Surging German Greens name Annalena Baerbock for Merkel's crown

Berlin (AFP) –

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Germany's Green party on Monday named its co-chair Annalena Baerbock as their candidate to succeed Angela Merkel, throwing down the gauntlet to the chancellor’s conservatives who were locked in increasingly vicious infighting for her crown.

Trained lawyer Baerbock, 40, became the first chancellor candidate for the party, as surging support for Greens brings it within reach of the chancellery.

Both Baerbock and her fellow co-chair Robert Habeck, 51, had coveted the job to lead the party into elections on September 26.

"But in the end, only one can do it. So today is the moment to say that the Greens' first chancellor candidate will be Annalena Baerbock," said Habeck.

With her candidacy, Baerbock said she was making an "offer to the entire society".

"Climate change is the task our of time, the task of my generation. And accordingly, I want the policies of the new federal government to make climate protection the benchmark for all sectors," she pledged.

The carefully choreographed announcement came in sharp contrast to a bruising power struggle that has sent Merkel's CDU-CSU alliance to the brink of implosion.

Ahead of Monday's announcement, the Greens have shown strict discipline in preventing any damaging infighting from spilling out into the public ahead of the nomination.

Surveys show the centre-left party just a touch behind Merkel's conservatives -- in disarray as the veteran chancellor prepares to bow out after 16 years in power.

Besides a damaging power struggle, Merkel's alliance is also suffering in the polls over the public's frustration over the handling of the coronavirus pandemic.

In contrast, the ecologist party has quietly benefited from a firm line seeking tougher measures to curb coronavirus transmission.

The Greens' environmentalist platform also dovetails with the priorities of many younger Germans, who rattled the political establishment with school strikes for climate protection until the pandemic put such gatherings on ice.

The decision to name a chancellor candidate is a clear sign that they are now no longer content with settling for a kingmaker role.

- 'Won't be fobbed off' -

With a reputation as someone who knows her brief inside out and with strong ties to the grassroots, Baerbock has stepped out of the shadows to run neck-and-neck with Habeck in popularity rankings.

Observers have described her as someone "who won't be fobbed off" when drilling into complex issues, in an echo of Merkel's methodical and science-based approach to policy.

A former trampolining ace who studied international law at the London School of Economics, Baerbock has never held a government role.

Critics have honed in on her lack of government experience, raising doubts about her preparation for the election battle and the likely coalition haggling afterwards.

But the sharp-witted former journalist has countered that "three years as party leader, being a lawmaker and mother of young children tend to toughen you up".

On Monday, she directly addressed the issue, saying that she "stands for renewal".

"Others stand for the status quo. I'm convinced that this country needs a new beginning to meet the new challenges of the coming decades," she said.