Germany’s Green party stepped up its bid for power on Monday by naming Annalena Baerbock as its candidate to succeed Chancellor Angela Merkel.
Ms Baerbock will lead the Greens into September’s election, at which they are poised to make historic gains in their first serious challenge for the chancellorship.
The 40-year-old is a former trampolining medallist who took a master's degree at the London School of Economics before rising up the ranks of the party, which elected her as a co-leader in 2018.
Her nomination came as Ms Merkel's conservatives continued to squabble over who should lead her bloc into the election when she steps down after 16 years in power.
Markus Soeder and Armin Laschet, the leaders of the two parties in Ms Merkel’s CDU-CSU bloc, are involved in prolonged talks over who should seek the chancellorship but no agreement has been reached.
There is no clear mechanism for resolving the dispute between the larger CDU and the Bavaria-only CSU.
Mr Laschet last week rallied the CDU leadership behind his bid and called for a quick decision, but Mr Soeder said the question should not be resolved “only in a small back room”.
Mr Soeder highlighted poll ratings that showed him outperforming Mr Laschet, who was elected CDU leader in January.
Only twice, in 1980 and 2002, has the CSU leader been the nominee of the two parties. Both candidates were defeated at their respective general elections.
The CDU-CSU has suffered a slump in opinion polls in recent months amid severe criticism of Germany's handling of the pandemic.
Polls showed the CDU-CSU falling below 30 per cent of the vote, which would be its worst performance in post-war Germany.
By contrast, the Greens are on course to win more than 20 per cent, more than doubling the 8.9 per cent they took at the last election in 2017.
Greens gear up for race to succeed Merkel
Ms Baerbock was selected ahead of Green co-leader Robert Habeck, but the two intend to campaign jointly in the election.
The choice of candidate will need endorsement from a party congress in June.
The Greens last month unveiled a programme that proposed speeding up Germany’s exit from coal-fired power, raising carbon prices and massively increasing infrastructure spending.
The party is pro-European Union and takes a tough line on Russia, and wants an end to the Nord Stream 2 gas pipeline project.
“For the first time … the political alternative will be green against black,” the colour of the CDU-CSU, the Greens’ former environment minister Juergen Trittin told ZDF television.
“The question is: should we make this country fit for the future through climate protection, or do we just want retention of power at any price?”.
Whatever the election outcome, the Greens could hold the key to forming the next government.
The traditionally left-leaning and once notoriously chaotic party was the junior partner in a centre-left government under Ms Merkel’s predecessor, Gerhard Schroeder, from 1998 to 2005.
It has become increasingly open to alliances with centre-right parties, and is part of a wide variety of coalitions at state level.