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Who is Germany′s Annalena Baerbock? | Germany | News and in-depth reporting from Berlin and beyond | TheTeCHyWorLD

Annalena Baerbock gave a series of feather-ruffling interviews following her nomination to the Foreign Ministry last month. She emphasized the “value-guided foreign policy” she intends to implement and followed that up with what many have seen as assertive statements about China, Belarus, Hungary, and Russia. “In the long run, eloquent silence is no kind of diplomacy, even if the last few years it has been seen as such by some,” she told the taz newspaper in early December. Beijing responded by saying the world needs “bridge builders instead of wall builders.” On the campaign trail ahead of September’s general election, Baerbock lamented Germany’s passiveness, especially on the EU and Hungary’s increasing restrictions. “For far too long, the German government has been silent on the dismantling of basic rights in Hungary,” she told the news agency AFP in June.

Green Party tradition

That a Green foreign minister should seek to emphasize human rights is not surprising. The party’s foreign policy specialist parliamentarians, such as Omid Nouripour, the Green Party’s foreign affairs spokesman in the Bundestag and Reinhard Bütikofer, the Greens’ leader in the European Parliament, are known as outspoken critics of regimes they deem to be abusing human rights. “It has always been part of the Green tradition that ethics and human rights aspects are emphasized more strongly,” Hubert Kleinert told TheTeCHyWorLD. He is a political scientist at the Hesse University of Applied Sciences and himself a former Green Party Bundestag member. After all, the Greens have a little tradition of troublesome foreign ministers. Baerbock’s predecessor as Green Party foreign minister is Joschka Fischer, a former left-wing firebrand who rose to become former Chancellor Gerhard Schröder’s top diplomat in the late 1990s. Famously, Fischer openly questioned the US’ evidence of weapons of mass destruction in Iraq and ensured that Germany took no part in the US-led invasion in 2003. But Kleinert also predicted that Baerbock will struggle at first, especially in view of what some saw as a disappointing election campaign that saw the Greens leave their early promise unfulfilled. “I think she will have the problem of getting the appropriate public respect,” he told TheTeCHyWorLD. “She’s not exactly starting from the best position, and if you look beyond the Green milieu I’m certain she’ll face all kinds of skepticism.” Gustav Gressel of the Berlin-based European Council on Foreign Relations (ECFR) has welcomed Baerbock’s more forceful tone. “I have been criticizing the German government for a long time that they are too silent and too intimidated, punching much below their weight,” he told TheTeCHyWorLD. “It’s a huge consumer market — they have a lot of leverage both regarding Russia and China as well as in the EU, especially on Hungary. It’s not a foreign policy that Germany has been doing — it can only get better.” Twitter critics have dismissed Baerbock as too young (born in 1980) and too inexperienced, as she has never held a government post.  But Gressel does not see any particular weakness in Baerbock’s relative youth and inexperience. “I think much of this criticism as misguided because that’s simply not how electoral democracy works,” he said. “Ministers are not technocrats. They need to find and identify the people they can rely on in specific areas to work for them and with them.” “Anyone who has risen that far in politics has to have a certain amount of toughness,” he said. “As for the age thing: even among German bureaucrats, I am much more confident about the younger generation than a lot of the representatives of the elder generation.”

  • Germany’s Green party: How it evolved

    1980: Unifying protest movements

    The Green party was founded in 1980, unifying a whole array of regional movements made up of people frustrated by mainstream politics. It brought together feminists, environmental, peace and human rights activists. Many felt that those in power were ignoring environmental issues, as well as the dangers of nuclear power. 

  • Germany’s Green party: How it evolved

    Attracting high-profile leftists

    The influential German artist Joseph Beuys (left) was a founding member of the new party. And its alternative agenda and informal style quickly attracted leftist veterans from the 1968 European protest movement, including eco-feminist activist Petra Kelly (right), who coined the phrase that the Greens were the “anti-party party.”

  • Germany’s Green party: How it evolved

    Party ambiance at party meetings

    From the start the Green party conferences were marked by heated debate and extreme views. Discussions went on for many hours and sometimes a joyous party atmosphere prevailed.

  • Germany’s Green party: How it evolved

    Greens enter the Bundestag

    In 1983 the Greens entered the German parliament, the Bundestag, having won 5.6% in the national vote. Its members flaunted their anti-establishment background and were eyed by their fellow parliamentarians with a certain amount of skepticism.

  • Germany’s Green party: How it evolved

    Green Party icon Joschka Fischer

    Joschka Fischer became the first Green party regional government minister in 1985 when he famously took the oath of office wearing white sports sneakers. He later became German foreign minister in an SPD-led coalition government. And was vilified by party members for abandoning pacifism in support of German intervention in Kosovo in 1999.

  • Germany’s Green party: How it evolved

    Unification in a united Germany

    With German reunification, the West German Greens merged with the East German protest movement “Bündnis 90” in 1993. But the party never garnered much support in the former East Germany (GDR).

  • Germany’s Green party: How it evolved

    Pro-Europe

    Today’s Green voters are generally well-educated, high-earning urbanites with a strong belief in the benefits of multicultural society and gender equality. And no other party fields more candidates with an immigrant background. The party focuses not only on environmental issues and the climate crisis but a much broader spectrum of topics including education, social justice, and consumer policies.

  • Germany’s Green party: How it evolved

    Turning conservative

    Environmental topics are no longer the exclusive prerogative of the Greens, whose members have morphed from hippies to urban professionals. Winfried Kretschmann personifies this change: The conservative first-generation Green politician became the party’s first politician to serve as a state premier. He teamed up with the Christian Democrats and has been reelected twice to lead Baden-Württemberg.

  • Germany’s Green party: How it evolved

    Celebrating harmony

    Party co-leaders Robert Habeck and Annalena Baerbock symbolize the new pragmatism and confidence of the Greens in the 2020s. They support the Fridays for Future movement and cater to the high number of new young party members who are not interested in the trench warfare between fundamentalists and pragmatists that marked the Green party debates of the early years. Author: Rina Goldenberg


Baerbock’s tone and her interest in international politics are not new. In the biography on her personal website, she describes being “touched by worldwide injustice” since her teenage years, which apparently fired early ambitions to be a journalist. She studied political science and public law in Hamburg, earned a Master’s Degree in international law at the London School of Economics, and then began a doctorate at Berlin’s Free University, which she broke off in 2013 on being elected to the Bundestag. Her academic career ran in parallel to a steep political ascent. Having joined the Green Party at the age of 25, she became leader of the party’s branch in the state of Brandenburg only four years later, while simultaneously acting as spokesperson of the party’s working group on European affairs and serving as a member of the board of the European Green Party. She continued this focus on European affairs in her first term in the Bundestag, when she claims to have “worked hard on making the German government finally acknowledge its international responsibility as one of the largest economies in the world and to lead the German ‘energy transition’.” Nevertheless, her attention shifted to domestic affairs in her second term in the Bundestag, from 2017, when she focused on child poverty and single parents.

  • Female foreign ministers: Role models for Germany’s Annalena Baerbock?

    Germany’s first female foreign minister

    It is now official. One-time contender for the chancellory Annalena Baerbock has been appointed foreign minister by the German president. The Green party co-leader Baerbock becomes the first woman in this post, and also the youngest-ever holder of the post. She wants to shape a values-based and feminist foreign policy, she says.

  • Female foreign ministers: Role models for Germany’s Annalena Baerbock?

    Madam Secretary from Washington

    It’s been over 20 years since the United States appointed its first female Secretary of State. Madeleine Albright, who served under President Bill Clinton, was key in negotiating the peace deal between Serbia and the Kosovar Albanians in 1999 in Paris. Her German counterpart at the time was Green party politician Joschka Fischer (l).

  • Female foreign ministers: Role models for Germany’s Annalena Baerbock?

    Ghana’s top diplomat

    For decades, many African countries have had female foreign office chiefs. In Ghana, Shirley Ayorkor Botchway is currently in charge of diplomatic affairs — here she is seen on a visit to Istanbul in January 2020. The first female foreign minister of the West African country held the position back in 1979.

  • Female foreign ministers: Role models for Germany’s Annalena Baerbock?

    A career straddling East and West

    Netumbo Nandi-Ndaitwah has been Namibia’s foreign minister for almost ten years. During the apartheid era, she worked in the Soviet Union, then in the UK. After her country’s independence from South Africa, she first became a member of parliament, then a minister and since 2012 she has been foreign minister. Here, Nandi-Ndaitwah receives Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov in Windhoek.

  • Female foreign ministers: Role models for Germany’s Annalena Baerbock?

    Waltzing with Putin

    Austrian Foreign Minister Karin Kneissl danced with Lavrov’s boss, Vladimir Putin, at her wedding reception in August 2018. Kneissl, who has no party affiliation and was nominated by the right-wing populist Freedom Party, has been repeatedly criticized for her closeness to the Russian president. After leaving office in 2019, she now sits on the supervisory board of the Russian oil company Rosneft.

  • Female foreign ministers: Role models for Germany’s Annalena Baerbock?

    The oil curse

    Oil is often the topic under discussion when Najla al-Mangusch receives state guests. The 48-year-old lawyer is foreign minister of Libya — one of the world’s most important oil-producing countries. But it is partly thanks to oil that the country has experienced a bloody civil war. Here, al-Mangush receives Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu.

  • Female foreign ministers: Role models for Germany’s Annalena Baerbock?

    ‘Huge privilege’

    Nanaia Mahuta has been New Zealand’s Foreign Minister since November 2021, after having served as Minister for Maori Development. Women of Maori descent and mixed ancestry now have career opportunities that were long closed to them, Mahuta said. The post is a “huge privilege,” she said. The 50-year-old is the first woman in New Zealand’s parliament to have a traditional chin tattoo.

  • Female foreign ministers: Role models for Germany’s Annalena Baerbock?

    Anna Lindh: Swedish European

    She was considered a contender for the post of head of government: the charismatic Swedish Foreign Minister Anna Lindh. But on September 10, 2003, an assassin stabbed Lindh in a Stockholm department store, bringing her life to an abrupt end. Today, a foundation in Anna Lindh’s name promotes dialogue between the EU and the other countries bordering the Mediterranean.

  • Female foreign ministers: Role models for Germany’s Annalena Baerbock?

    Golda Meir: ‘Lioness of Israel’

    Even before the founding of the state of Israel, Golda Meir had negotiated with the Jordanian king to prevent an Arab-Israeli war — unsuccessfully. In 1956, she became foreign minister of the still-new country, and in 1969 she took the role of prime minister. Will Annalena Baerbock, who so recently wanted the German chancellorship, have a similar career trajectory? Author: Peter Hille


Tasks for a Green foreign minister

Perhaps mindful of criticism of the Greens from environmentalist pressure groups like Fridays for Future, Baerbock has been at pains to sell her new brief as essential to fighting the climate crisis: “We can only solve the big domestic policy questions like climate neutrality with a globalized world,” she told public broadcaster ARD in November. “That’s why, for a strong climate policy, we need an active European and German international foreign policy.” When faced with countries such as China that have generally blocked global climate agreements, Baerbock has argued that the key is not to work endlessly for unlikely global agreements, like a universal carbon tax, but to cooperate bilaterally with countries prepared to retool their industries to be carbon neutral. Gressel believes that Baerbock’s success will not only be measured in what she says about “values” in foreign policy. “How willing is Germany to create means to that end?” he asked. “For example, she asked for a new fund for strategic infrastructure. That’s a start to counter the Chinese takeover of infrastructure, especially in the neighborhood of the EU. You have to stand for your values not just in words but also in money.” Edited by: Rina Goldenberg While you’re here: Every Tuesday, TheTeCHyWorLD editors round up what is happening in German politics and society.You can sign up here for the weekly email newsletter Berlin Briefing, to stay on top of developments as Germany enters the post-Merkel era.

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