While Germany has been focused on the battle over who will lead Angela Merkel’s Christian Democrats (CDU) into September’s elections, her eventual successor as chancellor could be named by a rival party on Monday
The German Greens are set to their candidate for the chancellorship today, and for the first time the party has a genuine chance of winning power.
Either Robert Habeck, a former academic and novelist, or Annalena Baerbock, a career politician, will be named as the Green candidate — and if the polls are right they, rather than the CDU candidate, could end up inheriting the keys to the chancellery from Mrs Merkel in September.
The Greens are currently second in the polls on 23 per cent. Mrs Merkel’s CDU is still ahead on 27 per cent — but its support has dropped a shocking 10 points since January. A rival coalition of the Greens and left-leaning parties might have the votes to unseat the CDU in September — and the Greens could be the biggest party in the bloc.
Mr Habeck and Ms Baerbock have both been key to the party’s recent success. For years the Greens were divided by bitter infighting between hardline environmentalists known as the Fundis and the more pragmatic, centrist Realos.
When Mr Habeck and Ms Baerbock were named as joint leaders in 2018 it was a signal the fighting was over — and the Realos had won. For the first time both leaders were pragmatists prepared to occupy the centre ground. But now the party faces an agonising choice between its two standard bearers.
It has been a very civilised affair, compared to race for the CDU candidacy. For a long time the 51-year-old Mr Habeck seemed the obvious choice. He was the more charismatic of the two, with a direct, unpolished style that appealed to voters tired of smooth-talking politicians — he refuses to wear a tie — and he had experience in regional government.
But as the novelty wore off his at times donnish manner has begun to grate and there have been gaffes. He tweeted he was happy there was “finally democracy in Bavaria again” after the Greens made gains there, and was castigated for telling German television Thuringia, a region in the former communist east, would “one day” be democratic.
The gaffes have made the Greens think again about the more polished Ms Baerbock. It is no secret they would like to be the only major party put forward a woman for chancellor in September — two men are vying for the CDU nomination, and a third has already been named as the Social Democrats’ (SPD) candidate.
Indeed, when Ms Baerbock became joint party leader there were jibes she was only there to fill the gender quota. With no government experience, she seemed in Mr Habeck’s shadow, and she had a reputation as a boring policy wonk. But she has looked increasingly assured in recent months, intervening in press conferences when Mr Habeck’s answer was too vague. “Chickens, pigs, milking cows, that’s Roberts field,” she once said. “Mine is international law.”
“Nobody falls from the sky as chancellor,” she told Bild newspaper, dismissing concerns she is too inexperienced for the job. “Three years as party leader, MP and the mother of small children toughens you pretty well.”