With youth turnout less than 64 percent in Germany's last election, the project "Germany's Next Chancellor" aims to improve youth engagement in politics. Perhaps winner Julius Freund can now give his uncle a few tips.
Just three weeks remain until Germans head to the polls and interest in Germany's election is finally picking up in what many critics have described as the country's most-boring election to date. The political spectrum is barely existent, with party policies difficult to differentiate. But a competition in Berlin on Friday offered an insight into the next generation of German politics as five finalists under the age of 25 went head to head to become "Germany's Next Chancellor" (GNBK).
Walking away with the title and a prize of 10,000 euros ($11,877) was 23-year-old Cologne student Julius Freund - also coincidentally the nephew of Social Democratic (SPD) candidate and Chancellor Angela Merkel's main opposition Martin Schulz.
With the SPD currently lagging some 12 percentage points behind Merkel's Christian Democrats (CDU), Martin Schulz is going to have to pull out all the stops in Sunday's "TV duel" against Merkel if he's to stand a chance come September 24.
Following his victory on Friday, Freund said his uncle was welcome to ask for tips ahead of Sunday's televised debate.
"He's always been a role model for me," he told DW. "I've learnt so much from him over the years."
After completing three online videos in which the candidates set out their vision for Germany, the five finalists spent three days at "chancellor camp" where they were trained up to face a panel of judges including the deputy editor of Bild newspaper Niklous Blome, the youngest member of German parliament Ronja Klemmer, deputy chair of the association Junge Unternehmen (Young Companies) Johanna Strunz, and German YouTube star Florian Mundt (LeFloid).
Germany's youth disparity
While voter turnout among Germany's youth remains particularly low in comparison to older generations, the competition, organized by the Junge Unternehmen, aimed to increase youth engagement in German politics.
In the 2013 federal election, just 60.3 percent of 21 to 25-year-olds cast their vote, compared to a 79.8 of 60 to 70-year-olds.
"Because the voter turnout is much higher among older generations, politicians concentrate their election campaigns more on the issues and interests of older voters, while the interests of the youth are neglected," Strunz from Junge Unternehmen told DW, adding that she hoped the competition would provide young voters with a platform to voice their concerns.
GNBK winner Freund said Germany's parties need to rejuvenate themselves. "Not only in the sense only of the candidates, but, above all, in their address to young voters," he said, adding that he was working on a concept to improve political presences on social media channels.
The final of the GNBK competition was broadcast live on Friday, on YouTube as well as Facebook Live - both well-loved formats among Germany’s youth. With questions coming in real time from viewers, the actual chancellor candidates could be faced with a much more interactive TV debate by the 2021 election.
Final five: Christoph Zander, Nicolas Klein-Zirbes, Theresa Hein, Andreas Bergholz and Julius Freund
Women still under-represented
Also among the five finalists was CDU youth member Theresa Hein - the only female candidate to make it through to Friday's final. At 21 years old, Hein belongs to what has become known as the "Merkel Generation" and was only nine years old when the chancellor was first sworn into office in 2005.
"She’s definitely a role model for women," Hein said. "It feels like she confirms that as a woman you can succeed in becoming one of the most in influential people in the world."
While Merkel has proven to be a success among voters as Germany's first female chancellor, the overall representation of women in Germany politics remains at a low-point. After the election on September 24, the number of female politicians in Germany's parliament could fall to just 32 percent - a 5 percent decrease on the current figure.
"We have to persevere, we have to believe in ourselves," said Hein, adding that women need to "toughen up" in politics.
"That doesn't mean becoming more masculine," she said. "We just need to show that we're of just as much value and that our characteristics are just as great, so that men can also adapt to us and not just the other way round."
Germany has a few elections to go before it finds out whether there was a future Merkel or Schulz in the room on Friday, but winner Freund now has his sights firmly set on the chancellery. In the meantime, the question remains as to whether his uncle can beat him to it.