German Greens' honeymoon over after series of gaffes

Party co-leader Annalena Baerbock failed to declare around 25,000 euros in supplementary income to parliament
Party co-leader Annalena Baerbock failed to declare around 25,000 euros in supplementary income to parliament John MACDOUGALL AFP/File
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Berlin (AFP)

Germany's resurgent Green party, its sights set on the chancellery in September's election, has stumbled on the campaign trail over undeclared bonus payments and controversial comments about arming Ukraine.

But although support for the centre-left, ecologist Greens has slipped in the wake of the missteps, the party remains neck-and-neck with Chancellor Angela Merkel's conservatives.

The Greens dipped by one percentage point in this week's Forsa poll for broadcasters NTV/RTL but held on to the top spot at 25 percent.

Merkel's CDU/CSU bloc, which has selected the unpopular Armin Laschet for the race to succeed Merkel, came a close second at 24 percent.

A different poll, carried out by Insa for Bild newspaper, put the conservatives ahead at 26 percent followed by the Greens on 22 percent.

- Tax slip -

Last week, Greens co-leader Annalena Baerbock admitted she had failed to declare around 25,000 euros in supplementary income to parliament. It is Baerbock who has been tapped to lead her party into the September 26 vote.

The 40-year-old, who is thought to have a realistic shot at becoming Germany's first Green chancellor, called it a "stupid oversight" that has since been corrected.

But opponents have leapt on the slip-up as a sign of hypocrisy from a party championing more transparency in politics.

The Sueddeutsche daily said the case did not amount to a corruption scandal like the one that has snagged several of Merkel's conservatives, who are accused of profiting from face mask contracts early on in the pandemic.

"But it weakens (Baerbock), because her campaign thrives on being more upstanding that her competitors," it noted.

- 'Defensive weapons' -

Fellow Greens leader Robert Habeck meanwhile caused a storm when he suggested during a trip to eastern Ukraine that the country should be allowed to buy "defensive weapons" from the West.

The traditionally pacifist Green party was quick to disown the suggestion, saying it supported the current German government policy not to supply weapons to war zones.

Habeck's remarks nevertheless rattled the centre-left Social Democrats, potential coalition partners in a future Green-led government.

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The charismatic but gaffe-prone Habeck rowed back on Wednesday, saying he was referring to "night vision goggles, reconnaissance equipment and ammunition clearance".

The turmoil comes at a delicate time for the Greens because Baerbock "is still cementing her image among the public", Thorsten Faas, a political scientist at Berlin's Free University, told AFP.

Baerbock, an expert in international law and mother of two, was chosen in April over Habeck to be the Greens' chancellor candidate.

The nomination gave the Greens a boost that saw them overtake Merkel's bloc in opinion polls for the first time.

But the honeymoon didn't last long.

- 'Ironic' racism -

Baerbock quickly became the subject of a barrage of fake news and online attacks, from false claims about her green policies and scrutiny of her education, to a photoshopped nude picture.

The Greens have pushed back, condemning the at times sexist attacks and launching an online "fire service" to expose false stories.

But the party had to put out more fires earlier this month when Green mayor Boris Palmer posted racist remarks on Facebook about a black soccer player.

Palmer claimed his comments had been meant ironically, but members of the Greens in Baden-Wuerttemberg state overwhelmingly voted to exclude him from the party.

Baerbock herself denounced the comments a "racist and repulsive".

"The Greens are still doing well in the polls," the Handelsblatt daily said. "But the election is still four months away. A lot can happen."