BERLIN – The floods have had a way of reshaping German politics.
Helmut Schmidt made a name for himself responding to the deadly floods in Hamburg in 1962, and became chancellor in the 1970s. Images of Gerhard Schröder wading in muddy waters along the Elbe River in 2002 is credited to him have helped him win another term.
The floods that hit Germany last week, more severe than any in centuries, are already doing their job this election year. But the surprising thing they have revealed, political analysts say, is that none of the top candidates has been able to demonstrate the level of leadership in a crisis that the public has grown accustomed to under Chancellor Angela Merkel.
While the deadly flash floods have given the candidates a chance to show their stuff, political experts said each has struggled to communicate competence and calm. Voters seem to agree.
The first poll since the flood showed a drop in popularity for the top two candidates, conservative Armin Laschet and his Green Party rival Annalena Baerbock, after what political experts say have been mediocre performances by both this week.
“This will not be an election in which the candidates play a decisive role,” said Uwe Jun, professor of political science at the University of Trier. “Neither candidate has the kind of overwhelming charisma that is capable of completely convincing voters.”
The floods have killed 170 people, and the whereabouts of more than 150 are still unknown, police said Wednesday. The number of missing is significantly lower than the figures announced last week, when down communication networks and blocked roads left many people inaccessible.
In the latest poll, which was conducted Tuesday through Sunday, Laschet’s top Christian Democratic Union fell below 30 percent support, to 28 percent, while its main rivals, the Greens, who ranked second. Instead, they were stable at 19 percent.
When asked if they could vote for an individual candidate (Germans cast votes only for parties), which one would receive their backing, only 23 percent said Laschet, according to the organization’s poll. Forsa polling group.
On Saturday, Laschet was the subject of fierce public criticism after being caught on camera. chatting and laughing with colleagues, while President Frank-Walter Steinmeier was giving a solemn statement to journalists after the two met with flood victims in the city of Erftstadt.
Laschet, 60, the governor of North Rhine-Westphalia, was forced to apologize. On Tuesday he visited another devastated town with the chancellor.
If there’s one thing Ms Merkel has learned in her four terms in office, it’s how to stay calm in the face of calamity, whether that’s promising to keep Germans’ savings safe in 2008 or wading through the flooded streets of eastern Germany. . years later.
Standing next to her Tuesday after meeting volunteers in the city of Bad Münstereifel, Laschet tried a more statesmanlike tone. He offered an open ear and a supportive pat on the shoulder to people cleaning mud and debris from their homes, as well as his condolences for the victims.
“Nothing we can do can bring them back, and we have little words for the suffering of those who survived,” he said, vowing to double his state’s contribution to emergency aid. “So that we too can do our part,” he said.
Merkel’s government on Wednesday approved an emergency aid package of 200 million euros, or 235 million dollars, to be paid immediately to flood victims. That figure will be matched by the affected states.
It is estimated that 6 billion euros, 7 billion dollars, will be needed to repair damaged infrastructure, including roads, bridges, homes and buildings.
Much of that money will flow through the Finance Ministry led by Olaf Scholz, a Social Democrat, who is also running for chancellor. Getting financial help for people quickly could give you an advantage, but so far you have failed to translate your position into a political advantage, experts say.
“If we need more money, we will make it available,” Scholz, 63, told reporters in Berlin. “We will do what we have to do to help everyone in need.”
Scholz visited affected communities in Rhineland-Palatinate last week and then headed to the southern state of Bavaria a few days after the heavy rains stopped there. But it has failed to connect with voters in a meaningful way, experts said. His party gained just 1 percentage point in the most recent poll, and Scholz’s personal popularity was unchanged.
“He’s a candidate that people just can’t warm up to,” Jun said.
But if any party should be in a position to find a political advantage in last week’s events, it should be the greens, who have been pushing for Germany to accelerate its transformation to a green economy for decades.
Especially popular with the country’s younger voters, climate issues have helped the Greens replace the Social Democrats as the second most popular party in recent years. But after his chancellor candidate, Ms Baerbock, 40, stumbled on allegations of plagiarism in a recently published book and inaccuracies on his resume, even a deadly climate catastrophe seemed unable to lift the party’s position in any meaningful way. .
The Greens remained firmly in second place, according to the most recent poll, with 19 percent support, enough to create a majority if they agreed to join forces in a government led by Laschet’s conservatives, in a tie that many observers they think it would be the most likely coalition.
What makes Ms Baerbock’s position difficult is the fact that she does not currently hold a political position that gives her the opportunity to pay a public visit to the affected regions, as her two competitors do.
Last week he decided not to bring members of the media with him when he visited communities in Rhineland-Palatinate affected by severe weather.
In several subsequent interviews, Ms Baerbock called for Germany to move faster on its exit from coal, currently planned for 2030, and to increase spending to better prepare communities for the dangers posed by extreme weather. He also presented a three-point plan that included adapting to the changing climate, amid attempts to stop it.
“It is not about one or the other between climate precaution, climate adaptation and climate protection, but rather a triad that is actually decided the same way in all climate protection treaties around the world,” Baerbock said to ARD public television.
In the wake of last week’s floods, the Greens are no longer the only party making such calls, but as images of devastation fade from the headlines, their party remains in the strongest position to win voters thanks to the renewed focus on the threat posed by change. to the global climate.
“I suppose that the weather events will indeed bring the issue of climate change to the top of the electorate’s agenda, which will help the Greens,” said Ursula Münch, director of the Academy of Political Education in Tützing, but added that it did not. would do. It would be a sufficient advantage to close the gap with the main conservatives. “He still won’t help Ms. Baerbock into the chancellor’s office.”