German elections: How could a Green government reshape Berlin’s policies?

Annalena Baerbock (Chairwoman of Alliance 90 / the Greens, Berlin) Foto: Stephan Röhl

For the first time in their 31-year-old history, the German Greens have nominated a candidate for chancellorship for the upcoming national election in autumn this year. As it stands, the participation of the Greens in the next government is becoming ever more likely. This, combined with the end of Angela Merkel’s chancellorship, is expected to have a substantial impact on the way Germany will behave on the European and international stage. Given that the current public focus is on the pandemic, the depth of these changes tends to be underestimated by the stakeholders in Brussels, the reason for which we took a close look at the positioning of the German Greens to know what to expect.

EU integration

First, the Green chancellor candidate, Annalena Baerbock, is a strong proponent of European integration. The election manifesto from the Green party for the federal election 2021 lays out the goal to “develop the European Union towards the Federal European Republic”, a structure that should include an increasing number of countries: in the German parliament, Baerbock and her party have a unanimous voting record in favour of new member candidates such as Albania and North Macedonia.

While openly supporting European cooperation, Germany under Green leadership will face challenges from other EU members. Annalena Baerbock did ask for Hungary’s Fidesz party to be excluded from the EPP in 2019, but has otherwise thus far maintained a low profile on rule-of-law matters within the Union. Yet, members of the Green party have petitioned for stronger action and withdrawal of funds against governments in Hungary and Poland, which may signal a collision course with some member states.

While the German parliamentary vote on the Union’s financial assistance to Greece in 2015 shows the party at their most divided, their current stance on European fiscal policy shows them to be much more in favour of an investment-friendly approach and a willingness to run budget deficits. This position might strengthen their relationship with France and the Southerners. However, Germany would clash more often with France on other fronts, given the Green party’s staunch anti-nuclear energy stance and strong suspicion of the employment of military troops, both issues supported by Macron’s government.


Yet, especially in their signature feature – climate and environment policy – Baerbock and her party, who are firm supporters of the Paris Agreement and the reaching of the 1.5° goal, push for European-wide solutions to achieve climate neutrality. Though Baerbock has avoided phrasing clear demands for EU-wide policies, her targets for policies on a national level are more ambitious than those that currently exist on an EU level. For example, the EU has vouched to reduce CO2-Emissions by 55% (compared to 1990) until 2030, while Baerbock demands 70% for Germany. She also urges a phasing out of coal in Germany by 2030 instead of 2038 and seeks to achieve climate neutrality “markedly before 2050”, which is the current EU target.

In their strive for climate-friendly economic policy, the Green party is attempting to shed its image as a “Verbotspartei” (party of bans) by favouring a mixture of stronger regulation and innovation. Their plans to maintain but transform the car industry include infrastructure and subsidy for electric cars as well as plans to disincentivise and phase out the use of fossil fuel vehicles, particularly within cities. Two other powerful industries in Germany, the chemical industry which favours cheap energy supplies and the engineering industry which relies on worldwide supply chains, express scepticism of overly climate-focused regulations. Baerbock is attempting to assuage their concerns with the Greens’ strong focus on innovation and digitalisation – the perceived lack of action on the latter having fuelled criticism towards the current conservative government.

Foreign policy

A Green government in Germany promises a significant change to Germany’s foreign policy. With a strong focus on human rights and the observance of international law, the party seeks to put a stop to a separation of political and economic foreign affairs. Concerning Russia, Baerbock has made clear that her party opposes the Nord Stream 2 pipeline project – not only because they believe it harms EU climate neutrality targets but they also see it as a threat to the Union’s geopolitical interests. She advocates against the current ambivalent and reactive foreign policy towards Russia which uses sanctions on the one hand and enables economic partnership on the other. Similarly, the Greens oppose CAI, an investment deal with China, building their opposition on both China’s human rights record and its non-ratification of ILO conventions. Importantly, the German Greens push for an end of the current “Wandel durch Handel” (change through trade) approach which allows for keeping China as an export market and trade partner despite allegations of growing authoritarianism. The Greens have put forward resolutions in support of the “one country, two systems” principle, proposing action to address human rights concerns that have been defeated within the German parliament. Yet, the fact that similar votes have been passed in the European Parliament shows that the Greens’ national legislative proposals are congruent to current movements within the European Parliament. Thus, Baerbock’s advocacy of moving from bilateral relations with China to European-based multilateral diplomacy and an “alliance of democracies” comes as little surprise.

The policy towards the United States will also undergo scrutiny: on the one hand, the German Greens would fancy having on their side the US when promoting a human-rights and environmental-friendly trade and foreign policy. After years-long opposition, the Greens are even slowly warming up to supporting NATO as a salient defensive alliance. Yet, they remain sceptical towards the 2% budget goal, which Baerbock doubts to be the “state of the art”, proposing instead that the defence budget be detached from national GDP. On the other hand, a German government with Green influences would clash more often with the interests of big American companies who operate in Europe, like aviation and digital, due to Green’s keen pro-regulatory approach on carbon emissions and data protection.

Coalitions: What to expect?

Early this year, the polls for the 2021 elections which had been relatively stagnant for several months began to change notably. Angela Merkel’s CDU/CSU, the current senior partner in government, fell from 36% to 24% today. The selection of CDU party-leader Armin Laschet as chancellor candidate in April appeared to have fuelled the downwards trend. Conversely, the Green party is currently polling at 25%, receiving a boost when announcing Annalena Baerbock as chancellor candidate. The current junior partner in government, the social democrats (SPD) continue to trail towards historic lows and are currently at 15%.

The most likely coalition to form a government in September is between the CDU/CSU and the Green party. Other possibilities are a three-way alliance including the liberal democratic FDP and the SPD with either the Greens or the CDU/CSU. Here, a “traffic light coalition” of Greens, FDP (yellow) and SPD (red) are likely to enter negotiations while a “Germany coalition” of CDU/CSU (black), SPD (red) and FDP (yellow) is considered less unlikely given the popular and partisan resentment of a renewed CDU-SPD government. Thus, Baerbock’s Green party’s participation in government is widely expected – the actual question which remains is if they can keep their narrow lead in the polls and enter such a coalition as the senior partner, and as such, claim chancellorship.

For detailed forecasts on the impact of political changes over EU’s policies, contact us at [email protected].