The leadership of Germany’s increasingly popular Green Party has proposed co-leader Annalena Baerbock as its candidate to succeed Chancellor Angela Merkel – a win that would have massive implications for the energy transition in Europe's largest economy.

It is the first time the Green Party is nominating its own candidate. Recent opinion polls point to a narrowing race between the Greens and Merkel’s conservative CDU/CSU ahead of general elections in September.

Baerbock at a press conference stressed that the Greens want to lead the next government, but left open whether they could do that by linking up with the CDU/CSU, or in a three-way coalition with the Social Democrats (SPD) and the more radical Left Party.

Key to any coalition would be agreement on climate policies that guarantee Germany is fully committed to its pledge to become a climate-neutral economy bound to the targets of the Paris climate agreement.

"Only a little bit of climate protection won't work," Baerbock said, adding that the Greens if elected would launch an immediate action programme.

"It needs to work out for the steel industry just as much as for commuters," she added, making clear that the party will also look at social justice aspects in climate policies and solutions for hard-to-abate industries.

The candidate also mentioned that the Greens want to introduce contracts for difference (CfDs) at tenders, a long-standing demand in particular of the offshore wind sector.

For Baerbock to become the candidate, co-party leader Robert Habeck had to renounce his own candidacy, although opinion polls have suggested he would be slightly more popular among the electorate.

Only woman in the running

Baerbock at a press conference said either of them would have been good candidates, but acknowledged that the Green's feminist tradition played a role in the decision.

The Green's candidate will be the only woman in the race to succeed Merkel, Germany's first female Chancellor so far. She will face finance minister Olaf Scholz from the Social Democrats (SPD), and from the conservatives either Armin Laschet, the state premier of Germany’s most populous state, North-Rhine-Westphalia (NRW), or Markus Söder, the state premier of Bavaria – Germany’s second-most populous and economically most successful state.

All three potential rivals are political heavyweights, and unlike 40-year-old Baerbock have government experience, a point they are certain to stress heavily during the election campaign. But all the rivals are also middle-aged to older men, with much less appeal to a younger, more dynamic, urban and female Germany.

Recent opinion polls have shown Baerbock behind Söder in popularity, but well ahead of Laschet and Scholz.

The Greens in general are on the rise. The party last month for the third time won the key industrial state of Baden-Württemberg in a landslide vote, which it wants to continue to govern with the CDU as minor coalition partner.

At a federal level, the latest opinion polls see the CDU/CSU at 28-31%, the Greens at 20-22%, the SPD at 14-18%, and three smaller parties around 10%.