The devastating floods in western Germany, with more than 160 deaths, have placed the climate crisis in the foreground, two months before the general elections that will say goodbye to the 16 years of leadership of Angela Merkel.
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Perhaps the only positive image in the panorama of destroyed houses, neighbors who have lost everything and mayors fighting with tears is that of Merkel, on Sunday, taking the head of the Rhineland Palatinate regional government, Malu Dreyer, by the arm.
The conservative chancellor was visiting one of the high points of the tragedy, twinned with the Social Democratic leader of the “Land”. The gesture went viral as an expression of cohesion and empathy from the national leader to the regional one, with reduced mobility because she suffers from multiple sclerosis. Together they toured the area, spoke with volunteers, firefighters and soldiers and alerted about the climate emergency.
But it is not up to Merkel to materialize the reactivation of the environmental struggle, since she will leave power after the September 26 elections. It will do so without having completed the energy transition precipitated in 2011 after another catastrophe – that of the Japanese power plant in Fukushima – that made it resume the plan to abandon atomic energy approved by its predecessor, Gerhard Schröder.
In the final stretch of his fourth term, and at the request of the Constitutional Court, his Government approved a plan to achieve climate neutrality in 2045, but its practical execution remains for his successors.
Laschet, the questioned natural successor
The catastrophic floods were an opportunity to show strength for the prime minister of the other affected “Land”, North Rhine Westphalia, Armin Laschet. He prevailed as a candidate of the conservative bloc for the Chancellery, despite doubts about his erratic management in the face of the pandemic.
Instead of revaluing himself, Laschet has pointed out another bullet, after some images in which he appeared laughing in a group while the country’s president, Frank-Walter Steinmeier, expressed his dismay at the catastrophe from that “Land”.
Laschet is also under criticism from environmental organizations. He is criticized for little climatic commitment at the head of the most populated “Land” in the country, where one suburbs link to the next. The natural flow of its rivers has been modified, which in the event of a flood overflows, to which are added the consequences of the porous subsoil left by old mining operations.
The floods subsided in the west, but the alert extended to Bavaria. Its regional leader, Markus Söder, who competed with Laschet for the conservative nomination, presents himself as a staunch environmentalist. “What happened is a cry of alert. We must activate the climate defense,” he said on Monday on public television ARD, whose moderator reminded him that his party, the Bavarian Social Christian Union (CSU) has governed the “Land” for decades. without this having reverted to a greener policy.
Baerbock, the punished green candidate
Also on that public channel, the Green candidate, Annalena Baerbock, recalled that her party does carry the environmental fight in its hallmarks, be it in the face of catastrophes or when the imminence passes.
Baerbock has advocated centralizing the alarm devices against natural disasters, instead of the current situation, where they fall under regional jurisdiction, which implies that each “Land” acts at its discretion.
The catastrophe should reinforce Baerbock, a defender of a non-radical and realistic environmentalism. But the candidate, who led voting intention polls in March, has fallen to second place behind Laschet, amid a series of missteps, revelations of errors on her resume and suspicions of plagiarism. Each of these errors or inconsistencies has been oversized in the media, to the point that the candidate has chosen to stop her public appearances.
Scholz, the social democrat with the key to aid
The situation could favor the Social Democratic candidate, Finance Minister and Vice Chancellor Olaf Scholz, so far third in the polls. He has been very present in the tragedy, be it with his fellow member Dreyer or the Bavarian Söder.
It is responsible for drawing up the package of rapid aid to the victims – about 300 million euros – and also the one that will be allocated to the reconstruction of infrastructures – estimated at billions of euros. It represents the centrist path of social democracy and, indirectly, the continuity with respect to the last Merkel government, despite leading the party that competed for power with the conservatives.