A Green Chancellor on the Horizon for Germany? - Selin Kumbaracı


Following notable victories by the German Greens—and significant losses by the Christian Democratic Union (CDU)—in the two recent regional elections in Germany, the country may be on track to have its first Green chancellor, depending on the results of the federal elections in September.

The CDU had its poorest performance ever in the German states of Baden-Württemberg and Rhineland-Palatinate, which were the sites of two key regional elections. In contrast, the Greens held on to their first-place position—even increasing their support—in Baden-Württemberg. They also nearly doubled the proportion of votes that they received in Rhineland-Palatinate, raising their share from 5.3% (in 2016) to 9.3%. At the same time, the CDU's share of votes decreased in both states.

These results are especially interesting in terms of Baden-Württemberg being the heartland of the German automobile industry and the state capital, Stuttgart, home to Mercedes-Benz and Porsche. The specific candidate the Greens have, Winfried Kretschmann—the incumbent state premier—has won over the support of the metal and electronics industries as well as those of conservative voters through his pragmatic approach.

Indeed, as Philip Oltermann of The Guardian put it, "Baden-Württemberg and neighboring Rhineland-Palatinate could teach the German public a surprising lesson: that they can vote for a continuation of Merkelism not just without Merkel, but also without the CDU."

These results could spell trouble for the recently elected head of the CDU, Armin Laschet, in terms of his bid for the German chancellorship. Laschet was already facing difficulties and a challenge arising from within the CDU/CSU coalition, in the form of the more popular Markus Söder (of the Christian Social Union in Bavaria).

Söder has been portraying himself as a more 'green' conservative and vying for an alliance with the Greens themselves, who are at this point Germany's second-largest party. They may, however, soon swap this position with that of the CDU/CSU bloc if those polls which are predicting the Greens' ascent into the role of Germany's largest party are correct.

Such a development may ensue regardless of who ends up becoming the CDU/CSU joint candidate in the chancellorship race, though perhaps it would not be too controversial to say that Söder is the more popular of the two potential conservative candidates.

This shift towards the Greens is not necessarily caused in its entirety by the increasing amount of people gaining a 'green' awareness but is also significantly related to a major corruption scandal that took place recently involving CDU politicians and questionable business deals on face masks, as well as to the broader (mis)handling of the pandemic.

As the Greens put it in their draft manifesto, "Vaccine problems, too few tests and a lack of strategy in combating the corona pandemic would once again show that reactive politics can at best prevent the worst. But it's about making the best possible."

In this draft manifesto (to be finalized in the party congress in June) the Greens also highlight various measures they will be pushing for that will differ from what they called the "reactive politics" of the Merkel government.

Some of the most noteworthy of these measures include the phasing-out of coal as well as cars with combustion engines by 2030, going towards a massive expansion in renewable energies, setting a 130-kilometer-per-hour speed limit on the autobahns, increasing Germany's 2030 domestic emissions reduction target to 70%—a 15% rise from the current 55%.

In terms of even more sensitive issues, though, the Greens have also strongly expressed their opposition to Nord Stream 2, stating in their manifesto that, "The Nord Stream 2 pipeline project must be stopped," in addition to arguing elsewhere that, "The project finances a corrupt regime and is a bet against European climate goals — it should never have been realized," alongside a petition to halt the project.

Even if the Greens are not successful in taking the chancellery, polls suggest that a coalition between the CDU/CSU and the German Greens appears to be the most likely outcome, replacing the current coalition consisting of the CDU/CSU and Social Democrats.

Thus, while the ruling coalition that will come out of the federal elections still remains unclear, it is almost certain that the Greens will take on a significant position in a majority of the configurations being considered.