Germany’s Christian Democratic Union (CDU) leader Armin Laschet made a last stand on Monday evening to salvage his political future and his dream of running for chancellor in September’s federal election.
Mr Laschet promised to present to the CDU governing council a proposal to “solve quickly” a week-long stand-off over whether he should lead the campaign – or yield to Bavarian president Markus Söder, leader of the CDU sister party, the Christian Social Union (CSU).
Mr Laschet’s determination to lead the campaign is based on power and precedent: four times as many seats as the CSU in their joint Bundestag parliamentary party means, historically, a CDU leader always has first refusal.
But Mr Söder, the 54-year-old Bavarian leader, has leveraged his stronger popularity in polls to build up a broad base of support inside the parliamentary party.
After inconclusive talks until after 1am on Monday, Mr Söder insisted his leadership demand was an “offer and the question of whether it is accepted lies with the CDU”.
On Sunday, senior CDU figure Wolfgang Schäuble, himself a former party leader and finance minister, reportedly warned Mr Laschet that – just three months in the job and five days to the election – his days as CDU leader were numbered if he failed to secure the nomination.
The CDU-CSU disarray contrasts with the disciplined harmony across town at the opposition Green Party, where 40-year-old co-leader Annalena Baerbock was anointed the party’s lead candidate.
She promised to bury the Merkel era of “drive-by-sight politics” and deliver far-sighted politics that matches Germans’ capacity for pragmatic innovation.
“There’s so much in Germany: we invented the car and the bicycle,” she said. “Together, under huge pressure and in a short time, we developed a [Covid-19] vaccine.”
Instead of a grassroots vote, Ms Baerbock secured the nomination in agreement with co-leader Robert Habeck, another member of the party’s more pragmatic “realo” wing.
In a 10-minute campaign overview, she emphasised her party’s readiness to invest in infrastructure and law and other measures as well as the welfare state. Anticipating rivals’ attacks of elitist, “ideological” green politics, Ms Baerbock promised an inclusive style of politics with climate protection as a foundation for “prosperity, freedom and security”.
German chancellor Angela Merkel talks to German Green Party’s co-leader Annalena Baerbock. Photograph: Filip Singer/EPA
Broadening the Greens’ appeal is a key campaign goal and Ms Baerbock promised on Monday her party would not ignore the concerns of rural commuters, or low-income single parents and blue-collar industrial workers.
Though relatively young, and with no government experience, close confidantes of Ms Baerbock note her thick skin and mastery of detail – political talents that remind many of Angela Merkel.
“She asks questions until she gets something,” said one of her Bundestag parliamentary party allies on Monday.
Annalena Baerbock was raised on a farm near Hanover in 1980 and was brought by her parents to anti-nuclear demonstrations in her early years. After teenage years as a prize-winning juvenile trampolinist, a discipline she says taught her bravery, Ms Baerbock studied law in Hanover and at the London School of Economics.
She joined the Greens in 2005 and, after a stint in Brandenburg local politics, joined the Bundestag in 2013. In nearly three years since their election in 2018, the Baerbock-Habeck duo have led their party past the ailing Social Democratic Party (SPD) into second place in polls with a regular showing of 23 per cent.
A brief spell ahead of the CDU-CSU in polls has sparked speculation of a new German government without the Merkel party: a Chancellor Baerbock allied with the SPD and either the liberal Free Democratic Party (FDP) or the Left Party (Linke).