Time for Baerbock to step aside?

The book fiasco (part 2)

Dear Reader,

Two weeks ago, upon the launch of Green Chancellor candidate Annalena Baerbock’s new book, I suggested snarkily that she might have done better to follow the dictum that Angela Merkel appears to have appropriated from the British royal family: ‘never complain, never explain.’

Merkel isn’t quite as restrained as the Queen, but she generally limits her contact with the press to a soft summer interview with a public broadcaster. Or if the heat is really on - like at the height of the pandemic - she’ll go on Anne Will’s evening chat show, a television format known for its genteel style.

In some ways, this lack of interest in publicity speaks to Merkel’s greatest strength: her lack of vanity in an ego-driven profession. This is a particular asset in a country that still comes out in hives when politicians bang on about themselves for too long.

On the other hand, the leader of a democratic country should probably explain herself every now and again.

So it seems a bit harsh that Baerbock’s book - part autobiography, part political manifesto - was immediately dismissed as a publicity stunt. She deserves some credit for making the effort.

Unfortunately for her, the book (title: Jetzt: Wie wir unser Land erneuern) is full of copy and paste errors, giving weight to the argument that it was rushed out in time for campaign season.

Many of the book’s alleged plagiarisms seem trivial: she copied sections of factual texts without putting them into her own words. In pop non-fiction, that’s not a crime

But a couple of sections stray into the realm of plagiary. One sentence calling for “a lively and impulsive, emotional and factual debate” on renewable energy is copied word-for-word from a certain Dr. Peter Ahmels. Legal experts say that this constitutes a breach of intellectual property law as it steals subjective wording.

While this is unlikely to ever go to court, it cements the impression of a politician, who sich mit fremden Federn schmuckt. That tag was first given to Baerbock in May when she was found to have embellished sections of her CV.

She dug a deeper hole for herself last week when she insinuated that the offending sections of her book were the work of a ghost writer. That poor ghost writer never got due credit at her book launch…

Now even the Tageszeitung - a newspaper known for its close links to the Greens - has had enough. In an article titled ‘It’s over, Baerbock’, the newspaper urged her to withdraw from the race for the Chancellery and let co-leader Robert Habeck have a go. 

Meanwhile her rival, Merkel loyalist Armin Laschet of the CDU, has been noticeably silent in recent weeks. And all the while his popularity ratings are rising and rising…

The ghost of BER

Everyone knows the horror story of Berlin’s international airport. Built just outside the capital in Brandenburg, its construction became a marathon that never ended. Local politicians kept assuring the public that the multi-billion euro project would be finished any day now. But Berliners were kept waiting for nine years before it opened last autumn.

Twenty kilometres to the east, a new mega project is about to open. Or is it…?

The first electric cars were supposed to start rolling off the production line at Tesla’s Gigafactory in the Grünheide this month. But that start date has now been pushed back to the end of the year.

Complicated planning procedures and complaints by environmental groups have held the project up.

The US car company has struggled to hide its frustration, saying that German red tape “stands in conflict with the battle against climate change and the necessary urgency of such projects.”

But Tesla isn’t totally innocent itself. Its application to build a battery plant on the premises came at the last minute, meaning the planning procedure needed to start all over again.

Now German industry lobbyists are fretting that the saga could lead future Elon Musks to look elsewhere.

“Ever more complex planning procedures, involving multiple lawsuits and almost endless battles over expert opinions, have become a massive barrier to investment in Germany,” the BDI industry association told the Handelsblatt newspaper this week.

Brandenburg’s state economy minister, Jörg Steinbach, has tried to calm nerves, saying he was “hopeful that the first car will be born at the factory in 2021.”

While Mr Musk has reason to be cautious about the construction promises of Brandenburg politicians, he hasn’t been so true to his word either. He pledged 40,000 jobs when the project was first announced. That number has since been brought down to 12,000.

Den Kindern ein Vorbild!

When considering whether to cross the street when the Ampelmann is still red, Germans are reminded of their social duties by a sign which reads: den Kindern ein Vorbild! (be a role model for the children!).

I was reminded of that sign during the current debate on whether politicians have a duty to be inoculated against the coronavirus.

The discussion centres immediately around deputy state premier of Bavaria, Hubert Aiwanger, who leads the liberal Freier Wähler party and has not had a vaccine yet.

That fact is becoming ever more embarrassing to his boss, Markus Söder, who has been the country’s Mahner-in-Chief during the pandemic. “Everyone now has the chance to be vaccinated if they want… maybe you want to say something on this topic,” Söder told his deputy in front of journalists, in a clear attempt to embarrass him.

Söder famously loves a photo opportunity and has already been snapped getting jabs against the flu, tick bites and more. The way he sees it, politicians have a duty to set an example to the general public.

He’s not the only one. Health Minister Jens Spahn asked all of his more senior cabinet colleagues to get inoculated with the AstraZeneca jab back in April in order to reassure a public who had been unnerved by reports of rare blood clots. At least one minister was furious at being “told what to do.”

Aiwinger clearly sees the role of politicians differently. He told journalists that vaccination was a private affair, not a public one. “What’s just a little jab to one person is a real intrusion into the body for another,” he told the Süddeutsche Zeitung, adding that society must accept that some people simply don’t want to be vaccinated.

The reactions on social media were predictably split. For some, Aiwanger is a hero of individual liberty against an intrusive state, for others he is failing to do his duty and act as a Vorbild.

Jörg Luyken