Monika Heinold The Kiel Conundrum

All over the country the Greens are weak. In the north German state of Schleswig-Holstein, the party‘s leading candidate could reach 12 percent. How does she do it?
Monika Heinold is the leading state candidate for the Greens in Schleswig-Holstein.

Monika Heinold , the 58-year-old state finance minister of Schleswig-Holstein, is on the campaign trail. She is shaking hands, handing out leaflets and chatting with potential voters at a large market square in Kiel in northern Germany.

The minister is the leading state candidate for the Greens, which has plummeted to 6 percent in national polls. She hopes to counteract the party’s national slump with double-digit victory like the one five years ago. And, no less important, she wants her party to remain in the coalition with the center-left Social Democratic Party (SPD) and the South-Schleswig Voters Association (SSW).

Ms. Heinold never imagined a career in politics, but joined the Greens because of her belief in sustainability. “We have only borrowed the earth from our children. This statement was on a Green poster years ago, and it sums up my political conviction,” said Ms. Heinold, who joined the Greens in 1984, just back from her world trip. “We cannot destroy the livelihoods of future generations.”

She walks from her apartment to the ministry or rides her bicycle. She also keeps with her daily “trampolining to songs of the new German wave,” said the mother of two grown-up sons.

Ms. Heinold knows that she is not as well-known or as popular as fellow Green party member Robert Habeck, the deputy state premier and minister for energy, agriculture and the environment. But she doesn’t mind. “Neither of us are vain,” she said, referring to both of them as an ideal combination. “Robert Habeck embodies the ecological issues, and people associate me with a sound financial policy.”

In Schleswig-Holstein, the world of the Greens still seems to be in order. Michael Lühmann from the Göttinger Institute for Democracy Research attributes that to the “popularity of the two leading politicians,” who unlike those in the Green federal party are able to communicate to voters a clear program.

Ms. Heinold is praised for her quiet, but persistent manner. “Thank you for your objectivity,” said a man with two dogs on the marketplace. “You have my vote.”

This kind of encouragement motivates Ms. Heinold. The greatest recognition for her, she says, is “when people have the feeling that I am looking after their money.” Schleswig-Holstein, she said, may have far less money than other federal state “but that‘s no reason for us to despair.”

For decades, the state battled a high debt load but has achieved a balanced budget for the third time, according to Ms. Heinold. She refers to the crisis of the state bank, HSH-Nordbank, with headquarters in both Kiel and the city-state Hamburg,  as “annoying“ but claims there was no way round it. “We have to deal with the legacy positions,” she said, adding that the state is looking for a buyer.

Because Ms. Heinold wants to make a difference in society, she feels the finance ministry is the right place for her. “You can’t do anything as a social politician if the finance politicians don’t give you any money,” she explained in the automobile on the way to her next appointment in a family center in Rendsburg, near Kiel.

Ms. Heinold is no fan of big events, she prefers smaller meetings. “I run an election campaign based on listening, not ultrasound,” she joked.

Silke Kersting reports for Handelsblatt from Berlin, focusing on consumer protection, construction, environmental policy and climate change. To contact the author: [email protected]