Annalena Baerbock has become a prominent figure on the German political scene in recent weeks. Ever since the Green party’s announcement in April that Baerbock would be running for chancellor, questions and speculations have arisen about who she is and what she stands for.
To some, Baerbock is ‘a tenacious down-to-earth centrist with an eye for detail.’ To others, she is the ’40-year-old, English-speaking, bike-riding proponent of the climate neutral economy.’ It is unsurprising that Baerbock has received so much attention. September’s election could see her become the youngest and first ever Green chancellor to govern Germany. With this in mind, here is what you need to know about Annalena Baerbock.
Upbringing and Entry into Politics
Baerbock was born in Hanover in 1980 and spent part of her upbringing on a farm in Lower Saxony. As a child, her parents often took her to anti-nuclear and anti-war demonstrations. Her childhood subsequently became ‘a mix of cosy middle-class radicalism.’
Preparing herself well for a career in politics, Baerbock chose to study public law and political science in Hamburg. Her often-praised English skills were perfected during her time studying at the London School of Economics, where she received her master’s in public international law. Baerbock’s impressive grasp of the English language has been recognised as a useful asset for any politician wishing to navigate through the twists and turns of international diplomacy.
Joining the Green party in 2005, Baerbock gained experience working for the Green’s European Parliament representative Elisabeth Schroedter. After a failed attempt in 2009, she successfully became a member of the German Bundestag in 2013 and was re-elected in 2017.
Baerbock’s commitment to climate change is certainly credible. She became a spokesperson on climate policy for the Green parliamentary group during her first term, and also served as a member of the Committee on Economic Affairs and Energy. These roles saw Baerbock participate in several United Nations Climate Change Conferences, even witnessing the signing of the 2015 Paris Agreement with her daughter.
Despite having gained invaluable political experience over the years, Baerbock’s area of criticism is that she lacks ministerial experience entirely. This has led to some questioning whether she is ready to take on such an executive role.
Her Position Within the Green Party
Baerbock’s path to the chancellery only truly began in 2018, when she was elected to co-chair the Green party with Robert Habeck. She was then re-elected in 2019 with an impressive 97.1 percent of the vote, the highest-ever result for a chair of the party.
The German Greens were barely taken seriously after their founding in 1980, seen as nothing more than radical, sandal-wearing hippies, but the party has worked to make itself more appealing to middle-class voters in recent decades. This change of direction has established divisions within the party. Realists, referred to as ‘Realos’, believe that compromises must be made if the party wishes to win over mainstream voters, whereas fundamentalists or ‘Fundis’ believe that compromise will only lead to the party selling itself out. Baerbock’s centrist approach seems to have diffused these tensions somewhat, but difficult conversations are still to be had about the consequences of the party’s political re-alignment.
It is unsurprising that much of the party’s election programme focuses on climate change. The Greens have challenged the governing CDU by promising to raise the nation’s target for reducing CO2 emissions from 55 to 70 percent by 2030 (compared to 1990 levels). They have also pledged to end reliance on nuclear power by 2030, almost a decade earlier than the CDU’s pledge of 2038. Baerbock has expressed that Germany’s reliance on coal-powered energy needs to be phased out at a faster rate, whilst also calling for a speed limit on German autobahns of 130km/h (80mph).
Baerbock’s vision that it is ‘time for politics to construct a future’ does not only relate to climate change. She has also spoken out on the importance of childcare and schools, care workers and digitalisation. The emphasis here seems to be on building a society that can be lived in safely and happily by future generations.
Some voters will likely welcome this optimistic change after years of Merkel-stagnation, but it is important that Baerbock does not lose sight of the party’s original values. Critics argue that middle-class cosiness will lead to a ‘watered-down approach to saving the planet.’ Baerbock must strike a balance between attracting mainstream voters and pleasing lifelong Green voters by translating words into actions. Is she ready for the challenge? Only time will tell.