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German election: What's at stake?

September 15, 2021

The Christian Democrats and the Greens are set to play a key role in Germany's upcoming election. But is either capable of leading Germany into a new era? DW's Conflict Zone talks to representatives of both parties.

A German voter casting a ballot in Berlin in a 2019 election
Image: picture-alliance/Xinhua/K. Voigt

German election: Conflict Zone special

When German voters go to the polls on September 26, they will mark the beginning of a new political era for Germany.

With longtime Chancellor Angela Merkel leaving office once a new governing coalition is formed, the key question is which party — and which candidate — will lead the country in the next four years.

Both the center-right Christian Democrats (CDU) and the Greens have a strong chance of playing a big role in that future. But both have seen diminishing fortunes in the last few weeks and have been affected by their candidates' mishaps.

German parliamentarian Franziska Brantner (Green Party)
'It's high time to change the government,' said Green parliamentarian Franziska Brantner, whose party looks likely to be part of Germany's next government Image: picture-alliance/dpa/S.Stache

So how do representatives of these two parties react to their problematic recent performances?

In a special program ahead of the election, DW's Conflict Zone host Tim Sebastian confronted David McAllister, a Christian Democrat member of the European Parliament, and Franziska Brantner, a member of Germany's parliament for the Greens.

Mishaps and popularity ratings

Both McAllister and Brantner were quick to defend their chancellor candidates, CDU leader Armin Laschet and Greens co-leader Annalena Baerbock.

McAllister pointed to Laschet's experience as head of Germany's most populous state, North Rhine-Westphalia, and to his past role as a member of the European Parliament.

"If we want to convince Germans to vote for the CDU and CSU, we have to be convinced that we have the right program, the right manifesto and the right candidate," he said.

How do German elections work?

Laschet has been under fire in recent weeks and has seen his party's ratings plummet. He was strongly criticized in particular after he was seen laughing in the background as he visited the area of July's devastating floods with President Frank-Walter Steinmeier. He later apologized.

Brantner, meanwhile, said it was a "good move" that Baerbock had acknowledged mistakes and stressed that her party is now focusing on "the substance of these elections."

"It's high time to change the government," said Brantner.

The Greens briefly lead the polls in the spring, but it now seems unlikely that they will be able to finish in first place on September 26.

This partly has to do with Baerbock's mishaps. For instance, she had to correct factual inconsistencies on her official CV and she also acknowledged that she had failed to declare extra income that she had received from her party.

Key foreign policy differences

Tim Sebastian also pressed both politicians on the differences between both parties. This is particularly important in the German political system, because parties have to find compromises after the elections in order to form coalitions.

And although the Greens and the CDU work together in a handful of regional governments, significant differences have emerged in key foreign policy areas, from Germany's two-decade-long military involvement in Afghanistan to human rights in China and in Russia.

Brantner, for instance, criticized McAllister and his party for the evacuation from Afghanistan of German citizens and others in need after the Taliban takeover.

In a recent televised debate, Baerbock criticized Germany's current coalition for voting down in June her party's motion to evacuate more local helpers of the Bundeswehr, Germany's army, which carried out a mission for nearly two decades before withdrawing earlier this year.

McAllister praised the evacuation flights and said the government "will continue to be responsible for those who have worked for us in the last few years."

But Brantner retorted: "Our soldiers did an amazing job, but it was incredible that we sent them in the most dangerous mission ever of the Bundeswehr because the government didn't evacuate early enough."

Russia and Nord Stream 2

McAllister and Brantner also clashed on the thorny issue of NordStream 2, the recently completed project which aims to deliver Russian gas to Germany.

The CDU politician acknowledged that certain "geopolitical consequences" related to Eastern Europe were underestimated at the beginning of the project.

German member of the European Parliament David McAllister
MEP McAllister admitted that the geopolitical concerns over Nord Stream 2 had been glossed overImage: John Thys/AFP/Getty Images

But he added that it's now "a matter of private companies complying with national and European laws."

"We have a strong industry and we need to provide our companies, our businesses with safe and secure energy," he added.

Brantner disagreed: "Geopolitically, for us, it's really a bad project."

"We have been fighting against this project for years, and we will continue doing so if we enter government," she added.

The Greens have promised a tougher stance on Russia, and also on China, if they are part of the next German government.

Brantner concluded by saying that her party believes there needs to be a dialogue with Russia on certain issues, but she also emphasized there should be an "approach of strength and clarity."

Nord Stream 2 nearly completed

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.