Judging by the panic at Germany’s best-selling tabloid, Bild, the country’s Green Party is set to score big in September’s federal election.
The political race to inherit the chancellery from Angela Merkel is only getting started but Bild’s campaign against Green co-leader Annalena Baerbock kicked off mid-April, when she emerged as the party’s election lead candidate.
At a weekend conference in Berlin the 40-year-old secured 98.5 per cent support from party delegates with a promise in office to trigger a “social-ecological revolution”.
But it has been a long road since April, when her nomination prompted euphoric media coverage and a Green Party surge to first place in opinion polls. The last weeks have seen the party slide back to second place on 20-22 per cent.
Baerbock has aided the slide in support with a series of gaffes, from a massaged CV to a belated declaration of additional parliamentary income.
The latest slip came at the weekend when an open microphone caught her self-critical take on her own party conference speech at the weekend: “Scheisse!”
In her speech she made only a passing reference to how her candidacy has triggered a blizzard of fake news, online misogynist slurs, negative advertising from Germany’s business lobby and potty humour from political rivals.
Within hours of her nomination a photograph of her with billionaire George Soros, taken from her own Instagram feed, was circulating on social media with the claim that a “Soros masterclass student has become chancellor candidate”, in a post filled with dog whistle anti-Semitism.
Annalena Baerbock with George Soros
On its Instagram account, meanwhile, Bavaria’s Christian Social Union (CSU) posted a picture of Baerbock with a speech bubble containing three lumps of dog poo. Other rivals retweeted a fake claim that Baerbock was planning to ban all pets in order to cut greenhouse gases.
The Greens’ reputation as a prohibition party was taken to new heights with an expensive print and online advertising campaign depicting the party leader as Moses, carrying two stone tablets containing “10 Green Bans”. The campaign was financed by a lobby group with close ties to the car industry.
Happily stirring the anti-Baerbock pot is Bild, drawing on mutual antipathy dating from 1968. Back then Bild and Die Welt, its sister broadsheet, accused West Germany’s student revolutionaries of endangering the postwar democratic order.
The left-wing student leaders, many of whom would go on to form the Green Party, accused Bild and Die Welt of inciting violence against one of their leaders, Rudi Dutschke.
As the party entered regional assemblies and, in 1983, the federal Bundestag, Bild stuck close to the centre-right CDU, framing the Greens as dangerous ideologues.
Now the tabloid has focused on a handful of Green Party proposals it says will hit ordinary German families, such as a carbon-dioxide levy that would see a 16 cent increase in petrol prices by 2023. Another Green policy would end Germany’s tax exemption for jet fuel that gives airlines an advantage over road and rail. Baerbock says the aim is to ensure that “short-haul flights should not exist in the longer run”.
That has allowed rivals to attack the Greens as an elitist party for well-earning urbanites, a view underlined a week ago in the eastern state of Saxony-Anhalt. Though the largely rural state was never a Green stronghold, the party’s 6 per cent showing was a sobering reality check.
After a two-month political honeymoon turned baptism of fire, Baerbock warned her supporters at the weekend: “The easy part is over; the real election campaign begins now.”