The German Green party named Annalena Baerbock as its candidate to succeed Angela Merkel on Monday amid ongoing confusion over who will lead the veteran chancellor’s own party into September’s elections.
The Christian Democrat (CDU) executive board was holding urgent talks on Monday evening to resolve the increasingly acrimonious feud over who will get to be the party’s candidate.
But Ms Baerbock, the only woman candidate named so far, may yet beat both the men vying for the CDU candidacy to the chancellorship.
The 40-year-old career politician and former competitive trampolinist has a genuine chance of becoming Germany’s first ever Green chancellor.
“Germany needs a fresh start,” Ms Baerbock told a press conference. “With the Greens there will be a different style of politics, working together and not against each other.”
Ms Baerbock beat Robert Habeck, a 51-year-old former academic and her fellow party leader, to the candidacy.
The two leaders honoured a pledge to resolve the issue amicably behind closed doors and announced their decision together.
The contrast with the vicious infighting currently gripping Mrs Merkel’s own party could not be more striking.
Armin Laschet, the CDU leader, and Markus Söder, leader of its Bavarian sister party, the Christian Social Union (CSU) have put themselves forward as candidate.
Mr Söder appeared to open the way to a compromise on Monday when he said he would abide by the CDU board’s decision.
But his supporters within the CDU threatened to prolong the impasse by demanding a vote by both parties’ MPs.
“Everyone wants to decide as quickly as possible, as amicably as possible,” Mr Laschet said ahead of yesterday’s (MON) meeting.
He called the party board together to resolve the issue after late night talks with Mr Söder broke down without an agreement in the early hours of yesterday morning.
Mr Söder declined an invitation to attend the meeting, saying his party had made its decision and it was now up to its “big sister party”.
But his supporters promptly called a meeting of the two parties’ MPs tomorrow morning to review the board’s decision. “The board cannot force their decision past the MPs,” one told Bild newspaper.
The continuing uncertainty just five months before the elections has damaged the CDU and allowed the Greens a head start in the campaign. As one seasoned German observer put it: “It is the Greens who now look like the natural party of power”.
The Greens are currently second in the polls on 23 per cent, behind the CDU on 27 per cent, but Mrs Merkel’s party is haemorrhaging support and has lost 10 points since January.
A lot can happen between now and September but as things stand the Greens have a real chance of leading a rival coalition to power.
Ms Baerbock was long seen as behind he more charismatic Mr Habeck to secure the party candidacy.
But a series of gaffes by Mr Habeck saw Ms Baerbock surge ahead of him in the opinion polls, particularly among Green voters, who favour her by 52 per cent to 26 per cent.
She also received an undoubted boost from the Greens’ desire to be the only major party to put forward a woman as candidate for chancellor this year.
Two men in their 50s are vying to lead the CDU campaign, while a third, Olaf Scholz, has already been named as the candidate for the centre-Left Social Democrats (SPD).
“If we have two equally good candidates, it cannot be that the Greens prefer the man,” a party insider told Bild.
With two young children, Ms Baerbock is also seen by the party as a standard bearer for working mothers.