Not the chancellor, but something like this: Annalina Barbock just arrived

In her campaign for chancellor, Barbock, the Green Party’s top candidate, she polarized and almost failed, also because of her own mistakes. A year later, she became the Secretary of State—and in the midst of the war—the one with the highest approval ratings. Both are related to each other.

Analina Barbuk radiates holding the rope at the flagpole and hoists the German flag in front of the reopened embassy in Kyiv. It is a powerful symbol that emerges from this act on Monday, not only of the solidarity of the Federal Republic with Ukraine, which was invaded by Russia. It also means a woman who has reached her role as one of the country’s most important decision-makers in the midst of the greatest security policy challenges of recent decades.

When Russian forces invaded Ukraine on the night of February 24, the signal came from Berlin to evacuate the German embassy. So far, the Federal Republic has stuck to staying in Kyiv, even if some EU countries have already pulled out and ordered their diplomatic staff to return for security reasons. But Barbock and Chancellor Olaf Schultz wanted to stay with Kyiv until the end. There was a danger of a repeat of the drama in Kabul just a few months ago, when embassy staff had to flee the unexpectedly invading Taliban.

At the start of the invasion, most observers, including large sections of the German government, expected Russia to go fast. It could have ended in disaster for Barbock: The Secretary of State also bears the political responsibility for ordering the eviction only at the last minute. “I decided last night already to withdraw the remaining seconded staff at the German embassy in Kyiv for security reasons,” Barbock said in her first statement about the Russian attack. After the sensitive visit of Sergei Lavrov before the war, this was her first stressful moment in office, but it is only one of many that followed in the weeks and months after the war. But the 41-year-old went through a steel bath before taking on one of the republic’s most visible and responsible ministerial positions.

Suddenly better

A year ago, in mid-May 2021, the then Federal Chair of the Green Party reached the peak of her initial success. She defeated her co-chair Robert Habeck in the fight for the chancellor’s nomination. In opinion polls, the party is far ahead of the Union, while the SPD lags far behind. It is then that discussions about her person begin: it concerns inaccurate information about her academic and professional life, the late income reported to the Bundestag and finally her book, which is embarrassingly poorly copied.

Within a few weeks, the Greens had slipped to third place in the opinion polls. Critical comments have rained down and social media – fueled by Russian robotics factories and fake news – is filled with clumsy hatred, malice and misogyny. Only she knows how close Barbock is to giving up everything these weeks.

She persevered, using the disappointing election result to lead her party back into government for the first time in 16 years. A year after falling off the top, Habeck, a mother of two from Potsdam, is one of the country’s most famous politicians. In the RTL/ntv trend scale, 61% of those surveyed stated that they were satisfied with Baerbock’s work. This is the best value in this arrangement. The newspaper, Bild, which was particularly critical during the election campaign — which, apparently, with Welt barred Barbock as prime minister — wondered this week whether Barbock would not be the best chancellor.

tough week

The work moves very quickly, with Baerbock also taking advantage of the chancellor’s constant criticism: Scholz doesn’t just give her space to shine herself—for example by escalating the first trip to Kyiv by a member of the German government after the start of the war. Scholz is also seen as unconvincing in communicating his Ukraine policy, while the Greens need not make any adjustments in their stance on Russia and Ukraine, on Nord Stream 2 and Germany’s dependence on Russian raw materials. For Barbock’s party, the important decision to export arms to Ukraine is only the result of a position taken earlier, while the SPD had to make a radical shift in foreign, security and energy policy since the beginning of the year.

So Berbuk is also welcome in Kyiv with open arms: in addition to Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba, with whom she speaks regularly, mayor Vitali Klitschko and head of state Volodymyr Zelensky also take time. In Ukraine, the domestic political debate in the Federal Republic, which is seen as the leading European country, is closely followed. The fact that the Green Party has been campaigning for strong support for Ukraine for some time did not go unnoticed. After the trip, there is praise from all sides – from our ranks, from Klitschko, from the CDU.

surprisingly strong

When the foreign ministers of the Group of Seven and then the foreign ministers of NATO countries met in Germany that same weekend, Barbock led the talks. It is up to her to announce far-reaching decisions: that the Group of Seven (G7) industrialized countries remain firmly on the side of Ukraine and will “never” accept Russian invasions of lands, including Crimea; That NATO welcomes the historic aspirations of Finland and Sweden to join.

With the Turkish threat to veto this accession, there is a risk of a small crisis that will be dealt with immediately diplomatically. Burbock speaks a lot of English and can talk to the press about sensitive diplomatic issues. Even if no one thought she was a native speaker, the campaign’s ugly mockery of her language skills feels like something from another time.

The chancellor gives Barbock a large space on the political stage. Her predecessor Heiko Maas under Angela Merkel had a very different experience. But the federal government as a whole could also benefit from the Barbock administration. Their determination, clear communications, and the toughness they learned during the election campaign make the Greens look surprisingly confident on the slippery diplomatic stage. With all the slips of her tongue, the less it happens to her that she talks too fast and her voice cracks. Visually, she is self-confident, jokes with her high-ranking guests and distinguishes herself from many suit wearers with her outfits on group photos.

At eye level with people

Showing empathy, being able to talk to people in an informal way, and feeling empathy were among her undisputed strengths even during the federal election campaign. In the Kiev suburb of Bucha, where Russian soldiers were particularly ruthless, she succeeded admirably when summarizing her conversations with representatives of the press. The Secretary of State’s visit to a market in poverty-stricken Niger, where she attempted to lift buckets full of watermelons from a woman at the market, attests to this talent for being friendly without exaggerating the showmanship.

Barbok in Niger: This photo has gone around the world.

(Photo: Photo Alliance / dpa)

In addition to the images that were transmitted around the world, the trip to Africa in particular left a strong impression on the city of Barbuk. She is very concerned about the looming food crisis due to crop failures in Ukraine. She sees the effects of climate change on people’s living conditions and talks about the destabilizing effects on entire regions. “We see you, we hear you, and we somehow have a responsibility to get this cyclone of crisis under control here on site,” Barbock said after speaking to refugee families and school children. Returning to Berlin, Barbück successfully campaigned for the German army to continue its mission to protect the civilian population of neighboring Mali – despite the high risks, high costs, and controllable popularity in Germany.

Can you do that?

Under the Traffic Lights Alliance, Germany has more international responsibility; It is easy to get involved here as Secretary of State. The list of acute flashpoints is far from complete. The conflict over the Serbian part of Bosnia and Herzegovina could escalate at any time, fueled by the Russian president. Berbuk fears the destabilization of Moldova with the breakaway region of Transnistria, which is funded by Russia. Added to this is Germany’s responsibility for the further fate of Afghanistan, and the struggles over rule of law and democracy with putative partner states such as Poland, Hungary and Turkey. In addition, in coalition negotiations, Burbock separated and took over climate diplomacy from the Ministry of the Environment. There are many fires that a confident and ambitious Secretary of State must watch, if not extinguish.

Against this background, Baerbock is best to ignore its approval rates for the time being. After all, it only took twelve months to go from the most promising popular candidate to the shameful and failed candidate for chancellor to the most respected federal minister. Your journey as Secretary of State has just begun. Whether Germany could entrust one of its highest government positions to a relatively young woman with no experience in executive positions – which many people asked about themselves last summer – has not been answered definitively. But the trend is positive and surprising for many.

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