competitive world.
As the OMFIF report makes clear, if the Greens enter the federal German government – for only the second time in their history, at much more senior level than during their coalition in 1998-2005 –they will be moving in from the mainstream, not the fringes. With Angela Merkel, chancellor for 16 years, stepping down after the next government is formed, the Greens stand to enter centre stage at a volatile time. Merkel’s ‘divide and rule’ policy has left Europe’s pivotal nation with an uncertain legacy. Eight post-election coalitions are possible, the most widely touted – although by no means certain – between Merkel’s Christian Democratic Union/Christian Social Union grouping and the Greens.
Baerbock, endowed with charm, intelligence and (until recently) a veneer of near-untouchability, has come under greater scrutiny. In a bruising second half of May, a string of gaffes and revelations, including on hitherto undisclosed party remuneration and irregularities in her academic credentials, depressed her and the Greens’ popularity ratings. Additionally, skirmishing for power by the liberal Free Democratic party, another potential ally for the Greens along with the Social Democrats (SPD), will complicate coalition arithmetic. This may make a four-party coalition — the first in Germany’s post-war history — the most likely outcome.
Whatever happens, coming political shifts in Europe’s biggest economy seem likely to rank alongside the switch in leadership away from the CDU/CSU in 1969, the 1982 breakdown of Helmut Schmidt’s coalition and the ascent of Helmut Kohl, and reunification in 1989-90. Whether in or outside the next government, the Greens’ German surge will, directly and indirectly, change Europe.