The Green Party’s candidate for chancellor kept the photographers and cameramen waiting for over half an hour on Sunday morning. Then Annalena Baerbock made a grand entrance withparty co-chair Robert Habeck and other party colleagues to kick off a “small party conference” in Berlin, one week before the general election. The 100 delegates wanted to send a “strong signal for the final spurt” in the election campaign.
The Green Party and its 40-year-old candidate have had a difficult few weeks: They made headlines over false information in Baerbock’s official CV and plagiarism allegations centering on her most recent book.
It was only late in the campaign that Baerbock managed to get back on track and talk about her central policy issue, climate protection. By then, however, the Greens had already slipped in the polls — from a spectacular 26% in May to currently 15 to 17% percent. In the last general election in 2017, they came in at only 8.9%.
That Baerbock will win the chancellorship now seems highly unlikely; the environmentalist party is in third place in the polls behind the center-left Social Democrat (SPD) and the center-right bloc made up of Angela Merkel’s Christian Democratic Union (CDU) and its Bavarian sister party, the Christian Social Union (CSU).
Right at the beginning of her speech on Sunday, Baerbock went on the offensive: “Yes, the last few weeks have been turbulent. But now we feel confidence again,” she said. “One in three voters is still undecided, that’s 20 million people, that’s a lot,” she continued, encouraging her audience to use the coming week to fight for every single vote.
The Greens are on edge and feel they have been targeted unfairly. National executive Michael Kellner made that clear in his speech when he said “75% of all the lies spread on the net” had been directed against the Greens during the election campaign.
The Green party was founded in 1980, unifying a whole array of regional movements made up of people frustrated by mainstream politics. It brought together feminists, environmental, peace and human rights activists. Many felt that those in power were ignoring environmental issues, as well as the dangers of nuclear power.
The influential German artist Joseph Beuys (left) was a founding member of the new party. And its alternative agenda and informal style quickly attracted leftist veterans from the 1968 European protest movement, including eco-feminist activist Petra Kelly (right), who coined the phrase that the Greens were the “anti-party party.”
From the start the Green party conferences were marked by heated debate and extreme views. Discussions went on for many hours and sometimes a joyous party atmosphere prevailed.
In 1983 the Greens entered the German parliament, the Bundestag, having won 5.6% in the national vote. Its members flaunted their anti-establishment background and were eyed by their fellow parliamentarians with a certain amount of skepticism.
Joschka Fischer became the first Green party regional government minister in 1985 when he famously took the oath of office wearing white sports sneakers. He later became German foreign minister in an SPD-led coalition government. And was vilified by party members for abandoning pacifism in support of German intervention in Kosovo in 1999.
With German reunification, the West German Greens merged with the East German protest movement “Bündnis 90” in 1993. But the party never garnered much support in the former East Germany (GDR).
Today’s Green voters are generally well-educated, high-earning urbanites with a strong belief in the benefits of multicultural society and gender equality. And no other party fields more candidates with an immigrant background. The party focuses not only on environmental issues and the climate crisis but a much broader spectrum of topics including education, social justice, and consumer policies.
Environmental topics are no longer the exclusive prerogative of the Greens, whose members have morphed from hippies to urban professionals. Winfried Kretschmann personifies this change: The conservative first-generation Green politician became the party’s first politician to serve as a state premier. He teamed up with the Christian Democrats and has been reelected twice to lead Baden-Württemberg.
Party co-leaders Robert Habeck and Annalena Baerbock symbolize the new pragmatism and confidence of the Greens in the 2020s. They support the Fridays for Future movement and cater to the high number of new young party members who are not interested in the trench warfare between fundamentalists and pragmatists that marked the Green party debates of the early years.
Now the Greens want to focus once again on the issue of climate protection — and they want to allay voters’ fears that this might mean a loss of prosperity and too many restrictions in everyday life. In the six-page draft of the “Social Pact for Climate-Friendly Prosperity,” which Sunday’s party conference adopted, there is the promise to partly compensate people if gasoline prices continue to rise because of climate protection policies.
Baerbock called out to the delegates, “Now, at this moment, when a large part of the German economy says yes to protecting the climate, then this issue must become a matter for the boss.”
Co-party leader Robert Habeck accused the “grand coalition” of CDU/CSU and SPD, which has been in power for the last eight years, of failing to provide answers on how to achieve the climate targets. Instead, he said, the conservatives had been conjuring up a “stupid contrast” between economic growth and climate protection as well as justice and climate protection in the election campaign, he said, whereas these issues were absolutely reconcilable.
The Greens also promise to focus on equality issues — should they be part of the next government, they stressed, one of their first acts would be to raise the minimum wage to twelve euros ($14). Another priority is to introduce a basic child benefit to overcome child poverty. Baerbock again called it unacceptable that Germany is one of the richest countries and yet every fifth child here lives in relative poverty.
The center-right Christian Democrat CDU and its Bavarian sister party CSU are symbolized by the color black. The center-left Social Democrat SPD is red, as is the communist Left Party. The pro-free market Free Democrats’ (FDP) color is yellow. And the Greens are self-explanatory. German media refer to the color combinations and national flags using them as shorthand for political combinations.
A combination of center-right Christian Democrats and center-left Social Democrats has been in power for eight years. What was termed a “grand coalition” of two big tent parties will probably no longer have a majority. Taking in the Green Party would secure a comfortable majority. But with the SPD and CDU running neck-and-neck it’s not clear which party will be strongest — and name the chancellor.
The center-right Christian Democrats have often teamed up with the much smaller pro-free market Free Democrats (FDP) at the state and the national level over the years. Taking in the Greens to form a three-way coalition would be an option attractive to many in the CDU. But the Greens and the FDP do not make easy bedfellows, so a similar attempt failed after the last election in 2017.
The center-right CDU and the center-left SPD plus the pro-free market FDP. This combination would easily clear the 50% threshhold in parliament. It would be the preferred option for business leaders and high income earners. But if the SPD remains ahead of the conservatives, the order would be flipped, putting the SPD in the lead so we’d see red, black, yellow. A very different ballgame.
The Social Democrats teaming up with the Greens and the Left Party is a specter the conservatives like to raise when they perform badly in the polls. Such a combination might just about clinch 50% — if the Left Party manages to clear the 5% hurdle to get into parliament. But the SPD and Left Party have a difficult history. And the Left’s extreme foreign policy positions would hamper negotiations.
The free-market-oriented liberal FDP, has in the past generally ruled out federal coalitions sandwiched between the Social Democrats, and the Greens. But this year the FDP is not ruling out any options. Germany’s traditional kingmaker party is above all keen to return to power — no matter in which color combination.
The mood among the delegates was defiantly optimistic. Claudia Roth, a Green Party veteran and vice president of the Bundestag, told DW on the sidelines of the meeting that one reason was that more than 2,000 people had attended an election event with Annalena Baerbock in Augsburg, Bavaria, while only about 400 people had attended the campaign event of CDU candidate for chancellor Armin Laschet.
Although the Green Party is in coalition governments with the CDU and the SPD in several German states, most speakers on Sunday spoke out in favor of joining forces with the SPD. Baerbock herself again indicated this preference in an interview with the “Handelsblatt” before the party conference where she said that the CDU/CSU stood for “standstill in our country.”
An alliance with the SPD alone, however, would not have a majority according to current polls. The Greens and the SPD would need a third coalition partner. And for this, both the Free Democrats and the Left Party might be an option.
Only one thing seems clear: The parties will have a difficult time forming a coalition following the vote on September 26.
This article has been translated from German.
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