Germany’s Green party has named its co-chair Annalena Baerbock as candidate for chancellor in autumn’s federal election, as the party rides high in the polls and the ruling conservative bloc squabbles over its own choice to succeed Angela Merkel.
Baerbock, 40, viewed as a tenacious, down-to earth centrist with an eye for detail, and an expert on climate change and how to tackle it, told a small party gathering she aimed to “make politics for society at large”. She described her candidacy as “an offer, an invitation to lead our diverse, prosperous, strong country into a good future”.
The Greens’ strongest ever standing in the polls – it is currently in second place behind the ruling CDU-CSU alliance with between 21 y 23% of the vote – means it has a realistic chance of forming a new government. This is the first time since its formation that it has nominated a chancellor candidate.
Robert Habeck, with whom Baerbock has co-led the party for three-and-a-half years, announced Baerbock’s candidacy on Tuesday morning after weeks of speculation. In an emotional speech, his voice shaking, Habeck, 51, said the decision as to which of them should stand had followed years of intense, often difficult conversations. He promised to throw his energy into her campaign before inviting her to the podium, dicho: “Annalena, the stage is all yours”.
Baerbock thanked him for his generosity, insisting the party was putting the country before politics.
The apparent unity between the leaders, and the acceptance of the party base towards Baerbock, is in sharp contrast to the chaotic and unruly state of its closest competitor, the conservative CDU-CSU alliance, which is engaged in a very public, drawn-out squabble over its choice of candidate.
Die Zeit newspaper said a “role reversal” had taken place, whereby the traditionally well-behaved, staid conservatives are the unruly rebels and the former rabble-rousers are well-mannered and organised.
Baerbock now has the challenge of maintaining the party’s progress over the next five months, as Germany endures a third wave of the coronavirus pandemic and patience and morale run low.
As voters come to terms with the end of the 16-year Merkel era, the Greens are trying to position themselves as the party that can reform the elements of German society seen to have been weak and ineffective during the coronavirus crisis.
Areas seen as ripe for reform include the education system, data gathering and government and local authority communications, where the fax machine still looms large.
“Our society is more progressive than its politics,” Barebock said, adding that it was “time for politics to construct a future”. She pledged to focus her energies on childcare and schools, care workers and digital functionality.
Barebock said of the climate – the sixth item on her list – that it was important to include everyone when considering reforms, in a nod to those who have accused the Greens of pursuing an ecological agenda which excluded ordinary people and made unrealistic demands of them.
Born in 1980 in the town of Pattensen, Lower Saxony, Baerbock became a leading trampolinist in her youth, winning bronze in the national championship. She spent a year in the US at the age of 16, later studying law in Hanover before going to the London School of Economics, where she took a masters in international law. En 2005, the year she joined the Greens, she underwent a traineeship at the British Institute of International and Comparative Law. She speaks fluent English and is recognised as a foreign policy expert.
At home in Potsdam, a city south-west of Berlin, she is married to a political adviser with whom she has two young children.
Baerbock was initially seen to be in Habeck’s shadow, but in a 2019 poll of party delegates she received 97% support, seven percentage points more than Habeck, a philosopher and novelist and former deputy leader of Schleswig Holstein. That result, and the Green party’s description of itself as feminist party, made her candidacy highly likely.
Under Baerbock and Habeck’s successful and close leadership, the party’s standing has risen in the polls. It has come to be seen as professionally organised and ready to assume power, in contrast with its previous image as riven with internal rows stemming from the friction between its pragmatic Realo and leftwing Fundi factions, which characterised its time in government as the junior coalition partner to Gerhard Schröder’s Social Democrats between 1998 y 2005.
Among her ambitions, Baerbock has said she wants a faster phase-out of Germany’s coal-powered energy sector. She is also against a proposed increase in the country’s defence spending and has called for a speed limit on German autobahns of 130km/h (80mph).