Just over two months after election day, the devastating floods that have swept through West Germany this week have catapulted climate change into the heart of the German election campaign.
Most of Germany’s political parties agree that global warming was to blame for a catastrophe that left 103 dead and visited the towns and villages in two of the country’s most populous states.
That could prove a huge benefit for the Greens, who even earlier this week were expected to make big gains in the September poll. His strongest suit – a focus on climate change and on mobilizing all of the state’s resources to prevent it – immediately acquired a new massive urgency.
So far, they have been reluctant to say “I told you so.” Robert Habeck, co-leader of the party, did not visit the areas affected by the floods, telling Germany’s Spiegel magazine that “rubbernecking politicians can only prevent such situations.”
“It is forbidden to campaign on a day like today,” he said Thursday when the full extent of the damage emerged.
But it’s clear that the new focus on the dangers of freaking weather events and their links to a warming planet could give a major boost to the Greens ’candidate for chancellor, Annalena Baerbock. They can also distract attention from the mistakes they have made throughout their campaign.
The 40-year-old parliamentarian has been on the ropes recently over inaccuracies in her CV, allegedly plagiarizing in a book she published last month and delays in reporting extra party revenues to parliament.
“He will definitely be able to score points now with the [Greens’] competence in environmental and climate matters, “Karl-Rudolf Korte, a political scientist at the University of Duisburg-Essen, told German TV.” It gives them a whole new way to mobilize voters. “
Government spokeswoman Martina Fietz made it clear that authorities see climate change as the main cause of the floods. “In principle, global warming leads to an increase in so-called extreme weather events such as heat waves, heavy rains and storms,” he said. In Germany, the average temperature had already risen by two degrees since records began, he said.
On the other hand, the new focus on climate may be difficult for Armin Laschet, candidate for chancellor from the center-right CDU / CSU. As governor of North Rhine-Westphalia, home to some of Germany’s largest companies, he strongly opposes part of the green agenda, saying they could jeopardize the country’s industrial strength status.
On Thursday, she was kicked in the back, losing patience with a TV interviewer when she asked her if Germany now needed to act more aggressively to curb the climate crisis. “Sorry ma’am, don’t change your policies just because of a day like today,” he said.
However, he also insisted that Germany should now take the pace of the climate. “We need to move more quickly on the path towards carbon neutrality,” he said Friday.
Laschet was also able to score an important point over his two rivals, Baerbock and Olaf Scholz, the finance minister and Social Democrat candidate for chancellor. They were on vacation when the floods did: he wasn’t, and he went early to visit some of the hardest hit areas.
Laschet promised compensation to those left homeless, expressed sympathy for the victims and their families and thanked the emergency services, in speeches that seemed calculated to show him as an effective crisis manager and “Landesvater” , or father of the nation.
Korte said Laschet could benefit politically from the new sense of insecurity initiated by the floods. “We look forward to new crises,” he said, “and we have the greatest confidence in people or parties that have the best ideas to protect us from what may come.” That could benefit the CDU / CSU, which has ruled Germany for 50 of the last 70 years, and harm Baerbock, which has no government experience.
If the floods end up having an impact on Germany’s election campaign, it won’t be the first time. Experts say the heavy flooding of the Elbe River in August 2002 affected the election results that year and secured victory for Social Democratic Chancellor Gerhard Schröder.
He rushed to the scene, wearing rubber boots, walking in the mud, and then throwing huge amounts of help to the hardest hit areas. On the contrary, his rival Edmund Stoiber, candidate for the CDU / CSU, did not share his holidays on the North Sea island of Juist and ended up losing.
“I didn’t want to campaign with this natural disaster,” Stoiber said afterward – even though he ended up visiting the flooded areas.
The climate has also influenced politics in recent years. The long dry period that Germany experienced in 2018, with little rain and fields and forests turning brown in the oven sun, increased the popularity of the Greens and sparked its relentless rise in the polls: November 2018 they were up 22 percent, up from 8.9 percent in the 2017 Bundestag election.
Then in May 2019 they collected 20.5 percent in the European Parliament elections – their best national result to date.
Even if no one wants to make a political haystack out of a crisis, there will be some in the Greens in private hoping that the impact of the 2018 heat wave could find an echo after the 2021 summer floods .