The Greens hesitated for a long time. In the wake of damage, suffering, and death following the floods in western Germany in mid-July. They did not want to say that they had seen it all coming.
Leaders of this environmentalist party were cautious with their visits to the affected regions. Unlike Chancellor Angela Merkel and regional leaders, they focused on calling for donations and praising volunteers, the Federal Agency for Technical Relief, and the German armed forces.
But now as the federal election campaign moves into high gear they are once again emphasizing the issue they consider to be the core of their brand: climate change and preparing for extreme weather.
The party’s co-chairman Robert Habeck, parliamentary group leader Anton Hofreiter and climate expert Oliver Krischer have presented an eight-page paper proposing a whopping 25 billion euro ($30 bio) program for the next ten years. It calls for stronger dams and dikes, an end to land sealing, more green spaces in cities and to reverse the straightening of rivers.
Green roofs and more open spaces for cities
Ironically the party’s candidate for chancellor and co-chairwoman Annalena Baerbock is not an author of the paper. After scandals concerning the inflating of her resume and sections of her book that appear to be plagiarized, Baerbock faded from the spotlight.
Now the party is seeking to divert attention to issues and to push the election program and present fresh ideas.
“We want to invest more in preparedness and make that the guiding principle of our politics. For that, we need a climate fund to invest in projects like sponge cities, flood and health protection measures, and adapting the sewage system,” said Franziska Brantner, Green member of parliament from the southwestern state of Baden-Württemberg.
“Sponge cities” refer to measures such as green roofs which absorb more water and create less runoff. Sealed surfaces are also turned into green space wherever possible. Brantner also believes that cooperation between different levels of government needs to change. “Optimized structures and agreements between the federal, state, and local governments, better warning systems, and heat plans are crucial. Adapting to the climate crisis is a huge challenge that we need to address now.”
Robert Habeck calls this “closing the gap between the energy transition, climate protection, and disaster prevention” because “Global warming is real. The only question is how we can slow it down.”
Green Party leaders Robert Habeck and Annalena Baerbock want to focus on issues in their campaign program
More debt, this time for the climate
The paper also calls for a climate and disaster register with a detailed list of possible damage and of regions particularly at risk.
The SPD-led Federal Environment Ministry hastened to agree. “Germany urgently needs a better knowledge base on the damage and costs of climate change,” Environment State Secretary Jochen Flasbarth said in Berlin.
Two months before the general election, the other parties do not want to surrender the issue of climate protection and preparation for future extreme weather to the Greens without a fight.
The Green paper also contains critiques of the federal government’s budget policy. The pandemic has been costly for the state and led to new highs in borrowing. The 25 billion euros proposed by the paper is also to be borrowed. But the Greens believe this is justified: “We think tax cuts for the wealthy and rigid adherence to the notorious debt brake are wrong. By abandoning the rigid debt brake, we are enabling a decade of investment in the future.”
While the balanced budget measure called “debt brake” (Schuldenbremse) was indeed largely ignored during the pandemic, it has nevertheless been in effect for ten years and obligates governments to balance their budgets. Introduced in 2016, Germany’s debt brake has limited the Federal Government’s structural net borrowing to 0.35% of gross domestic product (GDP). The center-right Christian Democrats (CDU), their Bavarian sister party the conservative Christian Social Union (CSU), and the pro-free market libertarian Free Democrat (FDP) all want to reinstate it as quickly as possible.
As a result, the Greens have few partners to implement their concept with when coalition building begins after September’s vote.
This article has been tranlsated from German.
While you’re here: Every Tuesday, DW editors round up what is happening in German politics and society, with an eye toward understanding this year’s elections and beyond. You can sign up here for the weekly email newsletter Berlin Briefing, to stay on top of developments as Germany enters the post-Merkel era.