Not Chancellor, but something like that: Annalena Baerbock is more than just arriving

In her campaign for the chancellor, Baerbock, the Greens’ top candidate, became polarized and nearly failed, also because of her own mistakes. A year later, she is foreign minister – and in the middle of the war, the minister with the highest approval ratings. Both are linked to each other.

Radiant, Annalena Baerbock grabs the mast rope and hoists the German flag in front of the reopened embassy in kyiv. It is a strong symbol that emanates from this act on Monday, not only for the solidarity of the Federal Republic with Ukraine, invaded by Russia. It also represents a woman who arrived in her role as one of the country’s most important decision-makers amidst the greatest security policy challenges of recent decades.

When Russian troops invaded Ukraine on the night of February 24, the signal came from Berlin to evacuate the German Embassy. So far, the Federal Republic has stuck to staying in Kyiv, even though some EU countries have already pulled out and ordered the return of their diplomatic personnel for security reasons. But Baerbock and Chancellor Olaf Scholz wanted to stay with kyiv until the end. The tragedy in Kabul was in danger of being repeated a few months earlier, when embassy employees had to flee the Taliban who had unexpectedly invaded.

At the start of the invasion, most observers, including large sections of the German government, expected Russia to pass quickly. This could have ended in disaster for Baerbock: the Minister of Foreign Affairs also bears political responsibility for having given the evacuation order only at the last minute. “I already decided last night that the rest of the staff seconded from the German embassy in Kyiv would be withdrawn for security reasons,” Baerbock said, rather casually, the next day in his first statement on the attack. Russian. After Sergei Lavrov’s sensitive visit before the war, this is his first big moment of pressure for power, but only one of many in the weeks and months that followed during the war. But the 41-year-old went through a bath of steel before taking up one of the most visible and responsible ministerial posts in the republic.

suddenly better

A year ago, in mid-May 2021, the then Federal President of the Greens reached the preliminary peak of her success. She prevailed against her co-president Robert Habeck in the fight for the candidacy for the chancellery. In the polls, the party is well ahead of the Union, while the SPD is far behind. This is when the debates about his person begin: it is about inaccurate information about his academic and professional background, about income delays reported to the Bundestag and finally about his book, which has been shamefully badly copied.

Within weeks, the Greens fell to third place in the polls. Critical comments are raining down, and social media – boosted by Russian robot factories and fake news – is dripping with hate, malice and clumsy misogyny. Only she knows how close Baerbock is to giving up everything these weeks.

She persevered, using the disappointing election result to bring her party back into government for the first time in 16 years. A year after falling from the top, the mother of two from Potsdam is, along with Habeck, one of the country’s most popular politicians. In the RTL/ntv trend barometer, 61% of respondents said they were satisfied with Baerbock’s work. This is the best value for money in this ranking. The newspaper “Bild”, which was particularly critical during the election campaign – which, it seems, together with the “Welt” wanted to prevent Baerbock as head of government – wondered this week whether Baerbock wouldn’t be the best chancellor.

A tricky week

The business is changing so rapidly, with Baerbock also benefiting from the Chancellor’s continued criticism: Scholz is not only giving it space to shine – for example by stepping up on the first trip to kyiv of a member of the German government after the start of the war. Scholz is also seen as unconvincing in communicating his Ukraine policy, while the Greens do not need to adjust their stance on Russia and Ukraine, Nord Stream 2 and Germany’s dependence on Russian raw materials. For Baerbock’s party, the important decision to export arms to Ukraine is only the result of an earlier position, while the SPD had to do an about-face on foreign policy, security and energy since the beginning of the year.

Baerbock is therefore also welcomed with open arms in kyiv: in addition to Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba, with whom she meets regularly, Mayor Vitali Klitschko and Head of State Volodymyr Zelenskyj also take the time. In Ukraine, the internal political debate in the Federal Republic, which is perceived as the first European nation, is closely followed. The fact that the Greens have been campaigning for strong support for Ukraine for some time has not gone unnoticed. After the trip, there is praise from all sides – from our own ranks, from Klitschko, from the CDU.

Surprisingly robust

When the G7 foreign ministers and later the NATO foreign ministers met in Germany towards the end of the same week, Baerbock led the talks. It is up to her to announce major decisions: that the G7 will remain resolutely alongside Ukraine and will “never” accept Russian territorial conquests, including Crimea; that NATO welcomes the historic membership aspirations of Finland and Sweden.

With the Turkish threat of a veto against this membership, there is a risk of a small crisis, which is immediately dealt with diplomatically. Baerbock speaks a lot of English and can speak to the press on sensitive diplomatic issues. Although no one would consider her a native speaker, the ugly campaign mockery of her language skills seems like something from another time.

The Chancellor gives Baerbock a lot of space on the political scene. His predecessor Heiko Maas under Angela Merkel had a completely different experience. But the federal government as a whole could also benefit from Baerbock’s administration. Their determination, clear communication and the tenacity they learned during the election campaign make the Greens seem surprisingly confident on the slippery diplomatic stage. With all the slips, it happens less often that she speaks too quickly and her voice breaks. She is visually confident, jokes with her high-ranking guests and stands out from the many costume wearers with her costumes in group photos.

At eye level with people

Showing empathy, being able to talk to people informally and feeling empathy were among his undisputed strengths even during the federal election campaign. In the kyiv suburb of Bucha, where Russian soldiers were especially cruel, she impressively succeeds when summarizing her conversations with representatives of the press. The foreign minister’s visit to a market in Niger, where she tried to lift two buckets full of melons to a market woman, testifies to this talent for being accessible without too much showmanship.


Baerbock in Niger: This photo went around the world.

(Picture: picture alliance/dpa)

In addition to the images that went around the world, the trip to Africa left a particularly strong impression on Baerbock. She is seriously concerned about the impending food crisis due to poor harvests in Ukraine. She sees the effects of climate change on people’s living conditions and talks about the potentially destabilizing effects on entire regions. “We see you and we hear you and we have a responsibility to somehow get this hurricane of crises under control here on the ground,” Baerbock said after speaking to refugee families and schoolchildren. Back in Berlin, Baerbock campaigned successfully for the Bundeswehr to continue its mission to protect the civilian population in neighboring Mali – despite the high risks, high costs and manageable popularity in Germany.

Can she do this?

Under the traffic light coalition, Germany takes on even more international responsibility, it’s easy to get bogged down here as foreign minister. The list of hotspots is far from complete. Fueled by the Russian president, the conflict over the Serbian part of Bosnia and Herzegovina could degenerate at any time. Baerbock fears the destabilization of Moldova with the breakaway region of Transnistria funded by Russia. Added to this is Germany’s responsibility for the future fate of Afghanistan, conflicts over the rule of law and democracy with supposed partner countries such as Poland, Hungary and Turkey. Moreover, in the coalition negotiations, Baerbock detached climate diplomacy from the Ministry of the Environment and took it over. There are many fires that the unquestionably self-confident and ambitious foreign minister needs to monitor, if not put out.

In this context, Baerbock would do well to ignore their approval ratings for now. After all, it took only twelve months to go from popular and promising candidate to dishonored and failed chancellor candidate to the most respected federal minister. Your journey as Secretary of State has only just begun. Whether Germany can hand over one of the highest government jobs to a relatively young woman with no leadership experience – something so many people wondered last summer – is not has not yet been conclusively resolved. But the trend is positive, surprising to many.

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