German Greens gear up for September vote
Report from the Berlin Congress
by Phil Hill, German Greens
The second Party congress of the Ger≠man Greens this year was the result of the crowded electoral calendar. After the first party congress in Dortmund in January, at which candidates for the June 4thís European Parliamentary election were nominated, the Greens gathered again in Berlin from May 8 through 10 to pass the program for this Septemberís federal elections. After four years out of power, the party that brought Germanyís epoch-making energy turn-around from nuclear to renewablesóand did much to pass the Kyoto Climate Protocol, wants to get back to work implementing green policies.
The candidates for September have already been nominated at state party conventions, and also already nominated were the “lead candidates” at the federal for the campaignóformer Environment Minister J¸rgen Trittin from Lower Saxony and former Agriculture and Consumer Affairs Minister Renate K¸nast of Berlin. These nominations carry no official weight, but do tell the voting public whom they can expect to see in the cabinet if the Greens become part of a coalition government: people with experience.
Between 1998 and 2005, when Trittin was Environmental Minister during the Red/Green coalition government with the Social Democrats (SPD), he was responsible for the countryís nuclear-power phase-out, scheduled to be completed in 2020, and was one of the key players worldwide in brokering the difficult Kyoto Protocol negotiations. Now he seems slated for the foreign ministry position, formerly held by Green Joschka Fisher, if the voters give their okay.
In her prior role, K¸nast restructured what had been a purely “agribusiness min≠≠istry” into a modern administration that promoted organic farming and upgraded consumer rights to the cabinet level. In a co≠alition government that includes the Greens, she could resume her former position.
A miracle could yet happen and the Greens could find themselves back in power come September.
A Green New Deal
At the Congress, the approximately 700 Green delegates also broke out of these “traditional” areas of expertise and tackled thorny economic and social policy issues. Central was the demand for a Green New Deal, with which the economy could be revitalized by investment in Green production, particularly in the energy area. While that may sound like an echo of Obamaís campaignóand the Greens were happy to make that connection themselves óthe fact is that federal policy in the United States has a long way to go to catch up with the accomplishments just of the last Red-Green government. An American visitor, David Foster, director of the Blue Green Alliance (“blue for blue-collar, a labor-environmental group) addressed the congress at length, saying a green economy and a unionized economy would necessarily go hand-in-hand.
In social policy, with teachers being an important long-time party constituency, the Greens emphasized that education is one of the key elements of a new green social policy, which is based on drawing marginalized people back into society, rather than simply putting them on welfare. After the political and policy disaster of the welfare cuts imposed by the Schrˆder government (with Green participation) in 2003, the Greens have back-pedaled and are demanding increases in the level of welfare benefits, as well as removal of some co-payment provisions in the health-care system.
In foreign policy, the goal will be strengthening international law in order to push back violence as a conflict-resolution tool. As a result of the Kosova War, the party has moved largely towards a consensus on supporting the doctrine of the international communityís “responsibility to protect” people who are endangered by dictatorial oppression and violence, as long as it is under a UN mandate. Thatís a shift away from the pacifist position the party held for many years. In Afghanistan the Greens support German involvement, which has opposed the “bomb first, ask later” approach of the US., emphasizing productive efforts, such as decreasing violence through promoting local development and alternatives to the poppy trade. There is hope among many German Greens Obama will change from this approachóas there is hope for him generallyóbut, of course, the jury is still out.
Greens in Coalition Government?
At a meeting of the leftist caucus, one of the partyís two major wings, there was hardly any controversy, since all the groupís demands seemed to be accepted by the party as a whole. The biggest issue going into the convention was which coalition partners to approach after the electionói.e., how to put the program into practice. Due to the entrenchment of a five-party system since reunification 19 years ago, it has been increasingly difficult to put together a viable coalition here, since the “Left Party,” as the former East German Com≠mu≠nist Party now calls itself, is an unacceptable coalition partner for all except the Greens. This means even a left-of-center majority, which has existed for the past ten years, (the Greens, the Left, plus the large SPD), does not yield a governing majority, since the SPD and the “Left” wonít work together.
The leftist caucus within the Greens wants to change that. But the trouble is that they arenít the ones who can do it. This issue must be worked out between the Left Party and the SPD. The more moderate “Realo” caucus wants to explore possibilities of a coalition with Chancellor Angela Merkelís ruling conservative Christian Demo≠cratic Union (CDU), or the smaller free-market-liberal Free Democrats (FDP).
The compromise reached was that the Greens issued no statement in favor of any particular coalition. They absolutely excluded only a coalition of the CDU, FPD and Greens, but would consider a three-party leftist coalition, a “traffic-light coalition” with the SPD and the FDP (whose party color is yellow), or even a two-way coalition with the CDUótheoretically. But all these combinations are un≠likely given the current party positions on the issues.
The most likely possibility for greening the government is still a two-party “Red/Green” coalition with the SPD. Still the polls, which have improved slightly of late, show that would require about a ten-point shift of support away from the CDU, the FDP and the “Left.” This is not likely, considering Germanyís traditionally stable voter behavior, but this year may be different, thanks to the world economic crisis. If some major earthquake strikes, if the current internal crisis of the “Left” party deepens, and if support for Merkel is seen as eroding in the European election and in several state elections, which will precede the federal vote, a miracle could yet happen and the Greens could find themselves back in power come September.
Phil Hill is a former Green organizer from the United States who now makes his home in Berlin, Germany and is an active member of the German Greens.