How Germany's Greens rose from radical fringe to ruling power
In Sunday's historic win, the Greens took power in Baden Württemberg, a stronghold of Chancellor Angela Merkel’s ruling party for nearly six decades.
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"We had nothing materially but had everything in terms of ideals," Lukas Beckmann, who cofounded the Green Party in 1980, told German newsmagazine Der Spiegel. (Mr. Beckman is now on the board of directors of a GLS, a bank specializing on green and social projects.)Skip to next paragraph
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Many times the Greens' future looked grim. Each time they bounced back. At times in the 1990s, they lacked any representation in parliament. But over the years, they won mayoral battles in significant German cities and returned politicians to parliament.
Meanwhile, tensions arose between the party’s idealists and realists. Joschka Fischer grew to embody the party’s “Realos.” He was a sneaker-wearing demonstrator in the 1960s, even caught on video throwing stones. But as foreign minister in a coalition government with the Social Democrats from 1998 to 2005, Mr. Fischer brought Germany into the Afghanistan war and drafted welfare reform that cut unemployment benefits, leading some to accuse the Green party of betraying its core values of social justice and pacifism.
In 2000, the "Red-Green" coalition hammered a historic deal to put an "irreversible" end to nuclear power. It was a triumph for the Greens, but with the nuclear issue seemingly resolved, the party lost a key campaign platform.
The Greens moved back into the opposition in 2005 with Merkel’s rise to the chancellorship. Her U-turn this past fall on nuclear energy – when she extended the lives of the nation's 17 nuclear power plants – galvanized antinuclear sentiment. In October, hundreds of thousands of demonstrators blocked the transport of radioactive waste into Germany's controversial Gorleben storage plant. Protests continued into this month.
Nuclear crisis galvanizes Greens
When the Japan nuclear crisis erupted March 11, Merkel pivoted on nuclear energy by temporarily shutting down seven aging reactors and vowing to permanently close the oldest of them.
But it wasn’t enough, and she admitted as much today."The debate in connection with the Japanese nuclear plant of Fukushima was clearly what led to our defeat. My view of atomic energy has changed since the events in Japan," she said, calling the defeat a “deep wound” for her party and home state.
Matthias Jung, head of the Mannheim-based polling center Electoral Research Group, says the Greens profited from decline in party loyalty among German voters and tapped into grass-roots protest movements. And it's not just Baden-Württenberg: Nationwide polls have showed 30 percent of people could imagine voting for the Greens.
Critics say the Greens have often had the luxury of opposing government without providing solutions. But their win underscores that the public is also unhappy with the government’s solutions.
“Now the Greens will need to show that they can deal with issues others than their area of expertise. That they can make compromise,” says Schreurs. “They'll need to prove that they're more than a niche party.”
Professor Conradt agrees: "Now they have to show that they can govern."