The Greens, Germany’s other party on the rise

While Germany's mainstream political parties are floundering in the face of a right-wing populist onslaught, the ecologist Greens are gaining in popularity and looking to capture once enemy terrain.

The Greens, Germany's other party on the rise
Ludwig Hartmann (left) with the Greens in Bavaria on October 7th. Photo: DPA

Days ahead of Sunday's Bavaria state polls, the one-time hippie anti-party party faces a long unthinkable prospect: scoring big and then joining forces with the arch-conservative CSU party in the wealthy Alpine state.

Polls there and nationally put the Greens at around 18 percent, making it the second strongest force in Germany and in Bavaria, a decades-long CSU fiefdom, far ahead of the dispirited centre-left Social Democrats (SPD).

Bavarian public television acknowledged this new reality and, in its only pre-election TV debate, pitted the CSU state premier Markus Söder against the Greens candidate Ludwig Hartmann, not the SPD's Natascha Kohnen.

SEE ALSO: Green Party has the highest number of voters in its history

The anti-immigration AfD party, which has surged nationwide in the past three years, also looks to enter the Bavarian state assembly. It is polling at around 10 percent while the CSU is expected to lose its absolute majority.

This would force the CSU, which promotes crucifixes on classroom walls, to join forces with its traditional ideological foes, whose pioneers a generation ago entered the national parliament flashing peace signs and handing out flowers.

News site Spiegel Online said Bavarian politics show that, aside from the AfD's rise, there is a little-noticed “second revolution…the rise of the Greens into a mainstream party”.

Nappy-changing outdoors man

In Bavaria, the Greens are popular in gentrified inner-city areas but also among conservatives who feel passionate about preserving Alpine vistas.

Voting Green is no longer a cultural taboo for Bavaria's Catholic rural voters because they “can interpret nature conservation as safeguarding creation and a humanitarian refugee policy as an expression of Christian charity,” said political scientist Gero Neugebauer.

The Greens have profited from the weakness of Merkel's coalition government but also been energized by a charismatic new male-female leadership duo – Robert Habeck, 49, and Annalena Baerbock, 37, both elected in January.

Under their leadership, the party — which scored just 8.9 percent in last September's elections — has sought to shed its image of moralizing do-gooders and started to tackle long-taboo subjects such as German cultural identity and the loaded term “Heimat” (homeland).

The party is still pushing core Green issues, however, from organic agriculture to protecting species diversity. Where other parties have flip-flopped, on climate and immigration, the Greens have consistently fought for clean energy and against the racist far right.

Die Welt daily has also noted the telegenic appeal of Habeck, an author who cultivates the image of an easy-going intellectual, from Germany's wind-swept coastal north near Denmark.

Habeck, said the newspaper, “comes across as the prototypical Scandinavian outdoors man who will change the kids' nappies and handle the household but also looks good chopping wood”.

  Greens the 'new bourgeoisie'

The Greens were born out of the 1960s and 70s pacifist and anti-nuclear protest movements, and joined by East German civil rights activists after the 1989 fall of the Berlin Wall.

They first entered government in a 1998-2005 coalition under SPD chancellor Gerhard Schröder that ironically broke with Germany's post-World War II taboo and sent troops abroad, to Kosovo and then Afghanistan.

Another milestone on its march toward the centre came in 2011 when the Greens' Winfried Kretschmann became premier of industrial powerhouse state Baden-Württemberg, a post he still holds.

Over the years German society has adopted many Green values — millions ride bicycles to work, buy organic, oppose GM crops and fracking, have solar panels on their roofs and support gay marriage.

Merkel adopted the Greens' signature policy when, after Japan's 2011 Fukushima disaster, she decided to shutter Germany's atomic power plants.

Her open-door policy for refugees was meanwhile cheered more by Greens than her own often skeptical CDU rank-and-file.

After the last two elections, Merkel held exploratory coalition talks with the Greens which in 2017 collapsed only because a third party, the pro-business Free Democrats, pulled out.

Since that time, noted Spiegel Online, the Greens have steadily gained support at the expense of the SPD and Merkel's CDU.

“The Greens are not the new Social Democrats,” it said, “they are the new bourgeoisie.”

Member comments

Log in here to leave a comment.
Become a Member to leave a comment.


Green Party leader: ‘Right-wing parties want to push us out of parliament’

Per Bolund, joint leader of Sweden's Green party, spoke for thirteen and a half minutes at Almedalen before he mentioned the environment, climate, or fossil fuels, in a speech that began by dwelling on healthcare, women's rights, and welfare, before returning to the party's core issue.

Green Party leader: 'Right-wing parties want to push us out of parliament'

After an introduction by his joint leader Märta Stenevi, Bolund declared that his party was going into the election campaign on a promise “to further strengthen welfare, with more staff and better working conditions in healthcare, and school without profit-making, where the money goes to the pupils and not to dividends for shareholders”. 

Only then did he mention the party’s efforts when in government to “build the world’s first fossil-free welfare state”. 

“We know that if we want welfare to work in the future, we must have an answer to our time’s biggest crisis: the threat to the environment and the climate,” he said.

“We know that there is no welfare on a dead planet. We need to take our society into a new time, where we end our dependency on oil, meet the threat to the climate, and build a better welfare state within nature’s boundaries, what we call a new, green folkhem [people’s home].” 

He presented green policies as something that makes cities more liveable, with the new sommargågator — streets pedestrianised in the summer — showing how much more pleasant a life less dependent on cars might be.  

He then said his party wanted Sweden to invest 100 billion kronor a year on speeding up the green transition, to make Sweden fossil fuel-free by 2030. 

“We talk about the climate threat because it’s humanity’s biggest challenge, our biggest crisis,” he said. “And because we don’t have much time.” 

In the second half of his speech, however, Bolund used more traditional green party rhetoric, accusing the other political parties in Sweden of always putting off necessary green measures, because they do not seem urgent now, like a middle-aged person forgetting to exercise. 

“We know that we need to cut emissions radically if we are even going to have a chance of meeting our climate goal, but for all the other parties there’s always a reason to delay,” he said. 

“We are now seeing the curtain go up on the backlash in climate politics in Sweden. All the parties have now chosen to slash the biofuels blending mandate which means that we reduce emissions from petrol and diesel step for step, so you automatically fill your tank in a greener way. Just the government’s decision to pause the  reduction mandate will increase emissions by a million tonnes next year.” 

The right-wing parties, he warned, were also in this election running a relentless campaign against the green party. 

“The rightwing parties seem to have given up trying to win the election on their own policies,” he said. “Trying to systematically push out of parliament seems to be their way of trying to take power. And they don’t seem above any means. Slander campaigns, lies, and false information have become every day in Swedish right-wing politics.” 

He ended the speech with an upbeat note. 

“A better, more sustainable world is possible. There is a future to long for. If you give us a chance then that future is much closer than you think!”

Read the speech here in Swedish and here in (Google Translated) English.