Germany’s sharp-tongued Annalena Baerbock rips up the diplomatic playbook

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BERLIN ̵1; Annalena Bayerbock is ready to fight against the autocracy and her chancellor.

Standing next to his Chinese counterpart Qin Gang in Beijing, the German foreign minister made some complimentary remarks about China’s rise among top world powers before pressing on his host.

“Many people in the world are asking how China will use this growing influence,” Barbock told a press conference at the palatial Diaoyutai State Guesthouse earlier this month. “Let me say frankly, I wonder why the Chinese position so far has not included a call on aggressive Russia to stop the war.”

Top it off with Barebock’s broadside against Beijing (not so indirectSupport Came for Russia’s War in Ukraine Warning For China that an escalation against Taiwan would lead to “a scary situation” as well as criticism over Chinese human rights violations. What started out friendly quickly descended into a tense meeting, to which Qin retorted: “China needs at least one schoolmaster from the West.”

For Barebach, the clash of words was a continuation of a new foreign policy style he has developed since taking office a year and a half ago. It has also seen its trade deals with counterparts in Russia and Turkey, pledging a hard line against authoritarian and semi-authoritarian regimes.

Bierbock’s blunt language, which downplays the risk of antagonizing China as Germany’s biggest trading partner, stands in stark contrast to the more calm and at times robotic rhetoric of German Chancellor Olaf Scholz – who criticized Taiwan during his visit to Beijing last year. And also raised human rights. ,

On his trip to China, he also distanced himself (and by extension, the European Union) from Controversial remarks by French President Emmanuel Macron on staying out of any potential conflict over Taiwan.

The trip underlined just how well the senior Green politician was two years ago messed up his speech To become chancellor, is accommodated to represent Germany abroad. Despite an apparent rivalry with former Green Party co-leader Robert Habach, the popularity of his plain-text approach prompted Bierbach to consider running for chancellor against Scholz in the 2025 election.

However, questions remain about his prospects in light of his history of gaffes as well as his Green Party’s recent slump in the polls.

“He is convinced that even the clearest words stand out to be taken seriously,” said Jamila Schaefer, a Green Party foreign policy lawmaker who has known Barbock for many years.

Schaefer pointed out how German politicians had long been “more cautious in addressing problems [in other countries]Giving priority to investment and short-term interests of individual large corporations.

“That’s changed with BareBock,” Schaefer said.

On his trip to China, Bierbock distanced himself from Emmanuel Macron’s controversial remarks on staying out of any potential conflict over Taiwan. Pool photo by Suo Takekuma/AFP via Getty Images

rewriting the diplomatic code

So far, even the opposition in Berlin is praising his combative style: “Finally, after two dubious visits by Macron recently and Scholz last year, a clear and forceful European position on China,” said Roderich Kieswetter, a Major foreign and security policy legislator from the centre-right Christian Democratic Union in Germany.

Bierbock’s sharp rhetoric, as well as his high prominence in Germany and abroad, contrasted significantly with the weak performance of his predecessor Heiko Maas. Social Democrats at one point also publicly apologized Saudi Arabia for German criticism on issues of human rights and democracy. Maas, largely unknown in the international arena, is often blamed for doing little to stop former Chancellor Angela Merkel. demotion foreign Ministry.

Michael Roth, chairman of the Bundestag’s foreign affairs committee and a former state secretary in the foreign ministry, said such a paradigm shift was long overdue.

“The traditional language of diplomacy, with its sometimes very nuanced formulation – ‘We are concerned, we are very concerned’ – suffers from the fact that it is no longer properly understood: neither by the citizens of this country , nor by authoritarian rulers who cultivate an increasingly aggressive rhetoric,” said Roth of Scholz’s Social Democratic Party. “Saying things clearly helps combat this,” Roth said.

Bierbock – who came to office with no previous government experience – made her first major positive impression on the international scene when, before the Russian invasion and in only her second month as minister, she emerge as the clear winner In a tense verbal duel at a press conference with his Russian counterpart, Sergei Lavrov. exactly a year ago, Lavrov had brutally humiliated EU foreign policy chief Josep Borrell has a similar position.

During the COP27 climate talks in Egypt last year, Barebock – who expanded his portfolio by making climate protection a foreign affairs issue and appointing ex-Greenpeace chief Jennifer Morgan as secretary of state – talked more about reducing emissions. China has challenged China by seeking engagement, saying Beijing can no longer hide behind its decades-old classification as a developing nation.

In a parliamentary debate last week, the 42-year-old politician reiterated his critical stance towards Beijing, saying he had seen “really more than shocking” Chinese repression of civilians during his recent visit.

toxic relationship

Although Bayerbock’s associates insist that his tough language comes from pure faith, it has also been a way for him to exert influence at Scholz’s court. With the war in Ukraine, the Chancellor has shown significant interest in setting the tone on foreign policy – ​​not least through his turn The change in foreign and security policy, announced days after Russia’s invasion last year.

Scholz is jetting around the world – China, Japan, India, the US, South America; And in early May he will go to Africa for the second time. During these visits, foreign policy questions such as how to deal with Russian aggression and the rise of China have been at the top of the agenda.

Sidelined by her boss’s high-level diplomacy, Barebock made headlines last year to warn Scholz Before his trip to China to be tough on Beijing.

Relations between the chancellor and her foreign minister reached a tipping point earlier this year amid a protracted debate about sending German battle tanks to Ukraine, during which Bierbock continually pushed Scholz stop hesitatingwhile the latter kept Final judgment close to his chest.

they too fought over money, power and their respective turf Barbach’s Greens accused the Chancellor of trying to set up a “shadow foreign ministry”, as part of Germany’s planned national security strategy. China’s upcoming strategy has also been a key point, with the chancellor pushing for a more significant water reduction first draft by the Ministry of External Affairs.

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Bierbock made headlines last year for admonishing Scholz ahead of his trip to China to be tough on Beijing JOHN MACDOUGALL/AFP via Getty Images

By February, allies of Barebock accused Scholz’s entourage of providing journalists with a negative spin on Barebock in order to influence media coverage to his detriment.

The toxic relationship between the two politicians has improved little since then, and was challenged again last week as MPs from Scholz’s SPD criticized the foreign minister’s China policy while she was visiting the country.

Beyond that conflict, there is also the question of how effectively Scholz and his ilk can shape German foreign policy. Wolfgang Schmidt’s mighty right hand man Makes big decisions and constantly rivals with him when it comes to setting the tone on foreign policy.

Broadly speaking, tensions between Scholz and Bierbock are likely to escalate as Germany prepares for its next election in October 2025.

popularity contest

Barebock, who declined to be interviewed for this article citing his busy schedule, has not yet commented on his potential candidacy for the 2025 election. The topic is highly sensitive because of another issue: rivalry within the party. The Greens’ Vice Chancellor and Economy Minister Robert Habeck is also vying for the top spot.

Although Haebeck was a leading candidate for the Greens in the 2021 election, the party ultimately selected Barebock, as an implicit statement on gender equality. His subsequent election campaign, however, became a fiasco amid various gaffes, criticism over an exaggerated CV as well as allegations of plagiarism – all of which caused the Greens to fall behind Scholz’s SPD.

Habeck, who started off with high popularity as vice-chancellor, later claimed the Greens’ 2025 candidacy for himself. but he has since lost ground Unpopular energy and climate change measures, raising Barebock’s hopes that he might get another shot. in Germany Ranking of its most popular politicians, Barbock is now ahead of Habeck and tied with Scholz. Defense Minister Boris Pistorius takes the number 1 slot.

According to two party officials who spoke on the condition of anonymity to speak freely about interpersonal dynamics in the party, although Bierbock and Habeck work with each other professionally in their daily dealings, their The relationship is now strained as they have become staunch rivals.

,[The chancellor candidature] How they stand will be decided in about a year and a half after the European elections,” said Green lawmaker Tobias Bacherle. “Both currently have very strong support in the party. So the question would be, who has better results to show for it? Who gives better?”

One challenge for Bierbock is that even though his hardline foreign policy approach has been good at garnering headlines, German voters are currently – after months of debate over Ukraine, Russia and tanks – more concerned with domestic issues such as oil and gas. Expensive government schemes to replace Gas in heating the house with heat pumps. In the 2021 campaign, voters did not pay much attention when Barebach was the only candidate who correctly predicted the dangers posed by Russia’s aggressive foreign policy.

Another challenge is that the Greens are currently far from a realistic chance of leading the country, as their support has fallen from 23 percent last summer to just 16 percent. POLITICO’s Poll of Polls.

And then there’s his recurring slip.

Barebock caused a diplomatic incident in January when he Said During a session of the Strasbourg-based Council of Europe: “We are waging a war against Russia” – although Bierbock was quick to back down.

Jürgen Hardt, CDU’s foreign policy spokesman, described it as “natural” that Bierbock’s clear communication style was more prone to mistakes than “the chancellor’s cautious, restrained phrasing”.

“Still, that shouldn’t happen” for a politician striving for the highest office, Hardt said. “Such mistakes could still become a problem for him in the next election campaign.”