Since the 2017 election, Germany’s social democratic party, the SPD, has continued its miserable decline from its historic low of 20.5%. The Green Party, which won a modest 8.9% in the election, has surged to become the second most popular party in the country, far outstripping the SPD. The Greens won 20.5% of the vote in the May 2019 European elections, the same as the SPD in the 2017 national election. It is currently polling at around 22%, compared to the SPD’s 13-14%. Its leaders, Robert Habeck and Annelena Baerbock, who were elected in January 2018, are preparing for government; current polling would suggest the CDU could form a coalition with the Greens in 2021.
The last time the Greens were in national government was between 1998 and 2005, in coalition with Gerhard Schröder’s SPD. However, the Greens are also a frequent partner in state government; they are currently in coalition government in 11 out of Germany’s 16 state parliaments, and are even the lead partner in the CDU in Baden-Württemberg.
What can the Green success to attributed to?
Of course ascendancy of environmental issues worldwide has been crucial, as well as the fact that since the formation of the Alliance ’90/Greens (Bündnis 90/Die Grünen), many of the other issues promoted by the social movements which made up the party – such as gay rights and opposition to nuclear power – have become maintsream.
However, the reasons go much deeper than this. The Greens have shown courage in setting their agenda and establishing a clear identity for themselves – unlike the SPD, which has struggled to position itself in the changing political landscape. The Greens have positioned themselves as open and progressive, not only in terms of policies on digitalisation, housing, Europe and the environment, but also on immigration. They have carved out clear ground in opposition to the far-right populists the Alternative for Germany (AfD), while other parties have scrambled in their response to the anti-immigration, anti-establishment, anti-foreigner message the AfD pushes.
Further, Habeck, who was Deputy Prime Minister and Minister for Energy, Agriculture, Environment and Rural Arease in Schleswig-Holstein until he took over the leadership of the national party, and Baerbock, a Member of Parliament from Potsdam, have taken the party away from the bearded, woolly-jumpered, image the party had in the 1990s. Their victory signalled a realpolitik turn for the party, away from the left-wing fundamentalists in the party. Gone is the party which called for the break-up of large corporations; now the party is business-friendly. As the Financial Times pointed out, under Habeck and Baerbock, the Green parliamentary group launched a business advisory council that features senior executives from the likes of BASF, Munich Re, Thyssenkrupp and Bosch. The party has also shifted away from the moralising on what people should eat or how they should travel: Habeck has said, “I personally find all intrusions of the state upon private lives highly undesirable.”
Another main focus of Green policy is strengthening Europe, including cooperation between civil societies and governments, as well as promoting the ‘Green New Deal’ in Europe in collaboration with European sister parties.
On their election as leaders in 2018, Habeck declared their intention of making the Greens the strongest party on the left spectrum; they have achieved their aim and show no signs of slowing down.