Germany’s Greens Dip as Christian Democrats Pledge Painless Climate Action

Germany’s Green party was riding high in opinion polls until recently, but signs are now emerging of voters worrying how climate-action policies could impact their livelihoods and lives.  
And the old political tactic by traditional parties of labeling the Greens as a nagging, didactic “prohibition party” is beginning to resonate once again.  
Christian Democrat leader Armin Laschet has been quick to seize on the Greens’ call for a hike in gas prices, accusing them of wanting to punish poor motorists and of being too ready to ignore the needs of less-well-off Germans living in the countryside and small towns.
The Greens are falling back in the opinion polls just weeks after overtaking Chancellor Angela Merkel’s conservatives to become momentarily the most popular party in Germany. In May, the Greens surged past the Social Democrats to capture second place in European parliamentary elections, fueling their hopes of pulling off an era-defining performance in Germany’s September elections and even of securing the chancellorship in a coalition government.
But their popularity is dipping, prompting some commentators to question whether Germans are ready to be as green as the Greens, despite a recent poll.
And the party is not being helped by new questions over the professional ethics of their co-leader, Annalena Baerbock, also the party’s candidate for chancellor in September, say commentators.  
“It’s an embarrassing series of mistakes,” according to columnist Silke Mertins, writing for German daily Die Tageszeitung, a paper sympathetic to the Greens.  
“It is highly unprofessional that the Greens did not put their candidate through their paces in order to find precisely such errors and to know their weak points. What did the campaign team think that the competition was throwing cotton balls?” he said. He added: “The Greens were widely praised for their professional approach.  Now it turns out, however, that this praise was premature.”  
The Greens’ opponents have been quick to try to capitalize on the missteps. CDU federal vice-president Thomas Strobl has reproached Baerbock for undermining her own moral standards. He said it is surprising that Baerbock forgot to report the additional party income.  “That is very difficult to reconcile,” he said.FILE – Germany’s Green party co-chair, Annalena Baerbock, a candidate for chancellor, gives an interview before her party’s federal delegates’ conference, in Berlin, Germany, June 10, 2021.Baerbock was forced also to acknowledge breaking parliamentary rules by failing to declare thousands of euros she received from her party in addition to her salary as a federal lawmaker. The lapses have allowed critics to cast doubt on whether the 40-year-old is ready for the highest office.
The impact has been immediate — Baerbock’s popularity has plummeted by 12% and she is now trailing the CDU’s Laschet, who only weeks ago was seen as a weak and lackluster candidate for the chancellorship. The latest monthly opinion survey by polling institute INSA puts the Greens’ voter support at 20%, well behind the CDU’s 28%.
The Greens fared poorly in a recent regional election in the impoverished eastern state of Saxony-Anhalt, where the Greens secured just under 6% of the vote — much less than forecast. The CDU did much better than predicted.  
Nonetheless earlier this month at a digital Green party conference, where members formally endorsed her as their chancellor candidate, Baerbock declared: “For the first time in decades, real change is in the air.” And she says she remains optimistic that the country is ready for a shake-up after Angela Merkel.  
Merkel announced in October 2018 that she would be stepping down as chancellor in 2021. She has served as chancellor since 2005 and her decision followed a series of election reversals for the CDU. “After the pandemic, the focus must be on revitalizing this country together,” Baerbock said.
At the conference she and co-leader Robert Habeck managed to see off quietly rebellious members who wanted even more ambitious climate-action goals and much higher carbon dioxide emission pricing and taxes. FILE – North Rhine-Westphalia’s State Premier Armin Laschet, a candidate for chancellor of the conservative Christian Democratic Union (CDU) party, speaks at the regional CDU assembly in Duesseldorf, Germany, June 5, 2021.Habeck and Baerbock, who took over as party leaders in 2018, have been credited for maturing green policies, making them more business friendly, and for transforming the party from being an insignificant, impractical fringe player into a front-rank sophisticated political force. They have been helped by voters placing climate action high on the list of political priorities, according to polling data. The Greens are in coalition governments in 12 of Germany’s 16 state parliaments, seven of them alongside the Christian Democrats.
And party members are keen to win greater political power. “I have never seen the Greens this hungry to shape Germany’s future. After nearly sixteen years of sitting on the opposition benches, they are determined to take the chancellor’s office,” Roderick Kefferpütz, a German Green strategist, wrote in a commentary for the Atlantic Council, a New York-based think tank.  
To counter accusations of being a party that wants to spoil lifestyles and upset livelihoods, the co-leaders frequently stress that the party is one of “Freiheit nicht Vorschrift” — freedom not regulation. But that has not stopped their political opponents from labeling them sticklers for tighter regulations.  
As with other European Green parties, Germany’s Greens face an electoral dilemma. By proposing higher green taxes and measures that will make transportation, energy, and home heating more expensive, helping to shift the economy away from dependency on fossil fuels, they risk prompting a backlash, largely from middle-class and lower-income workers, as well as pensioners who can ill afford to bear the expense. But tempering green policies risks alienating climate-action activists and young urban supporters.
Whoever forms the next government in Germany will have no choice but to press on with climate-action measures. In April, Germany’s highest court ruled that a 2019 federal law mandating that the country reduces carbon emissions to nearly zero by 2050 does not go far enough. “The provisions irreversibly offload major emission reduction burdens on to periods after 2030” and on those who are now young, the court decided.  
The law has to be revised by the end of next year, front loading cuts in emissions. Laschet has pledged to do so. Unveiling this week, the election manifesto of the CDU and its sister Bavarian party, the Christian Social Union, he said: “We combine consistent climate protection with economic strength and social security.”
The group set out brand goals to invest in technologies, from artificial intelligence and quantum computing to hydrogen and solar power, while promoting growth. But the bloc leaders also said climate policies to reduce levels of carbon dioxide “must be economical” and they ruled out higher fuel taxes, bans on diesel cars and flights and speed restrictions on highways, saying climate-neutral policies can be achieved through technological innovation.  
“You can do green politics without the Greens,” Markus Söder, Bavarian state premier and CSU leader said.

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