Amongst a lineup of gray-haired middle-aged males vying for the highest job, Baerbock — a 40-year-old former skilled trampolinist — stands out.
Baerbock is the Inexperienced get together’s first ever candidate for chancellor, in September’s momentous elections that may see Merkel step down after virtually 16 years on the helm.
The query is, can Baerbock translate that “breath of contemporary air” into actual winds of change for Germany?
Together with the get together’s co-leader, Robert Habeck, Baerbock has steered the Greens — as soon as generally known as the “anti-party get together” — to the middle of German politics.
“There’s something of the Tony Blair about her,” mentioned Nicholas Wright, lecturer in EU politics at College School London.
“The truth that she comes from the pragmatist, realist a part of the get together, principally saying: ‘It is all very nicely having these beliefs and ideas, however they do not matter if we won’t get into authorities and do something.'”
Muesli eaters to mainstream
Baerbock grew up on a farm in a small village in Decrease Saxony, in what was then West Germany, along with her engineer father, social schooling employee mom, two sisters and two cousins.
She was born in 1980 — the identical yr Germany’s Greens get together was based.
As a toddler, her hippyish dad and mom took her on anti-nuclear demonstrations.
“It was much more radical again then,” Wright mentioned of the get together that emerged within the wake of the Sixties scholar motion.
“Militant muesli eaters,” was how some critics described them, he added.
A lot as they’re in the present day, the Greens have been strongly pro-environment and anti-nuclear. However again then they have been additionally anti-NATO and suspicious of multilateralism. That stance has shifted over the many years.
Baerbock got here of age simply because the get together was transferring from the political fringes to the mainstream; when she was in her late teenagers, the Greens turned junior companions with the center-left Social Democratic Social gathering (SPD) in a ruling coalition.
It was a major second within the get together’s journey — even when journalists on the time nonetheless requested Inexperienced politicians snide questions on muesli.
Quick ahead to 2021 and the get together’s candidate for chancellor is a “robust multilateralist,” mentioned Wright. Baerbock helps the European Union, and Germany’s position in NATO.
Leaping up the ranks
Earlier than she entered politics, Baerbock was a champion trampolinist, successful bronze thrice in nationwide competitions.
“It is a bit of an outsider sport,” mentioned Waltraud Schelkle, professor of political economic system on the European Institute, London College of Economics.
“It reveals she had a sure self-discipline, ambition, and toughness at an early age.”
Certainly Baerbock’s political rise has been swift. She studied political science and public regulation on the College of Hamburg, accomplished a grasp’s diploma in worldwide regulation on the London College of Economics, and for a number of years was a journalist at German newspaper Hannoversche Allgemeine Zeitung.
Within the mid-2000s Baerbock labored as an assistant to Inexperienced MEP Elisabeth Schroedter. After unsuccessfully operating for the Bundestag in 2009, Baerbock lastly bought a seat in 2013; she served because the Greens’ local weather coverage spokesperson, and later its co-leader.
Baerbock now lives within the metropolis of Potsdam, simply exterior Berlin, along with her political advisor husband and two younger daughters.
She is the “rising star” of German politics, interesting to well-educated, culturally progressive voters, in accordance with Wolfgang Merkel, professor of political science at Berlin’s Humboldt College.
That mentioned, Baerbock is not essentially the most charismatic speaker, and tends to give attention to the main points.
“Some examine her model to Angela Merkel, as a result of she just isn’t tremendous charismatic, she just isn’t a really humorous particular person,” mentioned Helene Bubrowski, political journalist on the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung, who has interviewed Baerbock prior to now.
Bubrowski recalled tales in regards to the Greens chief calling colleagues late at evening “as a result of she has a query about paragraph three, on a specific web page, of a world treaty.”
On “any form of inexperienced power, she may discuss for hours,” added Bubrowski. “It is a very down-to-earth, very pragmatic method to politics.”
That is to not say Baerbock would not smile or snort together with others. However on the subject of German politics, “humor just isn’t one of many main virtues you need to have as a politician,” mentioned Professor Merkel.
The Inexperienced heart
Local weather is, unsurprisingly, on the coronary heart of the Greens marketing campaign, and Baerbock is pushing additional on the federal government’s already bold emissions targets.
That may contain ramping up the phase-out of coal and nuclear, in favor of renewables.
It will additionally imply an finish to fossil fuel-powered vehicles on Germany’s roads — a putting pledge for a nation with a proud auto engineering historical past.
She has taken a hardline on China too, over human rights issues.
To a point, Merkel’s environmental push has paved the way in which for the Greens’ success. The Chancellor “made inexperienced insurance policies extra mainstream,” mentioned Schelkle, “even when she did leap on the bandwagon.”
Merkel “has pressured the Greens to change into extra center,” Schelke added.
Baerbock’s success on the polls will largely hinge on whether or not the CDU/CSU group’s candidate, Armin Laschet, can maintain onto Merkel’s supporters when the nation’s second-longest serving chancellor steps down.
Specialists say a win for Baerbock can be a major milestone for Inexperienced politicians throughout Europe.
Have been she to emerge victorious in September, Wright mentioned it will bolster “the ‘inexperienced surge’ that appears to have been going down throughout the continent in the previous few years.”
He factors out that Eire’s Inexperienced Social gathering is a member of that nation’s ruling coalition, whereas collectively the Greens had their greatest ever exhibiting within the European Parliament elections in 2019, making them the fourth largest grouping there.
“A Inexperienced Chancellor in essentially the most highly effective [EU] state sends a robust message of what’s potential,” Wright added. “With the center-left within the electoral doldrums virtually all over the place, the Greens are rising as a practical progressive different. A win in Germany can be an enormous fillip.”
If Europe’s largest economic system was efficiently headed by the Greens, “a lot of the different international locations and their residents would lose their worry that inexperienced politics and insurance policies hurt welfare and economic system,” mentioned Professor Merkel.
It will “encourage notably West European politicians that inexperienced politics and insurance policies don’t solely work — however pay out electorally as nicely,” he mentioned.
However September is a great distance off, and victory is much from sure — rather a lot is dependent upon whether or not the CDU/CSU’s supporters unite behind Laschet.
By German political requirements, Baerbock — a younger lady with two babies and comparatively little political expertise — is the extra “adventurous” choice for voters, mentioned Bubrowski.
And German voters are “not very adventurous,” she added. “I do not assume she’s already received the election — there’s nonetheless some strategy to go.”