The Green Party in Germany geared up for the battle for Berlin this past weekend at their party conference. With the elections now less than five months away, the party is betting its chances on both its own platform and a commitment to form a government with the Social Democrats if the numbers allow it on September 22. That commitment was demonstrated by the unique presence of SPD party leader Sigmar Gabriel, appearing at the Green Party convention as a guest speaker.
Right now, the polling numbers don’t look very promising for the Greens, but a lot can happen over the next five months. On the thirtieth anniversary of their first election into the Bundestag, the Greens are optimistic about their chances.
Like the SPD, the Greens are campaigning on a direct attack against the Chancellor, whose policies the Green party leaders compare with riding in the sleeping car of a train bound for nowhere. They are also stressing the increasing discrepancy of wealth in German society—in addition to their traditional emphasis on energy and environmental issues—calling for higher taxes on the wealthy.
The Greens are a long way from where they used to campaign. Represented in several state (Land) governments and now holding the lead position in the state of Baden-Wuerttemberg, in addition to many city halls around the country, Green Party leader Juergen Trittin can boast that the majority of Germans are now governed with Greens in the state parliaments. Still, the Greens seem to top off at around 15% in the national polls, not enough to build a majority coalition with the Social Democrats.
Any discussion of an alternative coalition with the party of Chancellor Merkel, the CDU, was not a popular theme at the weekend’s party convention, though some members claim that it should not be completely dismissed. But it is truly hard to see how Angela Merkel could pull off such a bridge with the Greens while maintaining her sister party’s allegiance, the more conservative CSU in Bavaria. Even the Greens themselves would be torn by such a scenario
But the temptations of governing majorities are often seductive for those wishing to be back in power. Following the elections on September 22, they may be stronger than one can currently imagine.
Yet the fact is that the SPD and the Greens now jointly govern the larger states of Lower Saxony, North Rhine-Westphalia, Rhineland-Palatinate, Baden Wuerttemberg (where it is the lead governing party), the city state of Bremen, and in a three-way governing coalition with the South Schleswig Voter Federation (SSW) in Schleswig Holstein. The SPD is the lead governing party in four other states (Brandenburg, Berlin, Mecklenburg Vorpommern, and Hamburg) and is in a governing coalition in Thuringia, Saxony-Anhalt and Saarland. Putting that together would point to a large swath of traction around the country, both east and west. The breath of majorities is thin in several cases, but the fact that the wins in these divergent states attracted different types of voters underscores the momentum both parties currently have.
The challenge will be for both the Greens and the SPD to translate that into a national edge over a popular Chancellor. The SPD’s challenger to Merkel, Peer Steinbrueck, has been hobbled in the past few months by stumbles he has made on the campaign trail. The fact that he did not appear at the Green’s party convention was a tactical move given that he is not the most popular figure in either party right now. But the fact that the Green leaders have sworn allegiance to the shared platform means that they have to hope Steinbrueck will pick up more momentum in the coming months.
The mood of the Republic will be difficult to divine in light of the economic uncertainties ahead. For now, Germany looks to be in fair standing and Merkel is making her case that she has been successful in steering the country through the economic storms. At the same time, she must make clear her defense of the German stake in the euro despite all the criticism raining down on her from outside of Germany—criticism and caricatures of Merkel that might even be helping shore up her support at home. Merkel’s strength is that the Germans might not want to switch horses at this point, even if she is not able to govern with the FDP anymore given the party’s low polling. That would suggest that she might govern again with the Social Democrats—a prospect that may not bother many Germans. The last “grand coalition” was reviewed by many voters as having weathered some storms quite well.
In the end, the elections in September are going to be hard fought between potential coalition partners as well as across political bunkers. Splinter parties may soak up some of the uncertain, unconvinced and unenthusiastic voters, while others might not vote at all.
While most Greens want to hold to their goal of another Red-Green era, the choices may be surprising after all the votes are counted after September 22. In the last few years, the surprises have been going in favor of the SPD and the Greens.
The Green Party convention slogan did read “Germany is renewable”. The question for both the SPD and the Greens, as well as for the electorate, is: what should be renewed five months from now, a previous Red-Green coalition or a renewed agenda for both parties?
Further analysis on the Green Party and its history: