German Greens and Conservatives Choose Chancellor Candidates
Annalena Baerbock, the first Green candidate to have a significant shot at becoming chancellor, will run against Armin Laschet, head of Germany’s largest conservative party.,
BERLIN — Germany’s top two parties announced their candidates for chancellor on Monday and early Tuesday morning, with the Greens sending their dynamic but inexperienced leader, Annalena Baerbock, 40, into the running against Armin Laschet, 60, the head of the largest conservative party, who triumphed after a divisive public power struggle.
Along with Olaf Scholz, 62, who is running for the Social Democrats, the nominations solidified the field of candidates seeking to replace Angela Merkel, who in September will exit the political stage after 16 years as chancellor. The race will for the first time pit a member of the country’s post-reunification generation, Ms. Baerbock, against its traditional political forces.
With polls showing the Greens in second place nationally behind the conservatives, with support of around 22 percent, the Greens have a genuine crack at the chancellery for the first time since the party took its modern form in 1993. Ms. Baerbock is the Greens’ first serious candidate for chancellor, although she would most likely have to rely on the support of other parties to build a coalition government.
The conservatives’ choice of Mr. Laschet, leader of the Christian Democratic Union and the governor of North Rhine-Westphalia, followed days of divisive debate, reflecting the challenges conservatives face redefining themselves as Ms. Merkel prepares to leave the chancellor’s office.
Although the conservatives remain the strongest party, with support of just below 30 percent, the bitter dispute over their candidate for chancellor has strained the unity within the bloc, threatening to alienate voters. The party has also suffered from an increasingly rocky response to the pandemic and a slow vaccine rollout, seeing its popularity drop 10 percentage points since the start of the year.
But the past week for the conservatives has been dominated by the all-out fight for the nomination between Mr. Laschet and the leader of the smaller Bavarian Christian Social Union, Markus Soder, 54.
Mr. Soder was buoyed by his popularity among Germans, and he sought to leverage that to wrest the candidacy for chancellor from Mr. Laschet, whose consensus-orientated style has so far failed to excite voters. Mr. Soder’s challenge upended a decades-old tradition of allowing the leader of the much larger Christian Democratic Union to be the default candidate for the top government post.
The leaders of the Christian Democrat executive board voted for Mr. Laschet by a wide margin early Tuesday morning, the party said, hours after Mr. Soder had given a statement in which he agreed to accept the decision of the Christian Democrat leadership while also trying to position himself as the prime candidate.
“We must, no matter what the outcome, reconcile, unite, become a common, big, powerful unit in this election campaign,” Mr. Soder told reporters on Monday, hours before the vote for Mr. Laschet.
Influential leaders of the Christian Democrats had been concerned by the idea of choosing the maverick Mr. Soder. Others felt that Mr. Laschet’s strong political network and focus on building consensus were the traits needed to steer the country into a post-Merkel future. They voted 31 to nine, with six abstentions in favor of the North Rhine-Westphalian governor, German media reported.
By contrast, the naming of Ms. Baerbock over the Greens‘ other co-leader, Robert Habeck, 51, was harmonious. The party is positioning itself to appeal not only to Germans drawn to its traditional stance on environmental protection, but also those who seek a more dynamic, youthful presence in a country that has been under the leadership of the same conservative chancellor for 16 years.
“I want to make an offer with my candidacy for the whole of society,” Ms. Baerbock said in her acceptance speech, in which she called for improving the situation for Germans in rural regions and for low-wage workers. She also stressed the importance of ensuring that Germany meets its goals for reducing its climate-change emissions, while remaining an industrial power.
A co-leader of her party since 2018, Ms. Baerbock is respected for her attention to detail and preference for honest criticism and suggestions for improvement over fawning praise or soaring speeches. In accepting the candidacy on Monday, she acknowledged her lack of experience in political office head-on, casting it as a strength that would help her and her party to revive Germany.
“I was never a chancellor and never a minister,” Ms. Baerbock said. “I am running for renewal, the others represent the status quo,” she said, adding, “I believe this country needs a new start.”
The conservatives have dominated modern Germany’s political landscape and have held the chancellery for all but seven of the past 30 years, when the Social Democrats led the country, from 1998 to 2005, in coalition with the Greens as the junior partner.
Ms. Baerbock, the only woman in the race, was born in 1980 and grew up outside Hanover. She now lives with her husband and their two children in the eastern state of Brandenburg, where she served as the Greens state leader for four years, until 2013.
“I come from a generation that is no longer young but also not old, a generation that has grown up in a united Germany and in a common Europe,” she said.
Ms. Baerbock has often referred to her experience as a competitive trampolinist as shaping her approach to politics, stressing the importance of courage and teamwork. She has earned a reputation as a tough negotiator, both from talks over Germany’s plan to quit coal and the 2017 negotiations with Ms. Merkel’s party over a potential three-way coalition that collapsed when the Free Democrats, Germany’s traditional free-market party, pulled out.
Mr. Laschet’s popularity has been dropping on both the national stage, where he is seen as lacking in charisma, and in his home state of North Rhine-Westphalia, where more than half of the population have said they are not happy with his performance. He prevailed in the race to lead the Christian Democrats with a speech calling for unity and trust that drew on his personal history as the son of a miner growing up in Germany’s industrial heartland, which helped him overcome a largely lackluster campaign.
Christopher F. Schuetze contributed reporting.