Centrist duo Cem Özdemir and Katrin Göring-Eckardt won Germany’s Green primary election and will lead the environmentalist party into this year's general election.
The pairing seems to signal the traditionally left-leaning Greens' potential preparedness to form a government with Chancellor Angela Merkel’s center-right Christian Democrats (CDU) after the election this fall, if it garnered enough votes.
As the party’s regulations require that two candidates, at least one a woman, lead the party into the elections, parliamentary group chairwoman Ms. Göring-Eckardt, the sole female contender, was sure to make the cut. In the party's primary this week, she won 71 percent of the members' votes.
With this selection, the party has made impressively clear its intention to reach people who think green but don’t yet vote green. Kerstin Andreae, Deputy head of the Green Party's parliamentary group
Party co-chairman Mr. Özdemir faced two male opponents and won the race by just 75 votes. Prominent left-winger Anton Hofreiter came in a distant third.
The result marginalized the party's left-wing, traditionally represented on the party ticket.
Mr. Özdemir, 51, whose parents moved to Germany from Turkey, has long been a prominent figure on the party’s centrist side. In 1994, he became the first politician with Turkish roots to be elected to Germany’s parliament, the Bundestag. Ms. Göring-Eckardt, 50, grew up in former East Germany, is active in the Lutheran church and also considered a moderate, or, in party parlance, a “realist.”
The Greens were in a governing coalition from 1998 to 2005 under then-Chancellor Gerhard Schröder, a Social Democrat (SPD). Looking ahead to the elections this fall, the party is currently divided between those who back a left-wing alliance with the SPD and others who favor a coalition with Ms. Merkel’s CDU, as is already the case in several of Germany's federal states.
The appointment of Ms. Göring-Eckardt and Mr. Özdemir may increase the chances of the latter coalition come election time, despite policy differences with the Christian Democrats - not least the Greens' recent pledge to introduce a “constitutional, productive and feasible wealth tax for the super-rich.”
But current polls suggest that such an alliance could not secure a majority in the general election in September, with as little chance as a broad left-wing coalition between the SPD and the socialist Left Party would. At the moment, the Green Party is losing favor with voters and, polling at 9 percent, is only slightly above its weak showing in the 2013 parliamentary elections.
The Green Party's current strategy is to emphasize its independence. Mr. Özdemir pointed out that the top two candidates intend to represent the Green Party “across its entire spectrum.” He said that during the campaign, the party will focus on climate change, equality of opportunity, the struggle for Europe, successfully integrating refugees, security and an environmentally-friendly modernization of the economy.
“This selection shows the party clearly means to reach people who think green but don’t yet vote green,” said Kerstin Andreae, deputy head of the parliamentary group. “We must grow beyond our core clientele,” she told Handelsblatt.
The Greens' "realist" candidates will be obliged, however, to make concessions to the left wing in order to avoid internal strife and because it is crucial to demonstrate cohesion in order for German voters to perceive them as a genuine alternative.