Konrad Adenauer anchored Germany in the West. Willy Brandt reached across the Iron Curtain. Helmut Kohl, her onetime mentor, became synonymous with German unity. Gerhard Schröder paved the way for the country’s economic success.

Ms. Merkel’s legacy is less tangible but equally transformative. She changed Germany into a modern society — and a country less defined by its history.

She may be remembered most for her decision to welcome over a million refugees in 2015-16 when most other Western nations rejected them. It was a brief redemptive moment for the country that had committed the Holocaust and turned her into an icon of liberal democracy.

“It was a sort of healing,” said Karin Marré-Harrak, the headmaster of a high school in the multicultural city of Offenbach. “In a way we’ve become a more normal country.”

lingering inequality between East and West three decades after reunification is still evident, even though taxpayers’ money has flowed east and things have gradually improved. With the government planning to phase out coal production by 2038, billions more in funding are promised to help compensate for the job losses.

But as Mike Balzke, a worker at the nearby coal plant in Jänschwalde, put it: “We don’t want money — we want a future.”

Mr. Balzke recalled his optimism when Ms. Merkel first became chancellor. Because she was an easterner and a scientist, he expected her to be an ambassador for the East — and for coal.

Instead, his village lost a quarter of its population during her chancellorship. A promised train line from Forst to Berlin was never built. The post office shut down.

Mr. Balzke, 41, worries that the region will turn into a wasteland.

That anxiety runs deep. And it deepened again with the arrival of refugees in 2015.

was up in arms, but only a decade later, it has become the new normal.

Ms. Merkel never backed same-sex marriage outright, but she allowed lawmakers to vote for it, knowing that it would go through.

Mr. Winkler left the party again in 2019 after Ms. Merkel’s successor as conservative leader, Annegret Kramp-Karrenbauer, disparaged same-sex marriage. But he acknowledged his debt to the chancellor.

On June 30, 2017, the day of the vote, he wrote her a letter.

“It is a pity that you could not support opening marriage to same-sex couples,” he wrote. “Still, thank you that you ultimately made today’s decision possible.”

Then he invited her to visit his family, “to see for yourself.”

She never replied. But he and his family used to live just around the corner from Ms. Merkel, who never gave up her apartment in central Berlin. They would see her occasionally in the supermarket checkout line.

“There she was with toilet paper in her basket, going shopping like everyone else,” Mr. Winkler’s partner, Roland Mittermayer, recalled. Even after 16 years, they are still trying to figure the chancellor out.

“She is an enigma,” Mr. Winkler said. “She’s a bit like the queen — someone who has been around for a long time, but you never feel you really know her.”

Six hours northwest of Berlin, past endless green fields dotted with wind farms and a 40-minute ferry ride off the North Sea coast, lies Pellworm, a sleepy island where the Backsen family has been farming since 1703.

Two years ago, they took Ms. Merkel’s government to court for abandoning its carbon-dioxide emission targets under the Paris climate accord. They lost, but then tried again, filing a complaint at the constitutional court.

This time they won.

“It’s about freedom,” said Sophie Backsen, 23, who would like to take over her father’s farm one day.

Sophie’s younger brothers, Hannes, 19, and Paul, 21, will vote for the first time on Sunday. Like 42 percent of first-time voters, they will vote for the Greens.

“If you look at how our generation votes, it’s the opposite of what you see in the polls,” Paul said. “The Greens would be running the country.”

Pellworm is flush with the sea level and in parts even below it. Without a dike ringing the coastline, it would flood regularly.

“When you have permanent rain for three weeks, the island fills up like a bath tub inside the dikes,” Hannes said.

The prospect of rising sea levels is an existential threat here. “This is one of the most important elections,” Hannes said. “It’s the last chance really to get it right.”

“If not even a country like Germany can manage this,” he added, “what chance do we stand?”

Christopher F. Schuetze contributed reporting from Berlin.

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Germany’s Far Right Is Nowhere in the Election. But It’s ‘Here to Stay.’

BERLIN — They promised they would “hunt” the elites. They questioned the need for a Holocaust memorial in Berlin and described Muslim immigrants as “head scarf girls” and “knife men.”

Four years ago the Alternative for Germany, or AfD, arrived in the German Parliament like a wrecking ball, the first far-right party to win a place at the heart of Germany’s democracy since World War II. It was a political earthquake in a country that had once seen Hitler’s Nazi party rise from the fringes to win power in free elections.

Founded eight years ago as nationalist free-market protest party against the Greek bailout and the euro, the AfD has sharply shifted to the right.

The party seized on Chancellor Angela Merkel’s decision to welcome over a million migrants to Germany in 2015 and 2016, actively fanning fears of Islamization and migrant crime. Its noisy nationalism and anti-immigrant stance were what first catapulted it into Parliament and instantly turned it into Germany’s main opposition party.

But the party has struggled to expand its early gains during the past 18 months, as the pandemic and, more recently, climate change have shot to the top of the list of voters’ concerns — while its core issue of immigration has barely featured in this year’s election campaign.

The AfD has tried to jump on the chaos in Afghanistan to fan fears of a new migrant crisis. “Cologne, Kassel or Konstanz can’t cope with more Kabul,” one of the party’s campaign posters asserted. “Save the world? Sure. But Germany first!” another read.

At a recent election rally north of Frankfurt, Mr. Chrupalla demanded that lawmakers “abolish” the constitutional right to asylum. He also told the public broadcaster Deutsche Welle that Germany should be prepared to protect its borders, “if need be with armed force.”

None of this rhetoric has shifted the race, particularly because voters seem to have more fundamental concerns about the party’s aura of extremism. Some AfD leaders have marched with extremists in the streets, while among the party’s supporters are an eclectic array of conspiracy theorists and neo-Nazi sympathizers.

shot dead on his front porch by a well-known neo-Nazi. The killer later told the court that he had attended a high-profile AfD protest a year earlier.

Since then, a far-right extremist has attacked a synagogue in the eastern city of Halle during a Yom Kippur service, leaving two dead and only narrowly failing to commit a massacre. Another extremist shot dead 9 mostly young people with immigrant roots in the western city of Hanau.

The AfD’s earlier rise in the polls stalled almost instantly after the Hanau attack.

“After these three attacks, the wider German public and media realized for the first time that the rhetoric of the AfD leads to real violence,” said Hajo Funke of the Free University in Berlin, who has written extensively about the party and tracks its evolution.

“It was a turning point,” he said. “They have come to personify the notion that words lead to deeds.”

Shortly after the Hanau attack, Thomas Haldenwang, the chief of the Office for the Protection of the Constitution, Germany’s domestic intelligence agency, placed elements of the AfD under surveillance for far-right extremism — even as the party’s lawmakers continued to work in Parliament.

“We know from German history that far-right extremism didn’t just destroy human lives, it destroyed democracy,” Mr. Haldenwang warned after announcing his decision in March last year. “Far-right extremism and far-right terrorism are currently the biggest danger for democracy in Germany.”

Today, the agency has classified about a third of all AfD members as extremist, including Mr. Chrupalla and Alice Weidel, the party’s other lead candidate. A court is reviewing whether the entire party can soon be placed under formal observation.

“The AfD is irrelevant in power-political terms,” said Mr. Funke. “But it is dangerous.”

Mr. Chrupalla, a decorator who occasionally takes the stage in his overalls, and Ms. Weidel, a suit-wearing former Goldman Sachs analyst and gay mother of two, have sought to counter that impression. As if to hammer home the point, the party’s main election slogan this year is: “Germany — but normal.”

A look through the party’s 207-page election program shows what “normal” means: The AfD demands Germany’s exit from the European Union. It calls for the abolition of any mandates to fight the coronavirus. It wants to return to the traditional German definition of citizenship based on blood ancestry. And it is the only party in Parliament that denies man-made climate change, while also calling for investment in coal and a departure from the Paris climate accord.

That the AfD’s polling numbers have barely budged for the past 18 months suggests that its supporters are not protest voters but Germans who subscribe to its ideas and ideology.

“The AfD has brought out into the open a small but very radical electorate that many thought we don’t have in this country,” said Mr. Quent, the sociologist. “Four years ago people were asking: ‘Where does this come from?’ In reality it was always there. It just needed a trigger.”

Mr. Quent and other experts estimate the nationwide ceiling of support for the party at around 14 percent. But in parts of the former Communist East, where the AfD has become a broad-based political force entrenched at the local level, it is often twice that — enough to make it the region’s second-strongest political force.

Among the under 60-year olds, Mr. Quent said, it has become No. 1.

“It’s only a question of time until AfD is the strongest party in the East,” Mr. Quent said.

That is why Mr. Chrupalla, whose constituency is in the eastern state of Saxony, the one state where the AfD already came first in 2017, predicts it will eventually become too big to bypass.

“In the East we are a people’s party, we are well-established at the local, city, regional and state level,” Mr. Chrupalla said. “In the East the middle class votes for the AfD. In the West, they vote for the Greens.”

Christopher F. Schuetze and Melissa Eddy contributed reporting.

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Germany Floods: Merkel Visits Region as Toll Continues to Mount

BERLIN — Chancellor Angela Merkel on Sunday met with survivors and thanked volunteers as she made her way through a village wrecked by the extraordinary floods that have killed at least 183 people in Germany and Belgium, calling the level of destruction “surreal and eerie.”

As rescue teams continued searching for victims amid the wreckage and debris, heavy rains in the southern German region of Bavaria caused still more flooding on Sunday. The authorities said they expected the number victims to rise, as many hundreds of people remained unaccounted for, though it was unclear how many were simply unreachable by friends or family amid the chaos of the calamity and lost communications.

Helicopters buzzed overhead as Ms. Merkel arrived in Schuld, a formerly quaint village of half-timbered homes and cobbled streets on the banks of the Ahr River, rendered an unrecognizable tangle of debris covered in sticky brown mud by gushing waters last week. German meteorologists called the flooding the worst in 500 years, if not a millennium.

“The German language has no words, I think, for the devastation,” Ms. Merkel told reporters after touring the village. She pledged that her government would organize aid, immediately and in the midterm, as well as help to rebuild infrastructure.

was in Washington when the worst of the flooding struck on Thursday. She held video conferences with the leaders of the worst-affected regions after she returned on Friday. Saturday was her 67th birthday.

Despite her relative absence, Ms. Merkel has been shielded from public criticism by the sudden timing of the floods, the significance of her trip to Washington — considered an important step to restoring ties with the United States after the tumultuous Trump administration — her formidable political stature well into her fourth term as chancellor, and now her status as a lame duck.

Instead, most of the German news media have focused on how the candidates to replace her in September’s election have responded to the tragedy. All three of the main candidates in the race visited the stricken areas last week.

Still, after 16 years of guiding Europe’s largest and most powerful country through one calamity after the other — including the global economic downturn in 2008, the European debt crisis that followed, the arrival of more than one million migrants six years ago and, most recently, the coronavirus pandemic — Germans have become accustomed to her approach of analyzing and contemplating a situation before deciding to act.

Ms. Merkel’s finance minister, Olaf Scholz, said the government was working to organize several hundred million euros, or dollars, of immediate relief for those who lost their homes and their livelihoods in the floods.

On Saturday, President Frank-Walter Steinmeier of Germany visited the city of Erftstadt, where the raging waters washed away several homes and triggered a landslide; at least 16 residents there remain unaccounted for. He was accompanied by Armin Laschet, 60, the head of the conservative Christian Democratic Union and the leading contender for the chancellery, who is the governor of North Rhine-Westphalia state.

in a message on Twitter.

“The fate of those affected, which we heard about in many conversations, is important to us,” he wrote, and he thanked Mr. Steinmeier for his visit. “So I regret all the more the impression that arose from a conversational situation. That was inappropriate and I am sorry.”

Even as the country struggled to come to terms with the extent of the damage to the states of Rhineland-Palatinate, where Schuld is, heavy rains caused more flooding in Germany’s east and south, killing at least one person, in addition to the 112 people pronounced dead in Rhineland-Palatinate.

In North-Rhine Westphalia, where the interior minister said 45 people had died, more storms ripped through the south of the country.

Flooding in Belgium killed at least 27 people, local news media reported the authorities as saying. Dozens remained missing there, and rescue workers spent much of the day going door to door looking for anyone who had not been able to escape the rising waters in time.

That the authorities still lacked clarity on Sunday over how many people were missing four days after the floods struck reflected the severity of the damage caused to local infrastructure in Rhineland-Palatinate, said Malu Dreyer, the state’s governor.

“The water was still flowing up until a couple of days ago, we have mud and debris,” Ms. Dreyer said. “Now we have the police, soldiers and firefighters who are systematically combing through the whole region searching for the missing.”

Ms. Merkel said that in addition to the financial support from the government, the German Army and other emergency assistance organizations would remain in the area as long as needed.

“Everything we have is being put to use,” she said, “and still it is unbelievably painful for those who have lost loved ones, for those who still don’t know what has happened and for those facing the destruction of their livelihoods.”

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Next Year, Brits Will Fly Abroad. For Now, It’s Bognor Bingo.

BOGNOR REGIS, England — Little has changed in the 40 years that Jean Sheppard has been calling numbers at Crown Bingo here in the heart of Bognor Regis, one of Britain’s oldest seaside resort towns, about 60 miles south of London. The regulars still line up before the doors open at 11 a.m., hoping to nab their upholstered seat of choice in a converted cinema built in the ’30s.

When the games begin, there are no distractions.

“We had an elderly lady here once whose family came to tell her that her husband had passed away,” Ms. Sheppard recalled recently. “And this woman said, ‘Well, there’s nothing I can do for him now,’ and kept right on playing.”

The other constant over the years is the decline of Bognor Regis. Like most of the country’s seaside resorts, the town’s heyday in the ’50s and ’60s is the stuff of dim memories. Bognor and its many rival destinations — Brighton, Hastings, Margate, Skegness, Blackpool and others — once thronged with summer travelers who packed the beaches, seafood shacks and amusement arcades in search of a good time and, for those lucky enough to encounter a cloudless sky, a tan.

Then in the 1970s came the rise of cheap jet travel and overseas package tours. For the same price as a trip here, a family could fly to the beaches of Spain, where blazing sunshine was essentially guaranteed. The resort towns of Britain went into an economic free fall from which they have never recovered.

“Pubs have shut down, theaters have shut down, lots of buildings were knocked down,” said Ms. Sheppard, speaking after her shift on Sunday evening. “There’s been talk about regeneration for years, but nobody seems to know how to do it.”

Now, the limitations imposed by the pandemic are succeeding where all else has failed — at least for the moment. Government-imposed air travel restrictions and warnings have curbed the national appetite for overseas trips. Brits are still allowed to fly to Spain, and elsewhere in Europe, but unless you’re heading to Gibraltar — where infection rates are low — you must quarantine for 10 days after returning home and pay for two Covid-19 tests.

This past week, the British health secretary, Matt Hancock, said the policy would soon be revisited and liberalized. That good news was offset by Chancellor Angela Merkel of Germany and Prime Minister Emmanuel Macron of France, who on Thursday urged all countries in the European Union to require British travelers to quarantine upon arrival.

So towns like Bognor Regis are getting a second look. There were more than 180 new players last week at Crown Bingo, said Jenny Barrett, the assistant manager. And for the first time in decades, hotels here are reporting occupancy rates well above 90 percent.

“This weekend we’re at 95 percent,” said André Gonçalves, a manager at the Beachcroft Hotel. “And our prices are up about 20 to 30 percent.”

The owner of the mini golf course right next to the beach-side promenade, Paul Tiernan, is relishing the payoff from a renovation during the height of the pandemic. He refurbished and cleaned the whole course, in part because during lockdown there was nothing else to do. Lately, on weekends there has been a waiting line that extends around the corner and down the street.

“British seasides are having a massive renaissance, everywhere you go,” he said. “Everyone is just filling their boots.”

Mr. Tiernan sat in a chair near the edge of the first hole of his course, directly in the line of fire of any overzealous putters. He moved to Bognor Regis 50 years ago, as a child, which makes him just old enough to have glimpsed the last vestiges of the town’s halcyon days.

“There was a pier over there,” he said, pointing across the street. “Honest to God, it was beautiful. Right at the end there was a pavilion. And there was a theater there.”

Today, the pier is short and looks hazardous. Across a different street stands an empty lot with nothing but debris from a building that burned down four years ago under what Mr. Tiernan called dubious circumstances.

It’s all a long slide from the days when Bognor was prestigious enough to serve as a place for King George V, Queen Elizabeth’s grandfather, to convalesce after lung surgery in 1929. The royal connection was memorialized when “Regis,” Latin for “of the King,” was added to the town’s name. But its most famous link to the monarchy is the story — surely as false as it is amusing — that his last words were an alliterative, impolite put-down of Bognor, uttered after aides suggested that he’d soon be well enough to return. (Polite version: “I don’t want to go to Bognor.”)

Credit…Getty Images

James Joyce left behind kinder impressions after a stay here in 1923. “The weather is very fine and the country here restful,” he wrote to a patron. Joyce scholars believe he picked up the improbable name of the lead character of “Finnegans Wake,” Humphrey Chimpden Earwicker, from a nearby cemetery.

The flow of out-of-towners picked up when entrepreneur Billy Butlin opened his second Butlin’s Holiday Camp here in 1960, bringing his vision of a family vacation, filled with vigorous activities and all-inclusive buffets, to the south of the country. Today, the Butlin’s here is one of only three originals still in operation, and it is curiously walled off from the rest of town. A fence stands between the ocean and the Butlin’s campus, which features a gleaming, massive structure that looks like a circus tent from the future.

The logic of a beachside holiday camp with little access to the beach, designed around indoor amusements, seems baffling. Until it starts raining, which it did often last weekend. Bognor boasts that it’s the sunniest place in the United Kingdom, a title claimed by other towns as well. Even when it’s sunny, though, the beach here is not exactly inviting. It’s made of small stones, which are comfortable to lay atop only if you bring a futon.

The water rarely gets much above 60 degrees, a temperature described by the National Center for Cold Water Safety as “very dangerous.”

“We all have wet suits,” said Sara Poffenberger, a Brit who was toweling off with her son and grandson. “But lots of British people will swim without wet suits and tell you the water is boiling.”

The beaches here helped Bognor Regis earn the title of worst U.K. seaside resort in a 2019 survey of 3,000 holidaymakers. Bognor and the fellow bottom dweller Clacton-on-Sea received low ratings for their “attractions, scenery, peace and quiet and value for the money,” the publication found.

Reviews like this explain why even optimists believe Bognor’s boomlet is unlikely to last. Business owners here understand that they are banking the upsides of what could most charitably be described as exceptional circumstances. Someday soon, normal will return.

“Next year, every man and his dog will go abroad,” Mr. Tiernan said, sitting at his mini golf course. “But next year is next year, so I’m enjoying the moment.”

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For Biden, Europe Trip Achieved 2 Major Goals. And Then There’s Putin and Russia.

GENEVA — President Biden had three big tasks to accomplish on his first foreign trip since taking office: Convince the allies that America was back, and for good; gather them in common cause against the rising threat of China; and establish some red lines for President Vladimir V. Putin of Russia, whom he called his “worthy adversary.”

He largely accomplished the first, though many European leaders still wonder whether his presidency may yet be just an intermezzo, sandwiched between the Trump era and the election of another America First leader uninterested in the 72-year-old Atlantic alliance.

He made inroads on the second, at least in parts of Europe, where there has been enormous reluctance to think first of China as a threat — economically, technologically and militarily — and second as an economic partner.

Mr. Biden expressed cautious optimism about finding ways to reach a polite accommodation with Mr. Putin. But it is far from clear that any of the modest initiatives the two men described on Wednesday, after a stiff, three-hour summit meeting on the edge of Lake Geneva, will fundamentally change a bad dynamic.

when he refers to Beijing’s actions against the Uyghur population and other predominantly Muslim ethnic minorities as genocide.

So Mr. Biden toned down his autocracy vs. democracy talk for this trip. And that worked.

Yet while “Biden has gotten words from the Europeans, he hasn’t gotten deeds,” said James M. Lindsay, director of studies at the Council on Foreign Relations. “Settling some trade issues is a very good start. But it’s not how you start, but how you finish, how you translate the sentiments in the communiqués into common policies, and that will be very difficult.’’

Mr. Biden carefully choreographed the trip so that he demonstrated the repairs being made to the alliance before going on to meet Mr. Putin. Mr. Biden made clear he wanted to present a unified front to the Russian leader, to demonstrate that in the post-Trump era, the United States and the NATO allies were one.

That allowed Mr. Biden to take a softer tone when he got to Geneva for the summit meeting, where he sought to portray Mr. Putin as an isolated leader who has to worry about his country’s future. When Mr. Biden said in response to a reporter’s question that “I don’t think he’s looking for a Cold War with the United States,’’ it was a signal that Mr. Biden believes he has leverage that the rest of the world has underappreciated.

Mr. Putin’s economy is “struggling,’’ he said, and he faces a long border with China at a moment when Beijing is “hellbent” on domination.

“He still, I believe, is concerned about being ‘encircled,’ ” Mr. Biden said. “He still is concerned that we, in fact, are looking to take him down.” But, he added, he didn’t think those security fears “are the driving force as to the kind of relationship he’s looking for with the United States.”

He set as the first test of Mr. Putin’s willingness to deal with him seriously a review of how to improve “strategic stability,’’ which he described as controlling the introduction of “new and dangerous and sophisticated weapons that are coming on the scene now that reduce the times of response, that raise the prospects of accidental war.”

It is territory that has been neglected, and if Mr. Biden is successful he may save hundreds of billions of dollars that would otherwise be spent on hypersonic and space weapons, as well as the development of new nuclear delivery systems.

But none of that is likely to deter Mr. Putin in the world of cyberweapons, which are dirt cheap and give him an instrument of power each and every day. Mr. Biden warned during his news conference that “we have significant cyber capability,” and said that while Mr. Putin “doesn’t know exactly what it is,” if the Russians “violate these basic norms, we will respond with cyber.”

The U.S. has had those capabilities for years but has hesitated to use them, for fear that a cyberconflict with Russia might escalate into something much bigger.

But Mr. Biden thinks Mr. Putin is too invested in self-preservation to let it come to that. In the end, he said, just before boarding Air Force One for the flight home, “You have to figure out what the other guy’s self-interest is. Their self-interest. I don’t trust anybody.”

David E. Sanger reported from Geneva and Steven Erlanger from Brussels.

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E.U. Lawmaker Block Investment Pact With China

The European Parliament halted progress Thursday on a landmark commercial agreement with China, citing the “totalitarian threat” from Beijing because of its record on human rights and its sanctions against Europeans who have been critical of the Chinese government.

By an overwhelming majority, members of Parliament passed a resolution refusing to ratify the so-called Comprehensive Agreement on Investment until China lifts sanctions on prominent European critics of Beijing. The members of Parliament also warned that they could refuse to endorse the agreement because of China’s treatment of Muslim minorities and its suppression of democracy in Hong Kong.

“The human rights situation in China is at its worst since the Tiananmen Square massacre,” the resolution said, accusing China of detaining more than one million people, mostly Muslim Uyghurs in Xinjiang province, a charge the Chinese government has denied.

The sanctions against members of the European Parliament who have been critical of Beijing, as well as several scholars and research organizations, “constitute an attack against the European Union and its Parliament as a whole, the heart of European democracy and values, as well as an attack against freedom of research,” the resolution said.

sanctions against four Communist Party officials after accusing them of being responsible for human rights violations.

China retaliated with sanctions against members of the European Parliament, including Reinhard Bütikofer, a member of the Greens faction from Germany and prominent critic of Beijing. They are not allowed to travel to China or do business with people in China.

The investment agreement was already in trouble. Valdis Dombrovskis, the European commissioner for trade, said earlier in May that work to finalize the pact was delayed because of repressive Chinese policies. The European Commission, the European Union’s administrative arm, also took steps this month to clamp down on Chinese companies that receive subsidies from the government, giving them an unfair competitive edge.

The resolution passed Thursday by a vote of 599 in favor and 30 against, with 58 abstentions. The no votes came from a handful of far-right or far-left members of Parliament.

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German High Court Hands Youth a Victory in Climate Change Fight

BERLIN — Germany’s highest court ordered the government to expand a 2019 law aimed at bringing the country’s carbon emissions down to nearly zero by 2050, ruling on Thursday that the legislation did not go far enough to ensure that future generations would be protected.

The decision by the country’s Federal Constitutional Court came as a rebuke to Chancellor Angela Merkel’s government, which drafted the law but only included detailed goals to reduce emissions through 2030.

“The appellants, some of whom are still very young, have had their liberties violated by the challenged provisions,” the ruling said, ordering the government to revise the law by the end of next year to clarify and specify targets that reach beyond 2030. “To preserve fundamental liberty, the legislature should have made provisions to mitigate this burden.”

The law under scrutiny in the court case aimed at meeting Germany’s carbon emission targets under the Paris Agreement, a pact by 189 countries to try to prevent the world’s temperature from rising. The German law included a raft of measures such as a $60 billion spending package, a fee system for carbon emissions and taxes to make flying more expensive.

an exchange over Twitter for failing to go far enough in the initial legislation.

“As I remember, it was you and your party that prevented in the first place what the Constitutional Court is now demanding,” Mr. Scholz said. “But we can fix that. Are you with us?”

But it was the Greens, an opposition party, that could benefit most from the ruling given its popularity among young people. The party has seen its support explode recently, with polls showing it in a neck-and-neck race for the lead alongside of the conservatives.

Annalena Baerbock, the Greens candidate for chancellor, welcomed the ruling as a “historic decision” and called for the law to be overhauled quickly.

“Climate protection protects our freedom and the freedom of our children and grandchildren,” she wrote on Twitter. “The coming years are decisive for consequent action.”

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Chancellor’s Race Presents Germans With a Challenge to Change

“A Green candidacy for chancellor stands for a new understanding of political leadership,” Ms. Baerbock said. “Decisive and transparent, capable of learning and self-critical. Democracy thrives on change.”

Although the two leading candidates are the strongest contenders for the race, Germany’s finance minister, Olaf Scholz, 64, is also in the running for the Social Democrats. Traditionally the rivals of the Christian Democrats, with an emphasis on a strong safety net, the party has spent the past eight years relegated to being a junior partner in the chancellor’s governments.

But in the wake of the coronavirus crisis, which has seen the government break its balanced budget to pay for 1.3 trillion euros, or $1.6 trillion, in compensation for the lockdowns and vaccines, the party could gain support with a smart campaign focused on social justice and Mr. Scholz’ willingness to spend to keep people afloat.

With the conservatives polling just below 30 percent, the Greens hovering just above 20 percent, followed by the Social Democrats at around 18 percent, what seems clear is that whichever party wins the election will have to build a coalition to govern.

One idea has been that the Greens would become the junior partner in a conservative-led government that would be more environmentally focused than the coalitions of the conservatives and Social Democrats led by Ms. Merkel, but still heavily influenced by the Christian Democrats.

But even if the conservative bloc emerges as the strongest force, the Greens, as the second-strongest party, could try to build a progressive government together with the Social Democrats and one of the smaller parties, either the liberal Free Democrats or the Left party, forcing the conservatives into opposition.

All three leading parties have ruled out a coalition with the far-right Alternative for Germany, which wound up the biggest party in opposition after the Social Democrats joined the Christian Democrats in government in 2017.

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Post-Merkel Germany May Be Shaded Green

Whatever government fills the vacuum in Germany after Chancellor Angela Merkel will be tinged with green.

After nearly 16 years in office, Ms. Merkel’s conservative party, the Christian Democrats, is slipping and stagnant, critics say — short of ideas on how to keep Germany vibrant and rich in a world where its industrial and export model is outdated; where faith in the United States has been damaged; and where China is more self-sufficient and Russia more aggressive.

The other traditional mainstay, the left-center Social Democrats, currently junior partners with Ms. Merkel, is in even worse shape, both electorally and ideologically.

The German Greens are filling the vacuum. Five months before elections in September, the party is running a close second in the opinion polls to the struggling Christian Democrats, and some think it might even lead the next government.

“They will be part of the next government,’’ said Norbert Röttgen, a prominent Christian Democrat, in a forecast widely shared in Germany. “Either a big part or even the leading part.’’

But these are not the Greens of the Cold War, a radical party appalled by the nuclear standoff between the Soviet Union and the United States over a divided Europe. The Greens are now centrist, eager for power, with a surprisingly gimlet-eyed view of international affairs and of how Germany needs to change without alienating big business.

If the Greens surge in Europe’s largest and richest country, it would be a watershed not only for the party but for all of Europe, where it already is part of the governing coalitions in six countries.

It would also potentially herald a shift toward a more assertive foreign policy in Germany, especially toward China and Russia, as global politics is becoming a competition between authoritarian and democratic ideals.

“This is a different party, a different generation, a different setting and a different world,” said Sergey Lagodinsky, a Green member of the European Parliament. “With Covid, climate and common global challenges clearer to many, it’s easier to push for a transformative green agenda in the classic sense.”

“But the confrontation with authoritarianism is now clear,” he added, “and that puts us in a different place.”

Jana Puglierin, the director of the European Council on Foreign Relations in Berlin, said: “The Greens are the only party that can rock the boat a bit, especially on China and Russia. They will strike a better balance between the economy and human rights.’’

Led by two pragmatists, or “realos,” the German Greens honor their “fundis,” the more idealistic among them, without allowing them to marginalize the party, as in the past.

The party’s co-chairs are Robert Habeck, 51, and Annalena Baerbock, 40, who is considered the most likely chancellor candidate. The choice is expected on Monday; she would be the only woman in the race to replace Ms. Merkel.

With the environment central to their program, the Greens represent the current zeitgeist. Its leaders argue that correct economic policies can produce a Germany that is digital, modern and carbon neutral, no longer so dependent on old-fashioned industrial production, however sophisticated.

They oppose Nord Stream 2, the Russian natural-gas pipeline to Germany that circumvents Ukraine and Poland. They also oppose the European Union’s investment deal with China. They are committed to European cooperation, democracy promotion, the defense of human rights, Germany’s membership in NATO and its strong alliance with the United States.

While the Greens consider NATO’s goal of military spending of 2 percent of gross domestic product to be arbitrary, the party favors more spending to ensure that the woefully weak German military is able to meet its NATO responsibilities.

Even Mr. Röttgen, the Christian Democrat who is chairman of the Bundestag foreign policy committee, said that “however embarrassing for me, the Greens have the clearest stance of all the parties on China and Russia.”

They would make “a much more realistic and preferable partner for us on foreign policy,” he said.

Wolfgang Streeck, a leftist German economist, once famously called the Greens “the vegetarian section of the Christian Democrats,” noted Hans Kundnani of Chatham House, a research organization based in London. In the way the party criticizes Russia and China on the grounds of democracy and human rights, Mr. Kundnani said, it is similar to American neoconservatives.

“The German Greens are now a pragmatist centrist party,” said Ulrich Speck of the German Marshall Fund in Berlin. “They want to be part of the government and play a big role, with a focus on greening the economy. They think there are enough in business who understand that this is the future.”

Foreign policy is secondary, Mr. Speck said. “But the democracy agenda matters, and they position themselves in solidarity with opposition democrats in Belarus, Ukraine, Russia and China. And they are very tough on China.”

In Germany, the Greens are already part of governing coalitions with a variety of other parties in 11 of the 16 German states, and were just re-elected to head the government in Baden-Württemberg, where the car industry is important.

In fact, argued Arne Jungjohann, a political analyst with Heinrich Böll Foundation, the Greens are flexible enough to go into coalition with any party, except the far-right Alternative for Germany.

In Britain and Western European countries like France, the Greens are more modest and leftist, committed to the environment. But even there, they are benefiting from the weakness of more established parties.

In six countries, Mr. Jungjohann said, they are already in government. They are part of the governing coalitions in Austria, Belgium, Finland, Ireland, Luxembourg and Sweden.

In Europe’s south and in post-Communist Europe, as in the east of Germany itself, the Greens are not such a big factor, though they are more popular with the urban young.

One of Germany’s main problems is that its successful economic model has become a trap, argued John Kornblum, a former American ambassador to Germany who still lives there.

“They haven’t done very well with digital, but found a market in China for their 19th-century products,” he said. “The Chinese at this point still need them and buy them, but at some point soon China will make all that themselves.”

The other establishment parties “believe that Germany’s existence depends on this 19th-century machine-tool economy,” he said.

Alone among the main parties, the Greens have a vision for a Germany that is digital, climate neutral, deeply committed to the European Union, to democratic values and gender equality. A party that, as Ms. Puglierin said, believes that the future is no longer the diesel Mercedes but the electric Tesla.

Still, the party has had to dance carefully over issues of the military, security and nuclear policy, where idealism confronts the world as it is, and where soft power is not always matched with hard power.

“A test will come, because the reality of foreign policy is not just value-driven, but you need to define your interests,’’ Mr. Lagodinsky said.

True to its roots, the party calls for a Germany without U.S. nuclear weapons. But it has also been careful to hedge its election manifesto.

“They want a world without nuclear weapons, but acknowledge that it will take time to get there — they’ll first have to find other ways to reassure eastern and central European partners,” said Sophia Besch, an analyst with the Center for European Reform in Berlin.

They want close cooperation with France on Europe but are less enamored of French ideas for a European army; are ambivalent about a new European air combat system that could carry nuclear bombs and armed drones; and would be strict about exports of arms to customers like Saudi Arabia.

They would also be strict about how and when German forces could engage overseas, even in coalitions of the willing, in the absence of a United Nations Security Council resolution.

But what may be most important for Germany, Ms. Puglierin noted, is that the Greens would at least produce new, needed debates on long-suppressed topics, like the ambivalent German policies toward China and Russia, let alone German dependency on the combustion engine.

“The Greens are the only chance to see real change in German foreign policy,” she said. “We’ve been so status-quo oriented in the Merkel years.”

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A Bitter Family Feud Dominates the Race to Replace Merkel

BERLIN — With less than six months to go before Germans cast their ballots for a new chancellor, the political vacuum Angela Merkel leaves behind after 16 years of consensus-oriented leadership is coming more sharply into focus.

A rare and rancorous power struggle has gripped Germany’s conservatives this week as two rivals vie to replace her, threatening to further hobble her Christian Democratic Union, which is already sliding in the polls.

Normally, Armin Laschet, 60, who was elected in January to lead the party, would almost assuredly be the heir apparent to Ms. Merkel. Instead, he finds himself unexpectedly pitted against his biggest rival, Markus Söder, the more popular head of a smaller, Bavaria-only party, the Christian Social Union, in a kind of conservative family feud.

Experts and party members alike are calling for the dispute to be resolved within the coming days, as it risks damaging the reputation of the two conservative parties, jointly referred to as the Union. Because the two parties operate as one on the national stage, they must choose one candidate for chancellor.

“Armin Laschet and Markus Söder must finally understand their responsibility toward the Union,” Tilman Kuban, head of the Young Union, told the Bild daily on Thursday. “If they continue to tear one another apart as they have in the past few days, together they will ensure that there won’t be much left of the Christian Democrats or the Christian Socialists in the future.”

Leading Ms. Merkel’s party would have once been seen as an advantage for Mr. Laschet, but it has recently become a drag. With a botched vaccine rollout and a confusing response to the pandemic, support for the conservatives has plunged by 10 percentage points since the start of the year.

After a series of personal gaffes, Mr. Laschet’s popularity has been dropping. In his home state of North Rhine-Westphalia more than half of the population have said they are not happy with his performance, and a poll this week showed only 4 percent of Germans nationwide see him as “a strong leader.”

At the same time, Mr. Söder, 54, who is also governor of Bavaria, has artfully used several appearances alongside Ms. Merkel after pandemic-related meetings to burnish his image as a man in charge, capable of tackling tough issues and getting things done.

A full 57 percent of Germans said Mr. Söder displayed the qualities of “a strong leader.”

Keenly aware of his popularity, Mr. Söder began openly pushing for the candidacy earlier this week, citing his strong, stable showing in the polls over Mr. Laschet, despite warnings from senior conservatives that public opinion could be fickle.

“At the end of the day, the conservative parties have to make an offer that will be acceptable to voters and the people, and not just a few party functionaries,” Mr. Söder told Bavarian public television. “Of course polls are not everything, but if after several months a clear trend emerges, it cannot just be ignored.”

After leading conservative lawmakers discussed the issue on Sunday, Mr. Söder said he was willing to run, if the Christian Democrats would support him. If not, he added, he would cooperate, “without any grudges.”

But on Monday, after the boards of each party had backed their own leader, Mr. Söder suddenly changed his position. He continued to push for his right to run for chancellor during a closed-door meeting of conservative lawmakers on Tuesday. After four hours of discussions, nearly two-thirds of those present expressed their support for the Bavarian leader — including members of Mr. Laschet’s party.

In a country that views the art of compromise as a valuable skill for a leader, the public game of political chicken could come at a high price. At a time when the environmentalist Greens have rapidly risen in popularity and are now nipping at the conservatives’ heels, they can ill afford such a public display of disharmony.

“At the end of the day, both have to decide between themselves. There is no set procedure that clearly defines how this will end,” said Prof. Thorsten Fass, a political scientist at Berlin’s Free University. Regardless of who runs as the candidate, the damage of the fight will still have to be repaired, Professor Fass said. “It is not a good way to start an election year.”

Both contenders have said they would like the matter to be decided by the end of the week, and pressure from inside both parties is growing for a quick resolution.

Four other political parties are vying to win the most votes on Sept. 26 and seize power by forming a government and naming a chancellor.

The center-left Social Democrats, who have been the junior party in Ms. Merkel’s government coalition since 2017, have already named the finance minister and vice-chancellor, Olaf Scholz, as their choice for chancellor. The Greens, currently polling as the second-strongest party ahead of the Social Democrats and close behind the conservatives, are scheduled to announce their candidate on Monday.

Not everyone is ready to count out Mr. Laschet yet. He is a politician whose recent successes, winning the governorship of North Rhine-Westphalia over a well-liked incumbent and the monthslong race for the Christian Democrat leadership in January, both saw him grasping victory after coming from behind.

Mr. Laschet also has the backing of some of the most senior and influential members of his party, including the former finance minister Wolfgang Schäuble, who has been around since the first time the conservatives split over a chancellor candidate in 1979.

“If Laschet has the nerve and still has his party’s leadership behind him, then Söder could say that he accepts this, then use his position to negotiate a strong minister post for his party in a potential future government,” said Ursula Münch, director of the Academy for Political Education in Tutzing.

On the other hand, if enough pressure from within the party builds on Mr. Laschet, he could concede to Mr. Söder for the sake of the party and the need to move ahead. That would hand the Bavarian leader a victory that would serve to enforce his reputation as a sharp-witted maverick who will change his policies to fit the public mood. As public favor in Bavaria shifted from the far-right Alternative for Germany party to the environmentalist Greens, he abandoned an anti-immigrant stance and embraced a push to save honey bees, to the ire of farmers who have long formed the grass roots of his party.

“He is intelligent, quick and rhetorically strong,” Ms. Münch said of Mr. Söder. “He is able to push people into a corner while keeping a back door open for himself, and in that sense, Laschet can’t hold a candle to him.”

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