Promising change, Germany's Greens make first bid for chancellery


FILE PHOTO: Leader of Germany's Green Party Annalena Baerbock is seen during the delegates' conference in Bielefeld, Germany November 16, 2019. REUTERS/Leon Kuegeler

BERLIN (Reuters) - The co-leader of Germany's Greens, Annalena Baerbock, said on Monday she would run to become chancellor in September's elections, the first time the left-leaning party has sought the top job in its 40-year history.

Baerbock, a former champion trampolinist who has seen support for her party rise over the past year, said she would offer a "new start" and focus on investing in education, digital and green technologies.

Analysts said the chance of an outright win for the ecologist party was still a long shot - though the Greens have become a formidable force that has profited from voters' fatigue with Chancellor Angela Merkel's conservatives.

Baerbock's group still trails the conservatives by around five points in the polls, despite signs of divisions in the conservative camp that has ruled Germany for 16 years.

Baerbock, 40, sought to allay fears about her relative lack of experience. "Democracy lives off change. Yes, I was never a chancellor and never a minister," she told a news conference. "I stand for renewal. Other stand for the status-quo."

"We would like to lead this government - but since politics is not a wish-fulfillment exercise, it will be up to the voters to decide who will come out of this election with how much strength," she added.

Baerbock was nominated for the chancellorship by her party and formally presented on Monday by co-leader Robert Habeck - an orderly process that stood in contrast to public divisions among the conservatives.

Armin Laschet, chairman of the Christian Democrats (CDU) and Markus Soeder of their CSU Bavarian sister party, remained at loggerheads on Monday over which of them should lead their increasingly strained alliance.

ALLIANCES

"While Laschet and Soeder are still fighting in the arena and the potential damage to the party could be great, the Greens have delivered a masterpiece of political professionalism," ING economist Carsten Brzeski said.

The Greens, who were born in 1980 out of the ecologist movement of the late 1960s and 1970s, govern the southwestern state of Baden-Wuerttemberg, a former conservative stronghold.

A Forsa poll last week put support for the Greens on 23%, behind 27% for Merkel's alliance.

To lead a coalition government, the Greens could team up with the left-leaning Social Democrats (SPD), which the Forsa poll showed to have 15% support, and the liberal Free Democrats (FDP), at 9%. Another three-way tie-up could be with the SPD and the far-left Linke.

In a more likely scenario, given the current numbers, the Greens could also join government as junior partner to Merkel's conservatives.

Finance Minister and SPD chancellor candidate Olaf Scholz was quick to congratulate Baerbock on her candidacy, tweeting that he was "looking forward to an exciting and fair competition".

A person close to Scholz, speaking on condition of anonymity, said that Scholz and Baerbock had a good and professional relationship and their parties had many overlapping policy goals.

(Additional reporting by Joseph Nasr, Rene Wagner and Michael Nienaber; Editing by Maria Sheahan, Raissa Kasolowsky and Andrew Heavens)

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