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POLITICS

Annalena Baerbock, Germany’s first woman top diplomat

A former medal-winning trampolinist, Annalena Baerbock is no stranger to aiming high. But the 40-year-old's next leap will be her biggest yet as she becomes Germany's first woman foreign minister.

Co-leader of the Green Party and incoming foreign minister  Annalena Baerbock
As Germany's new foreign minister, co-leader of the Green Party Annalena Baerbock will be a key part of the country's incoming 'traffic light' coalition government. John MACDOUGALL / AFP

It’s a remarkable rebound for the Green party co-leader whose election campaign was derailed by a series of missteps that dashed her hopes of replacing Angela Merkel as chancellor.

Nevertheless, voter concerns about climate change and Baerbock’s pledge to bring a “fresh start” to German politics catapulted the ecologists into third place at the September 26th election, with a record score of 15 percent.

The three-way “traffic light” coalition that emerged — consisting of the centre-left Social Democrats, liberal FDP and the Greens — rewarded Baerbock with the powerful foreign ministry portfolio.

An expert in international law, Baerbock has vowed to put human rights at the centre of German diplomacy — promising a tougher ride for Russia and China after the commerce-driven pragmatism of the Merkel era.

Missteps
The mother-of-two is described as quick on her feet and tenacious, with a meticulous attention to policy details.

“She keeps asking questions until she has really understood an issue,” a party source told the Handelsblatt daily. “She won’t be fobbed off.”

Critics point out that Baerbock has never held a government role, and was a relatively unknown politician even to many Germans not long ago.

Baerbock’s inexperience was laid bare on the campaign trail when she faced scrutiny over a belated bonus declaration, inaccuracies on her CV and allegations of plagiarism in her new book.

At one point, after fumbling a speech to a friendly audience, she was caught on microphone uttering an expletive while leaving the stage.

Baerbock admitted to having made mistakes along the way, and later pulled her book from the market.

But the Greens also hit back at the sexist attacks and online hate campaigns they said no other candidate had faced during the race.

Baerbock rode out the storm, with Greens co-leader Robert Habeck, the more charismatic of the duo, loyally rebuffing calls to replace her as chancellor candidate.

Habeck is now poised to head a new “super ministry” grouping the portfolios of economy, climate protection and energy.

‘Brave’
Raised on a farm near the northern city of Hanover, Baerbock got an early taste of politics when her parents took her to anti-nuclear demonstrations in the 1980s.

As a teenager she took part in trampoline competitions, winning three bronze medals in German championships. The sport taught her to “be brave”, she has said.

Baerbock studied political science and public law in Hanover before getting a master’s degree in public international law from the London School of Economics.

After trying her hand at journalism, she joined the Greens in 2005 and rose to become head of the party’s Brandenburg branch in 2009.

She entered the Bundestag lower house of parliament as a lawmaker in 2013.

She is married to Daniel Holefleisch, a political consultant. They have two daughters and live in Potsdam near Berlin.

As the Greens’ co-leaders since 2018, Baerbock and Habeck have been credited with completing the party’s transformation from its hippy, peace activist roots to a mainstream force to be reckoned with.

In the 2019 European Parliament elections, the Greens soared to 20.5 percent of the vote in Germany.

Against Nord Stream 2
In a break with tradition, both Baerbock and Habeck represent the “Realo” wing of the Green party, seen as more pragmatic and centrist than the radical “Fundi” camp.

Baerbock will be Germany’s second Green foreign minister, following in the footsteps of party veteran Joschka Fischer who served under Gerhard Schroeder from 1998 to 2005.

Staunchly pro-EU, Baerbock favours greater European responsibility in security and defence matters, and opposes the Nord Stream 2 gas pipeline with Russia that has Merkel’s backing but irked allies.

Baerbock recently accused Moscow of pushing up Europe’s energy prices by withholding gas supplies until the pipeline is fully certified, and said Germany could not let itself be “blackmailed”.

Signalling a more assertive stance on China, Baerbock has called for “dialogue and toughness” and urged the European Union “not to be naive” in its dealing with the Asian giant.

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POLITICS

EU ministers urge unity after Germany’s energy ‘bazooka’

EU finance ministers on Monday pleaded for unity after Germany announced a €200 billion plan to help German households and businesses pay for high energy prices, amid accusations that the EU's biggest economy was acting alone.

EU ministers urge unity after Germany's energy 'bazooka'

Europe is struggling with historically high energy prices as it faces an early autumn cold snap and a coming winter almost certainly to be endured without crucial Russian gas supplies because of the war in Ukraine.

Many EU countries have announced national programmes to shield consumers from the high prices. But Germany went the furthest on Friday when it announced its mammoth plan, which will see help pouring to Germans for two years.

Arriving to talk with his eurozone counterparts, German Finance Minister Christian Lindner insisted the spending was “proportionate” to the size of Germany’s economy and said his goal was to use as little of the money as possible.

READ ALSO: Germany to spend €200 billion to cap soaring energy costs

But Germany’s largesse rankled several EU capitals, some of which feared their industries could take severe blows while Germany’s sits protected, deforming the EU’s single market.

Outgoing Italian prime minister Mario Draghi has slammed Berlin for its lack of solidarity and coordination with EU partners.

French Finance Minister Bruno Le Maire, without directly criticizing Berlin, called on partners to agree a common strategy against the price shock and for countries to refrain from going it alone.

“The more this strategy is coordinated, united, the better it is for all of us,” he said.

Risk to ‘European unity’

Others pointed to the unprecedented solidarity shown in the Covid-19 crisis in which the 27 EU nations, against all expectations, approved a jointly financed €750 billion recovery plan.

“Solidarity is not only on the German shoulders, I think this is something that we have to deliver at European level,” said EU economics affairs commissioner Paolo Gentiloni.

“We have very good examples from the previous crisis on how solidarity can react to a crisis and also reassure financial markets. I think that this is our goal,” he said.

While a Covid-style recovery plan is not in the cards for now, Le Maire said €200 billion in loans and €20 billion in aid should be devoted to REPowerEU, a programme to help countries break their dependence on Russian gas.

READ ALSO: Will Germany set a gas price cap – and how would it work?

Bruegel, a highly influential think tank in Brussels, called the German plan a spending “bazooka” that many EU countries were unable to match, creating a potential source of animosity.

“If the German gas price brake gives German business a much better chance to survive the crisis than, say, Italian business, economic divergences in the EU could be deepened, and European unity on Russia undermined,” it said in a blog.

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