Greens vow to turn Germany into ‘socio-ecological economy’

Party has suffered in polls after fierce attacks from Angela Merkel’s CDU and centre-left Social Democrats

Annalena Baerbock, the German Green Party’s candidate for chancellor in September’s federal elections, speaks on Sunday at the party’s virtual congress. Photograph: Steffi Loos/EPA

Annalena Baerbock, the German Green Party’s candidate for chancellor in September’s federal elections, speaks on Sunday at the party’s virtual congress. Photograph: Steffi Loos/EPA

 

Germany’s Green Party adopted an election manifesto on Sunday that vowed to transform the country’s economy and fast-track its transition to carbon neutrality by ten years to 2035.

Pledging to turn Germany into a “socio-ecological market economy”, Annalena Baerbock, the party’s candidate for chancellor, proposed a “pact with German industry”. Companies that became climate neutral and localised their production would receive compensation from the state, she said.

“To those who think too much climate protection endangers prosperity, I would like to say: Yes, in the past, our prosperity was based on burning coal, oil, and gas. But the 20th century is over,” Ms Baerbock said. “The markets of the future will be climate-neutral ... The question is not whether this will happen, but who will do it best. And I want us to be at the forefront.”

She and her party have come under heavy scrutiny ahead of parliamentary elections this September, which will not only mark the end of Angela Merkel’s 16 years as chancellor but see the eco-party field its first nominee for Germany’s top job.

The Greens rode a wave of popularity after Ms Baerbock’s nomination but rivals have argued its climate plans would cost individuals more – in terms of fuel and flights.

In the wake of fierce attacks from Dr Merkel’s centre-right Christian Democrats and the centre-left Social Democrats, the Greens registered sixth-place in a state election last weekend. They have dropped to 22 per cent in the polls, with the CDU again at the top, with 28 per cent.

Ms Baerbock, meanwhile, has been mired in a wave of criticism over delayed reporting of extra income and embellishing her curriculum vitae.

Carbon tax

The CDU and SPD, long Germany’s dominant parties and wary of the Green ascendance, have attacked its planned carbon tax of €60 per tonne, arguing it placed a heavy burden on lower-income citizens. Green leaders have struggled to convey their message that it will only cost citizens a few more cents more than the current government plan.

Delegates at the party’s weekend virtual conference broadly backed Ms Baerbock, despite complaints from its younger leftwing base that the leadership’s plan is too moderate. Delegates rejected their proposal to further raise carbon prices, and backed a €500 billion spending plan for the next ten years, based on a Green proposal to loosen Germany’s debt brake.

Changing the debt law, enshrined in the constitution, requires support from two-thirds of parliament, which analysts doubt the Greens can secure. But the party is keen to shake its image as the Verbotspartei (the party of bans) and portray itself as drivers of innovation and social justice.

That has done little to shift the tone of attacks. On Friday, a lobby group called the Initiative for a New Social Market Economy placed ads in nearly every major paper, portraying Ms Baerbock in green robes as Moses, holding up two stone tablets with “new” Ten Commandments, including bans on flying and fossil fuel vehicles.

In promoting her economic plan, Ms Baerbock explicitly referred to US president Joe Biden’s $1.9 trillion (€1.57 trillion) infrastructure plan and called for “a transatlantic alliance for climate neutrality”.

She also had some harsh words for European and German foreign policy, criticising the EU for its complacency over Chinese purchases of European infrastructure, and reiterated her rejection of Berlin’s support for the contested Nord Stream 2 pipeline.

Europe has sold itself short. Yet we are the largest economic community in the world,” she said. “We have everything we need to set our own standards ... If we do not become more sovereign, others will decide for us.”

‘Easy part’

While pushing for a tougher line on China and Russia might be music to many ears in Washington, the Greens also vowed to renegotiate Germany’s pledge to Nato to spend two per cent of its budget on defence, a move likely to be unpopular with the Biden administration.

Stefan Müller, parliamentary directory of the CDU’s Bavarian sister party, the CSU, skewered the new platform as “the old familiar leftwing mix of redistribution, comprehensive state control and moralising know-it-allism”.

Achim Post, deputy head of the SPD parliamentary group, called it a “fiscal policy boondoggle,” arguing it was “dominated by the principle of hope instead of realism”.

Ms Baerbock, smiling after 98 per cent of delegates voted the manifesto through, acknowledged the difficulties ahead. “That was the easy part,” she said. “Now the real campaign begins.” – Copyright The Financial Times Limited 2021