"The Greens" have scored an unexpected win in a West German state election -- and boosted the hopes of conservative chancellor candidate Franz-Josef Strauss in next fall's general election. It's a euphoric victory for a party that's only a year old.
The Greens (their official name) are West Germany's environmentalist party, the political outgrowth of the various antipollution, antinuclear power grass-roots initiatives of the past decade and a half. They earned their first seats in any West German state last October in the city of Bremen, which is a separate state.
On March 16 they won six seats in a second state, Baden-Wurttemberg, by getting just over the 5 percent vote minimum for representation in the state and national legislatures.
The big question now is just how much of a bellwether West Germany's southwestern state of Baden-Wurttemberg is for the entire country. If the Greens do as well in the October 5 general election, they could throw the chancellorship to Mr. Strauss by attracting votes away from the country's juior government party, the Free Democratic Party (FDP), and pushing the FDP below the critical 5 percent minimum.
This in turn could leave the senior coalition partner, the Social Democratic Party (SPD), without enough seats to form a majority govenment. The alliance of the conservative Christian Democratic Union (CDU) and the even more conservative Bavarian Christian Social Union -- which Mr. Strauss heads -- consistently polls more votes than the SPD nationally, if FDP votes are excluded.
All the federal parties quickly held strategy sessions the morning after the surprise Baden-Wurttemberg results to assess the election's favorable implications for Mr. Strauss.
It's hard to draw firm national conclusions from the Baden-Wurttemberg election, however. Baden-Wurttemberg, with its contradictory mix of strong conservative, strong liberal (FDP), and strong ecological enthusiasms, is a typical of West Germany as a whole.
Baden-Wurttemberg shares some of the same South German traditionalism and suspicion of the more experimental industrial North that has made Mr. Strauss so popular in the southeastern state of Bavaria.
The former Baden-Wurttemberg premier, Hans Filbinger, embodied his attitude for years until he was forced to resign 18 months ago after revelations about rulings he made as a military judge in Nazi Germany.
Lothar Spaeth, a more middle-of-the-road conservative lost 3.3 percent of the CDU votes from the previous state election in 1976, but he still governs with a healthy 53.4 percent of the votes and 68 of the legislature's 124 seats.
Despite its strong conservative bent, Baden-Wurttemberg was once a relative stronghold of the ever-struggling FDP, with support reaching close to 15 percent in the mid-60s. This latent sympathy for a more individualistic, classicaly liberal party between the conservative and Social Democratic ideologies remains to be tapped by various new idealistic causes, such as ecology. Actually, the FDP won an encouraging 8.3 percent of the votes for 10 seats, a gain of 0.5 percent over 1976. Analysts conclude that the FDP attracted more votes from disaffected CDU supporters than it ceded to the Greens from its own supporters.
The SPD lost the most in the state election, dropping 0.8 percent to 32.5 percent of the votes, for 40 seats. And the poor showing of the Baden-Wurttemberg party chairman, Erhard Eppler, highlights the dilemma of the SPD in confronting the new Green Party.
Dr. Eppler, one of the spokesmen of the SPD left wing, has led the flight within the party for stronger environmental protection and a moratorium on nuclear power-plant building. Yet even he was not able to attract Green voters and ran behind the SPD as a whole.
The biggest winner in Baden-Wurttemberg is the newest and smallest party, the Greens. They gained six seats, winning 5.3 percent of the vote. Support for the Greens was drawn from young voters, protest voters who had abstained from the 1976 election, and crossovers from the big parties.
The ascotted, modishly shaggy-haired chairman of the Baden-Wurttemberg Greens , Wolf-Dieter Hasenclever -- a distinct visual contrast to all the model-executive traditional politicians -- is already talking about the federal Green campaign next fall.
But the general elections may prove tougher for the Greens than the Baden-Wurttemberg elections. Environmentalists ran better in Baden-Wurttemberg (4.5 percent) than they did nationally (3.2 percent) in the only nationwide elections they have participated in -- the European parliamentary vote of last summer. And the Iranian and Afghan crises since then seem to have heightened the West German public's and politicians' concern about oil to the point of making nuclear plants acceptable as a necessary evil.