German Greens Offer Industry a Pact for Climate Neutrality

Green candidate Annalena Baerbock said she’d unleash government aid to help German industry make the country climate-neutral, while acknowledging recent mistakes in her race to succeed Chancellor Angela Merkel.

The 40-year-old has suffered a harsh introduction to big-league politics after surging out of the gates following her nomination in April. She now trails in head-to-head matchups against her rivals from Merkel’s governing coalition.

After failing to fully report her income, Baerbock’s missteps took a potentially more damaging turn when it came to light that her official biography had been embellished. The damage has led to calls by some that Baerbock hand the candidacy to Greens’ co-leader Robert Habeck.

German Greens Offer Industry a Pact for Climate Neutrality

In a speech to delegates on Saturday, she acknowledged “annoying” mistakes but said she’s ready to compete with Merkel’s CDU/CSU bloc for the leadership of Europe’s biggest economy.

“Everything is possible,” Baerbock told the virtual party congress. “We have prepared for this for 40 years.”

Support for the Greens declined for the fourth consecutive week to 20% in an Insa poll for Bild am Sonntag, while Merkel’s bloc rose 1 percentage point to 27%. It’s a sign of the challenge faced by Baerbock and her party to turn around their fortunes for Germany’s election on Sept. 26.

Delegates endorsed Baerbock’s candidacy with a 98.5% share, and backed a party platform that calls for higher taxes on the rich and more government spending to finance an economic overhaul by investing in clean technologies. Baerbock also expressed opposition to the Nord Stream 2 pipeline as undermining European foreign policy.

“The products of the future will be climate neutral,” Baerbock said. “We are offering German industry a pact, a binding agreement for the state to compensate companies for the extra costs of becoming climate neutral -- made in Germany.”

After briefly leading Merkel’s conservative bloc in the polls this spring the Greens have fallen to second place, trailing by as much as 8 percentage points.

German Greens Offer Industry a Pact for Climate Neutrality

Despite the comedown the party is seen as well-positioned to play a major role in the next government. The Greens -- a distant sixth place in the last election in 2017 -- have become a national force, with Baerbock and Habeck leading a centrist shift by appealing to upscale urban voters.

The party, which was junior partner in a Social Democratic-led national government under Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder between 1998 and 2005, has a role in governing 11 of Germany’s 16 states.

The sudden rise and subsequent reality check of Baerbock’s nomination recalls the hype around Martin Schulz. The SPD candidate in 2017 initially saw a groundswell of support before his popularity faltered after a state election defeat.

Similarly, the Greens ended up a disappointing sixth place in Saxony-Anhalt last weekend, when Armin Laschet -- the conservative candidate for chancellor -- bolstered his once-struggling bid.

Baerbock’s and Schulz’s parties are on different trajectories. The SPD -- traditionally Germany’s second-strongest force -- has been on a long, slow decline along with other center-left movements in Europe. The Greens, by contrast, are the only mainstream party with a growing membership.

Because of those trends, Olaf Scholz -- Merkel’s finance minister and vice chancellor -- remains a long shot to win the chancellery for the Social Democrats, despite having the most government experience. Baerbock has never led a ministry nor run a state government -- unlike Laschet, premier of North Rhine-Westphalia.

German Greens Offer Industry a Pact for Climate Neutrality

The most likely outcome of the federal election remains a coalition between Laschet’s Christian Democrat-led bloc and the Greens as the junior partner, according to Holger Schmieding, London-based chief economist at Berenberg.

With the German economy poised for a strong upswing in the second half of this year amid falling coronavirus infection rates, the momentum favors the conservatives, who are promoting their governing credentials.

Insa showed the Social Democrats polling third at 16% and the pro-business Free Democrats rising 1 point to 13% in the June 7-11 survey of 1,401 people.

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