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Greener than spring it won’t get: The Green party in the German political landscape

By Jan De Pauw - posted Thursday, 28 July 2011


For close to a decade, the city-state of Berlin, capital of Germany, has been run by a social democrat and leftist/communist coalition headed by the popular mayor Klaus Wowereit. His seat on the throne may be in danger however, as the Greens leading figure Renate Künast is viewed as a serious contester in the upcoming September elections.

Whether or not Künast really stands a chance of robbing Wowereit of his title remains to be seen. A Wowereit-led coalition with the Greens - already briefly attempted between June 2001 and January 2002 - looks more likely.

What counts much more is her role as whip in the campaign, slashing Die Linke (even if they deliver most of the blows themselves) and forcing former people's parties such as the social democrats (SPD), to spice up their act - or panic.

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In 2009, the Greens were elected into the Saarland regional government, together with the Christian-Democrats CDU and the liberal FDP. In Bremen and Rheinland-Pfalz they have wormed themselves into SPD-led governments. In the densely populated and biggest state of Nordrhein-Westfalen, a coalition of SPD and Greens took over from the CDU last year.

Most spectacular however, was the victory of the Greens in Germany's economic powerhouse of Baden-Wurttemberg last March. There, the Greens not only pushed the forever ruling CDU/CSU into opposition, they also came out bigger than the SPD. With Winfried Kretchmann the Greens are now fronting their very first minister-president, right in Germany's industrial heart.

The Greens are presently in leading positions all over the country. Polls have them rake in approval of a fifth, to a quarter, of the German electorate now. Beyond having doubled their traditional statistical share of voter support, the Greens have widened their ideological reach.

Green leadership, in fact a foursome consisting of Trittin, Künast, Özdemir, and Roth, have managed to stitch the gaps between the so-called fundi (hard core leftist) and realo (pragmatist) factions within the party - at least outwardly.

The Greens message of a more open, social, authentic, respectful, forward looking and more sustainable society has appeal beyond the quintessential 'eco-warrior.' This is exemplified by the huge crowds that (still) gather to protest nuclear energy and nuclear transports, or in the case of the highly contested Stuttgart railway station extension, that has galvanized the public debate for months now.

Families, older people, the well off, the young and the alternative, seem to assemble under one common Green umbrella.

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Since the eighties, and to this day, the central motif in the political discourse of the German Greens has been the rejection of all things nuclear. It is the issue that has given the party its face, its consistency and its political pitch.

Since the Fukushima disaster and debacle, that core issue has been crudely snatched away from them, with Chancellor Merkel's volte-face on atomic energy.

Only a few months after her decision to extend the operation times of Germany's nuclear power plants, the events in Japan made her federal government of Christian-Democrats and Liberals decree the all-out exit from nuclear energy by 2022 at the latest. While engaging in symbolic opposition, demanding the withdrawal by 2017 instead of 2022 for instance, rubber-stamping the project is all that was left for the Greens.

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About the Author

Jan De Pauw is a Belgian Federal Diplomat, posted in Berlin. He holds an M.A. in Philosophy and an M.A. in International Politics. He is an independent writer, and you can find more of his work at his blog Trabecular Meshwork.

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