European Parliament member Cem Özdemir was elected co-chairman of the German Alliance 90/Greens Party on Saturday. Özdemir is the first politician of foreign descent to ascend to the leadership of a political party in the history of Germany.
During the congress of the party in the eastern city of Erfurt, Özdemir was elected with an overwhelming majority of 79.2 percent of the vote of delegates. 617 delegates voted for Özdemir, 107 against and 46 abstained. The other co-chairperson of the party, Claudia Roth, won 82.7 percent of the votes.
The 42-year-old Özdemir will lead Germany’s influential Green party together with Roth. Özdemir told the convention delegates Saturday he was “looking forward” to working with Roth.
The appointment makes Özdemir a rare politician who has broken the racial barriers within the Green Party and Germany itself. Özdemir became the first Turkish origin politician to win a seat in parliament and has been a member of the European Parliament for the Green Party since 2004.
The Greens were the junior partner in Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder’s ruling coalition for seven years until 2005.
There are some 2.7 million ethnic Turks in Germany, the country’s largest minority, representing about 3.3 percent of the population.
Speaking to the Anatolia News Agency after elections, Özdemir said they mostly wanted to represent those who were excluded from society in Germany.
“What is important for me is not my election as a person of Turkish origin but my election despite this fact. Whatever one’s roots are they can be elected,” he said. “I want to invite all to be engaged in politics. I come from a working class family. If I could achieve this triumph others may well succeed as well. Every segment is part of our society.”
Social, not ethnic difficulties
Noting that there was a social problem rather than an ethnic problem for all living in Germany, he said he wanted to deal with these social problems and represent those who faced social exclusion and the socially vulnerable groups.
In response to a question on what immigrants mean to Germany, Özdemir said “When we are talking about the problems of immigrants, we aren’t talking about problems different than those of Germans.
The school and family problems of Germans aren’t different from those of the immigrants. The Greeks and Italians have similar problems too. I find it healthier to approach such issues in this way.”
The German media also gave an important place to the election of Özdemir.
The Green Party, one of Germany’s main political parties, has elected the son of Turkish immigrants to its top political post, the first time any party here has chosen a leader with an ethnic Turkish background.
Even though more than 2.6 million Turks live in Germany, accounting for 3 percent of the population, few have managed to make it to the higher ranks of many professions, including politics and the civil service.