Greens' growth in Germany spurs deputy chancellor's departure
Guido Westerwelle announced he is resigning as deputy chancellor to Angela Merkel after their parties received stunning losses to Greens in last month's state elections.
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Current Chancellor Angela Merkel faces a new reality, with her deputy Guido Westerwelle resigning over the weekend as head of junior coalition partner Free Democrat Party (FDP) after he and Ms. Merkel felt stinging losses to the Greens.
Because the party didn't disappear. In fact, in a turn of events reverberating across the country, on March 27 the Greens ended six decades of conservative rule in one of Germany's wealthiest states, completing their transformation from a radical protest party to a mainstream force shaking the traditional political order.
For the first time ever in Germany, and only the second time in all of Europe, a Green party is in charge of a state government. Capitalizing on a mix of nuclear aversion and local furor over a highly unpopular railway project in Stüttgart, the Greens doubled their representation to 24.2 percent in Baden Württemberg, stealing power from Merkel's ruling Christian Democratic Union (CDU). The Greens also tripled their representation in North Rhine Westphalia.
The election is among the first evidence of how Japan's nuclear crisis, sparked by the March 11 earthquake and tsunami, is causing political ripples worldwide. The election may foretell the rise of anti-nuclear parties in other nations, and serve as political warning to other leaders.
"The debate in connection with the Japanese nuclear plant of Fukushima was clearly what led to our defeat," Merkel said a day after the election. "My view of atomic energy has changed since the events in Japan."
Even Merkel's coalition partner, hitherto Germany's most pro-nuclear party, signaled a change of heart. "That was a vote over the future of atomic energy," said Mr. Westerwelle, who stepped down Sunday as FDP leader although he will remain foreign minister for now.
Proponents of an environmentally friendly lifestyle that minimizes energy use, the Greens represent society's new search for "postmaterialistic" values, says Gerd Langguth, a political scientist at the University of Bonn and former CDU parliamentarian.
The party's March 27 win was the culmination of many political fights since the 1960s, when the leaders of today's party were rebellious students trying to shake the political establishment. Coincidentally, their first victory against nuclear power was also in Baden Württemberg, in 1975, when 30,000 people staged a nine-month sit-in at what was to be Germany's first nuclear plant, in the hamlet of Wyhl.