The German Green Party′s Robert Habeck set to take on a leading role |…

Robert Habeck has come to the spotlight following the election, which saw his party double its seats, but fall far short of becoming the strongest party.

Habeck seems invigorated after the election, while political observers have taken observe that chancellor candidate Annalena Baerbock appears to look tired. The RND media network has reported that Habeck, instead of Baerbock, would be the Green Party’s choice for the position as vice chancellor in a coalition government.

In a press conference on Monday after the vote, Habeck spoke of the new era that was now dawning and Christian Lindner, chairman of the pro-free market Free Democrats (FDP), has repeatedly mentioned Habeck’s name instead of Baerbock when talking about the prospect of the upcoming negotiations to form a three-way coalition government.

The Greens’ Robert Habeck (left) and Christian Lindner from the FDP seem set to find shared ground

While Baerbock has indicated a preference to join up with the Social Democrats (SPD) for a coalition government, Habeck has now repeatedly referred to his experience as agriculture minister in a CDU-led coalition in Schleswig-Holstein in 2017. In such a situation, he said, you have to look for shared ground in talks that you may not have seen before, “something new has to appear. That’s truly a cool situation,” he told the media on the Monday, sitting next to Baerbock, who seemed tight-lipped. 

The relationship between Baerbock and Habeck seemed very friendly at the beginning of their term in office in January 2018 as co-party leaders. Now, however, it’s being described by party members as “specialized.”

When Habeck announced Baerbock as the Green Party candidate for chancellor earlier this year, he was applauded for standing aside. He stood by Baerbock throughout her rocky campaign and sat by countless interviews where he was asked whether he would not have been the better candidate.

Habeck presented Baerbock as the Green Party’s candidate for chancellor in April

Indeed, Habeck has been extremely popular throughout his political career. Author and translator, politician and philosopher — with his tousled and unshaven look, he has always seems relaxed and approachable.

Habeck was in his early 30s when he joined the environmentalist Green Party in 2002. At that time, the Greens were junior partners to the Social Democrats in the German government. That coalition was ousted from strength in 2005 at the beginning of what would come to be known as the Merkel era.

Before entering politics, Habeck looked destined for an academic career. He initially studied philosophy, German language and literature and philology before earning a master’s degree in 1996 and being awarded his doctorate in 2000. He also spent a year at Denmark’s Roskilde University, where he picked up fluent Danish.

People are often dazzled by his conversational grasp of philosophical matters. But there are others who are pushed to distraction by what they see as his philosophical flippancy: his habit, for example, of tossing quotes by great thinkers into a discussion.

Habeck initially earned a living as a writer, co-authoring detective stories and children’s books with his wife, Andrea Paluch. Together with their four sons, they live in Flensburg, the capital of the state of Schleswig-Holstein. Germany’s northernmost city lies just 10 kilometers (6 miles) from the border with Denmark, in a vicinity that is home to a strong Danish-speaking minority.

As the ecosystem minister of the ‘windy state’ of Schleswig-Holstein, Habeck pushed for a profound energy shift

‘Bending in the wind’

Habeck’s political career really got going in 2012 when he was appointed as Schleswig-Holstein’s ecosystem minister — a post he would keep up for six years. During that time, he built a reputation as an easygoing, pragmatic Green politician who always had an ear for his SPD coalition partners, in addition as for staunch conservatives in the farming community.

This gave the hands-on politician a platform for his efforts to push for a profound shift in Germany’s energy policy. As a “windy state,” Schleswig-Holstein is suited for wind strength, and Habeck set for himself the tough task of winning people over to install giant wind turbines. And it seems he succeeded: From 2012 to 2016, the amount of wind energy generated in Schleswig-Holstein nearly doubled.

In 2017, the Greens in Schleswig-Holstein entered a new coalition government with Chancellor Angela Merkel’s conservative Christian Democrat (CDU) and the neoliberal FDP. Habeck made the most of the alliance, becoming a close friend of Daniel Günther, the conservative leader of the coalition. That he could harmonize with others on the opposite side of the political spectrum is taken as further evidence of Habeck’s talent as a people person. This did, however, consequence in a limited backlash: Some chief Green voters accused Habeck of bending too easily in the wind.

In early 2018,Habeck was voted in as one of the Green Party’s two co-leaders. Baerbock, his partner in office, also has an noticeable natural talent for politics. The party has a long tradition of co-leadership — but also toxic rivalries between two would-be partners, who each tend to represent opposite wings of the party.

But so far, Habeck and Baerbock have broken the mold, prioritizing pragmatism over ideological infighting. Harmony sells — and the party has profited.

Challenges ahead

Many have speculated about a possible conservative-Green coalition government taking over in Berlin after this September 26 election. 

Asked by DW before the vote, Habeck, said that it’s time to look ahead. “The question that people will be asking is: ‘What’s going to happen in the next decade? It’s certainly going to be different from anything that has happened before.

“Not only because Angela Merkel is stepping down, or because the party scenery here in Germany is changing so drastically. We’re going to confront some basic questions: How do we want to live? And how can we rule our country into a new, climate-neutral era?”

This article has been translated from German and has been updated after the election to mirror latest developments.

While you’re here: Every Tuesday, DW editors round up what is happening in German politics and society, with an eye toward understanding this year’s elections and beyond. You can sign up here for the weekly email newsletter Berlin Briefing, to stay on top of developments as Germany enters the post-Merkel era.

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