An awake press asking questions

Published in Insights, The New Zealand Initiative’s newsletter, 11 June 2021

To land a top job, having a stand-out CV helps. But that does not justify hallucinating your life’s achievements. Especially not if the media are doing their job.

It is a lesson Annalena Baerbock is just learning the hard way. The 40-year-old politician is the German Greens’ candidate to replace long-serving Chancellor Angela Merkel in this year’s election.

Until a few days ago, Baerbock’s chances looked good. Her party led in opinion polls. Her personal popularity eclipsed those of her political rivals. Magazines celebrated her fresh new style of politics.

But with Baerbock’s rise to stardom, due media scrutiny set in. Journalists interested in her background looked through the CV she published on her party’s website – only to find exaggerations and falsehoods.

According to her vita, she first worked as a journalist for a regional newspaper for three years. However, a look through that newspaper’s archive returned less than a dozen articles by her.

Baerbock also studied political science at the University of Hamburg from 2000 to 2004. Despite that, and contrary to reports of her completing a bachelor’s degree, she never concluded these studies.

Instead, she moved to London, where between 2004 and 2005, she received an LL.M. in international law. In the Bundestag’s official handbook, her profession is stated as ‘international lawyer’. Never mind she does not have any state exams, let alone a bar exam to practise law anywhere.

Baerbock also claims to have been chief of staff to a member of the European Parliament in Brussels from 2005 to 2008. Except her posting was mainly in Berlin, and she started as an assistant, becoming chief of staff only after two years.

Similarly, her listed memberships were not correct, either. She is not a member of the prestigious German Marshall Fund nor the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR). As international lawyers might know, private people cannot become members of the UNHCR anyway.

As interest in Baerbock’s non-transparency grew, she also suddenly realised she had failed to declare to Parliament a salary received from her party. The 37,000 Euros even included a bonus for a good result in the European elections and a Covid-19 bonus.

After two weeks of examination, Baerbock’s CV has collapsed like a soufflé. And now the media are analysing her political statements, too.

Why did she believe electricity could be stored in the grid (it can’t)? Did she really say people consume (rather than emit) carbon dioxide? And is it right Social Democrats invented Germany’s Social Market Economy in the 1960s (no, it was the Christian Democrats in the 1940s)?

As unpleasant as it must be for Baerbock, this is what happens in a democracy with an awake press. It is just as it should be.

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