Who will fill the political leadership gap in Germany?
The one political constant in Germany that provided stability over the last 15 years was Angela Merkel. Her cautious, wait-and-see piecemeal approach might have steadily guided Germany through some challenging times. But in a phase of severe disruption that approach seems to have outlived its usefulness. Periculum in mora: there’s an inherent danger in delay. German society, while stability-focused, is looking for change. And as Angela Merkel is exiting the political stage, a leadership vacuum is emerging.
This will also have an effect on Europe. Germany has been put on hold. This is likely to slow down necessary reforms on the European level. It’s hard to believe that, with no German vision, strategy or leadership on Europe, there will be significant progress. French President Macron, who has been waiting to get an answer from Berlin on his European reform proposals since 2017, is likely to have to keep on waiting for the moment.
The fight over the post-Merkel era is on. So who will be the change agent, filling the political leadership gap in Germany? With the conservatives and social democrats disoriented and mired in internal conflicts, with the liberals caught in a downward spiral, and the former communist Die Linke stuck in the doldrums, the Greens have emerged as the only viable party with a political dynamic. "The CDU has lost its way like the SPD and FDP have. So, the real question is whether Germany is ready for a "Green" republic", writes Torsten Riecke, political journalist with the German business daily Handelsblatt. "I’m not a member of the Green Party and I don’t always sympathise with that they do. But I love them all the same, because I need them to keep Germany stable", noted Princeton University Professor Stephen Kotkin in his Isaiah Berlin Memorial Lecture.
Great expectations have been placed onto the Greens, who are governing in ten out of Germany’s 16 regional governments and who on the federal level have been polling in the mid-20% range, hot on the heels of the CDU. And their party leader, Robert Habeck, has been consistently portrayed by the media as Germany’s possible future chancellor.
German Greens, a Zukunftspartei ("Future Party") ?
The German Greens have been able to break out of their eco-niche and are evolving into a big tent party, speaking to different voter demographics. While Robert Habeck might be appealing to many left-leaning voters, Winfried Kretschmann, the Green Premier governing the state of Baden-Württemberg, who recently wrote a book arguing for a new kind of conservatism ("Worauf wir uns verlassen wollen: Für eine neue Idee des Konservativen"), speaks to many conservative voters.
In this context, political analyst Daniel Dettling has described the German Greens as a new type of Volkspartei, a Zukunftspartei ("Future Party") that is able to transcend political boundaries and build bridges between different demographics and interest groups – between the young and the old, between urban and rural interests, between immigrants and non-immigrants, between the interests of economy and ecology. Party leaders Annalena Baerbock and Robert Habeck have labelled this new Green approach "radical realism" which projects a message of change (radical) in a stability-oriented manner (realism). With such an approach, the German Greens might have found Gramsci’s "point of progressive equilibrium…[which] holds great promise for the future."