Annalena Baerbock’s Defining Moment

Annalena Baerbock
Annalena Baerbock MdB.Bundestagsfraktion Buendnis 90/Die Gruenen

Annalena Baerbock’s election as the co-chairperson to the Greens in 2018 initiated her journey as a climate-action-oriented politician and a climate leader. This became a pivotal moment in Baerbock’s career as it instigated the rise of both her political career and the Green Party as a political party. Distinguishing the defining moment provides an overall view to the profile. It sheds light to Baerbock’s key moment that was essential to her becoming a climate leader and understanding the role of climate action in her political and policy outlook. 

The 2018 elections marked the beginning of Annalena Baerbock’s career as a rising green political leader. The Greens had entered the federal government in 1998 and 2002 under the political personality Joschka Fischer. However, until 2021, before Baerbock and Habeck took over the party, the Greens were absent from entering into the federal government. 

A Brief Background of Germany’s Federal Government and the Greens

The German Federal Government has long been dominated by three major parties: the Christian Democratic Union and her sister party Christian Social Union, CDU/CSU; the Social Democratic Party, SPD; Free Democratic Party, FDP. Prior to the last elections in 2021, the German Federal Government had been led  by the CDU/CSU for 16 years. The Party remained as the largest bloc in the parliament for almost seventy years generating the first female chancellor of Germany, Angela Merkel who had been re-elected for four terms, a total of sixteen years. In the 2021 elections, the SPD’s candidate for chancellery, Olaf Scholz, won the election and the party broke the long domination of the CDU with receiving the most seats in the parliament. After the coalition talks, the traffic light coalition was founded. Marking return of the Greens to the federal government and the CDU/CSU’s absence from it.

​​The Green Party emerged from the environmental, anti-nuclear, peace and women’s movements of the 1970s and early 1980s. It gained its full name Alliance 90/The Greens after the merger with the East German Alliance 90 in 1993. The Green party traces itself back to three movements. First, the student movement formed in the mid-1960s as the “extra-parliamentary opposition” against the already established parties and then parliamentary system. Second, the environmental, anti-nuclear, peace and women’s movements of the 1970s and early 80s. Third, the GDR civil rights movement during 1989/90.  This shows the Greens come about as neither a reformation nor a split of existing parties, but rather out of progressive moments in society. Even though it was still a radical protest and opposition party when it was first formed, due to their willingness to participate in the government the Greens became the only party in the Federal Republic that managed to permanently establish itself as a newly founded party.

Baerbock and Habeck’s election in 2018 led the Greens to new heights. The duo then led the party to electoral successes in regional elections, accomplishing the best result ever recorded in the 2019 European Parliament election. The Greens became the second strongest force during this election, after the CDU, with almost doubling their results from 2014 with more than 20 percent. Yielding Baerbock and Habeck to carry the Greens to the German Federal Government after sixteen years of being confined to the opposition benches.

The Duopolistic Power of the Green Party and its Factions

A duopoly in leadership has become a defining feature of the Green Party. Largely, the two Green co-chairs represent the main political factions within the Greens; one from the “Realos” and one the “Fundis”. Realos, the Realpolitiker, represent the faction of the Greens that advocate a more realistic and pragmatic policy approach. Realos are open to the compromises the political environment necessitates and are willing to form coalitions. The Fundis, Fundamentaloppositionellen, on the other hand, represents the fundamental oppositionist. The Fundis side of the faction is associated with their demand of overcoming the bourgeois democracy and opposition to compromising on core issues.

The duopolistic division of power historically was not in favor of the Green Party, however, understood due to their history of establishment. The only two times the Greens were in the government, 1998 and 2002, was run by Joschka Fischer without a co-chair. The predecessors of Baerbock and Habeck, Peter and Özdemir, were known to avoid communication as much as possible due to their distinctions in view. With a political party with such a history of operating in the benchmarks and division amongst the co-chairs, a restructuring of leadership was a necessity both for the Greens as a party and their chance for the 2021 federal election to enter the government. One significant indicator of the restructuring within the Party came with the 2018 elections as well. For the first time, both elected co-chairs came from the same faction of the Greens; the Realos. Joschka Fischer, who entered the Greens into the government for the first, and until Baerbock and Habeck the last, time was also a Realo who transitioned from being a revolutionist closer to the Fundis. This indicates the understanding the Greens came to. They cannot keep being only the opposition to politics if they want to start making a change in the fight to combat global warming. “The concession by the party’s left-wing reflects the continuing moderation of a party that, though perceived as radical in its early days, has evolved into an established political force.”

The similarity in the faction of the co-chairs came with its advantages to the Party. Baerbock and Habeck’s similarity in political views enabled them to come together under a shared vision and generate a joint strategy as well as an agenda for the future of the Party. The lack of disputes over political positions resulted in a unique inner set-up for the Party in which they ended the duplication of office structures. Prior to Baerbock and Habeck’s set-up, each co-chair owned their own office and political staff. This presented numerous disadvantages to the party from monetary to visionary. It created an atmosphere where the division within the Party was furthered, the resources lacked, and the communication became more difficult. It is sufficient to say, Baerbock and Habeck inherited a party that harbored two parties inside, both structurally and mentally, and unified it.

The 2018 Party Elections

The 2018 elections took place during the Federal Assembly, or the Federal Delegates’ Conference, BDK. The assembly begins with the final election of the presidency, co-chairpersons. The BDK is the supreme organ and it meets at least once annually. The assembly consists of the elected delegates from the district associations and corresponds to the party congress of the other parties. It is responsible for deciding on the subjects such as statutes, Beitragsordnung, dissolution and merger with the other parties as well as electing the Federal Executive Committee.

Baerbock won the co-chairpersons election in the 2018 BDK with sixty-four percent of the votes and Habeck with eighty-one. Compared to her counterpart, Baerbock was not yet so well-known in the political environment nor was as experienced. Habeck was already a regional leader from Schleswig-Holstein, where he was the deputy premier and environment minister. Whereas Baerbock, though well-connected in the party, was relatively unknown outside of it with a limited public profile. Baerbock’s career started with the 2018 elections whilst Habeck was elected during his peak period. Although this may seem like a disadvantage for Baerbock at hindsight, however, her relatively young age for politics as well as her appeal to the younger generation turned the polling numbers in her favor. A year after the 2018 election Baerbock got re-elected with ninety-seven percent, achieving the best result in an election for party leadership. Which led her to become first the candidate of the Greens for the chancellery from which resulted rise to the foreign ministry.

Baerbock’s 2018 Election Speech

The 2018 elections made Baerbock a party leader, her speech a climate leader. Baerbock took a clear position during her speech regarding Germany’s energy mix, mainly coal. She started off her speech with emphasizing the Greens role; becoming the voice of a progressive force of the left center and added that when it comes to climate protection a radical nature was needed. To emphasize the need for a radical change and approach to climate protection, Baerbock told her audience how the Groko (the short version of the grand coalition of CDU/CSU and SPD) in Berlin, was moving away from Germany’s climate goals. Baerbock, then, called out the Groko for their lack of eagerness for accelerating the coal exit and the coal commission for not labeling coal phase-out as their first priority. Baerbock took a strong stance on the importance of coal exit for Germany and said that they had to “get out to the street and fight for phasing-out of coal or later it will be too late.” To Baerbock it meant not only talking with environmental associations but to “go where it hurts.” According to Baerbock, such radical nature is needed to counterbalance the climate crisis because it is “the greatest threat to our planet and, that is why (…) we need to approach it with radicalism.”

From the beginning of her speech, Baerbock assigned accountability to the major institutions and parties in the government for not following through with coal exit and failing to meet the climate goals. Then she showcased how determined the Green Party would be under her leadership, radically determined if needed. Baerbock showcased to her audience that through her leadership she will challenge the Groko and coal commission and push them to support the implementation of green policies and acceleration of a coal exit. She underlined that the Green Party’s future entails radicalism when it comes to implementing and pushing for green policy. Baerbock then moved further from Germany and acknowledged the EU’s shortcomings as well. However, just like Germany, instead of ignoring the weaknesses, they had to be seen as an incentive for change as that is what the green European politics are. Baerbock’s speech indicated that the Green Party, under her leadership, would be pushing harder and more persistently for climate action and protection.

Analysis and Impact of Baerbock’s 2018 Candidacy Speech

The benefit of such an open and strong speech is that it shows determinations and inspires people for change whilst ensuring their choice of a leader. The drawback is the stronger the opposition approaches to the government or policy makers; they may encounter an equally strong resistance from the other side. However, as Baerbock emphasized the need of a fast, radical change in regard to climate action in policy making, inspiring the masses overweighs the already existent resistance against it. But in the end she managed to persuade the public of her “cozy middle class radicalism” and did not scare votes away with too radical proposals as the Green party had done in the past. 

Baerbock’s speech was impactful because it firstly showcased her outlook and aspirations as a politician and secondly introduced her to an extensive political environment. Internally, her speech was a milestone for Baerbock and her becoming a climate leader in the political environment. It marked the beginning of her career on a broader spectrum and enabled a new median where her green, political views can change the continuum of a system. Externally, it gave the party members and sympathizers a new leader to support with the authority, power, and determination to act on behalf of climate action and protection. 

Moreover, it positively changed the way people view Baerbock as she moved from being a delegate of the Green Party to leading it. The speech calls on its listeners to act because it demands responsibility and accountability by asking everyone to call out the authority figures for creating obstacles to green policy implementation. It shows intent and determination as to how her gained power will be utilized for the sake of climate, which creates credibility and trust. As the speech highlights the need for radical change it promises people momentum. The content and the tone of the speech also positively impacts the narrative of the party as an entity. It narrates that the Green Party aims to make green policy an equally important objective in politics as the traditional ones while becoming an equally powerful party as those advocating for traditional objectives. 

There are four crucial points as to how Baerbock’s 2018 speech can be a blueprint to look up to for young politicians with a climate action focus. First, Baerbock opens the speech by setting a promise as she declares her appointment to the leadership is “the beginning.” Second, Baerbock’s tone in the speech is open, straightforward, and powerful. Her openness is evident when she is stating how the most important thing a party should do is to describe the world as is and acknowledging the reality to change it properly. The straightforward, and powerful tone are eminent when placing accountability and pointing out the responsible parties. Third, Baerbock, throughout her speech, highlights what she is promising, accelerated coal exit and green policy implementation, what needs to be done to get there, radical change, and what obstacles make it harder to reach the destination, the current government, and commissions. Lastly, Baerbock shows understanding of the criticism against green policy. She recognises the social side of implementing green policies and how crucial it is to not compromise social prosperity for climate as the two are two sides of the same coin.

In conclusion, the 2018 elections had a central impact on Annalena Baerbock. From commencing her political career to new heights to bringing about a new, successful era for the Green Party. Baerbock’s speech has a special value regarding her becoming a climate leader. It clearly showcases the snapshot of Baerbock’s political profile from her green outlook to determination for bringing climate action into politics as a serious matter. It marks the starting point of her becoming a climate leader. Starting domestically before moving on to the global stage.