In April 2021 Annalena Baerbock was named the Green party's first-ever chancellor candidate, emphasizing at a press conference on Monday the unanimity with which she and co-leader Robert Habeck had made the decision, and the clarity of their purpose, first formulated at a party conference three years ago: To become a new big tent party for Germany. The 40-year-old stepped into the limelight at a party conference early in 2018. Wearing a black leather jacket, the still little-known regional politician — a resident of the eastern state of Brandenburg — stepped to the fore and wowed the delegates who had just made her one of the party's two co-leaders alongside Robert Habeck. Under their joint stewardship, the party has appeared a model of calm professionalism; common flare-ups between the party’s “realist” and “fundamentalist” factions have been subdued.
The 40-year-old has sharpened her political profile and projected herself as an expert on how to tackle climate change. She's spoken out on the threats posed by far-right populism and xenophobia. She wants to see Germany phasing out coal-powered energy far earlier than the current target date of 2038. She also backs a speed limit of 130 kilometers per hour (80 miles per hour) on the "autobahn," as German highways are known. She also opposes a hike in German defense spending. This left little room for doubt that any potential coalition between Greens under Baerbock and the conservatives could be a volatile arrangement. Her candidacy came at a moment when worries about climate change, frustration with the government’s pandemic response, and fatigue at 15 years of conservative rule have propelled the Greens to likely king-makers once votes are counted later this year.
Germany's Greens had overtaken the conservatives to become the most popular party in Germany, an opinion poll on 01 June 2019 showed, with SPD support hitting an all-time low. Ideologically, the Greens in Germany are a similar equivalent to the identically named party in the United States. Both hate nuclear power plants and coal, love trees and wind turbines, and want to recycle everything under the sun. But whereas the American Greens are a marginal curiosity, of interest chiefly when they are seen by Democrats as a threat to their presidential majorities, Die Grünen are an established part of the German political mainstream.
This is a clear example of how systemic differences shape political landscapes. With all German parties getting more than 5 percent of the vote given proportional representation in parliament, a vote for the Greens in Germany is by no means a vote wasted in terms of winning a seat at the table. Support for Die Grünen has declined since Germany's phase-out of nuclear power robbed them of their signature issue, but they are still set to be part of a coalition in the next government.
In the early years of the FRG, several minor parties representing a range of political views from the neo-Nazi right to the communist left played a role in the political system. Support for these parties dwindled over time, and, after 1961, the FDP was the only smaller party to cross the 5 percent threshold necessary to gain Bundestag representation. The presence of the 5 percent clause in federal, Land , and most local election laws was a significant reason for the decline of minor parties. The major parties have encouraged this trend by sponsoring certain regulations--for instance, in the areas of federal financing for political parties and procedures for nominating party candidates--that have also made it more difficult for minor parties to survive.
A challenge to West Germany's established party system emerged in 1983 when a relatively new party, the Greens (Die Grünen), entered the Bundestag. The Green movement had been gaining support steadily since the late 1970s, and by the end of 1982 the Greens were represented in six of West Germany's eleven Land parliaments. The Greens' platform gave priority to environmental concerns and an end to the use of nuclear energy as a power source. The party also opposed the stationing of United States intermediate-range nuclear weapons in Western Europe. On the basis of this platform, the Greens won 5.6 percent of the vote in the 1983 federal election. The success of the Greens at the federal level--which continued in the 1987 national election with the party winning 8.3 percent of the vote--led to a "greening" of the established parties, with environmental awareness increasing across the political spectrum. The Greens also livened up the Bundestag, appearing in jeans and sweaters rather than business suits and bringing plants into proceedings.
The Greens were plagued by a split between the Realos (realists) and the Fundis (fundamentalists). The Realos are pragmatists who want to serve as a constructive opposition and ultimately exercise power. The more radical Fundis are committed to a fundamental restructuring of society and politics; they do not want to share power with the Social Democrats--their obvious allies--or in any way legitimate the existing political system.
The Greens did not embrace the unification of Germany and opposed any automatic extension of West German economic and political principles to the east. The West German Greens chose not to form an electoral alliance with their eastern counterparts, Alliance 90 (Bündnis 90), prior to the 1990 elections because of their opposition to union. This lack of enthusiasm for unification alienated the Greens from much of their own constituency. The party's chances for success in the December 1990 all-Germany election were further undermined by the SPD's choice of Lafontaine as its candidate for chancellor. Lafontaine moved the SPD to the left, successfully co-opting "green" issues. The West German Greens received only 4.8 percent of the vote in the 1990 election, an outcome that left them with no seats in the Bundestag. Alliance 90, composed largely of former dissidents and focusing heavily on civil rights, received 6 percent of the eastern vote and therefore received eight seats in the Bundestag. Had these two parties run in coalition, they could have secured about forty parliamentary seats.
Alliance 90 had grown out of the major human rights groups that demonstrated against the communist system and effectively brought down the Berlin Wall in 1989. Like the West German Greens, Alliance 90 had not wanted quick unity with the west either, but the sentiment of the majority of eastern Germans was clear. With the peaceful revolution, a political alliance of citizens originated in the German Democratic Republic and East Berlin. On 7 February 1990 the citizen movements New Forum (Neues Forum), Democracy Now (Demokratie Jetzt) and Initiative for Peace and Human Rights (Initiative Frieden und Menschenrechte) merged into the Alliance 90 (Bündnis 90). In September 1990, the alliance became a party in the five East German states. In May 1993 the Green Party (including the Alternative List Berlin and the Green Alternative List Hamburg) and Alliance 90 joined into Alliance 90/The Greens (Bündnis 90/Die Grünen).
Young middle-class voters living in urban areas form the core of support for the West German Greens. Alliance 90 also receives much of its support from this group, although one-third of its supporters are over fifty years of age. Employees of the public sector are disproportionately strong supporters of both parties. Election results suggest that neither working-class voters nor independent businesspeople are likely to vote for either party.
The devastating loss for the West German Greens in the 1990 election brought the conflict between Realos and Fundis to a head, with the pragmatic wing emerging as victor. The party conference in April 1991 ratified a set of Realo reforms. In the series of Land elections that followed (Hesse, Rhineland-Palatinate, Hamburg, and Bremen), the Greens did well. This trend continued in 1992 as the Greens received an impressive 9.5 percent of the vote in the wealthy, southwestern Land of Baden-Württemberg. In the rural, northwestern Land of Schleswig-Holstein, the Greens garnered 4.97 percent of the vote, coming within 397 votes of surpassing the 5 percent hurdle.
In January 1993, the West German Greens merged with Alliance 90 in preparation for the spate of federal and Land elections scheduled for 1994. The new party is listed officially as Alliance 90 / Greens (Bündnis 90 / Die Grünen), but members informally call it the Greens.
Overall, the Greens performed well in the series of Land elections in 1994. Following the 1994 national election, with 7.3 percent of the vote, the Greens emerged as the third strongest party in the federal parliament. The obvious coalition partner for the Greens is the SPD, though one increasingly hears talk of possible CDU/Green coalitions. Indeed, the Greens have moderated many of their positions, a reflection of the dominance in the party of the Realos. The best known figure in the party was Joschka Fischer, a prominent Realo and a former environment minister in the Land of Hesse.
It was only in the territory of the former GDR that the Greens, in a merger with Alliance 90 (a loose grouping civil rights activists with diverse political views), were able to clear the 5% hurdle and win Bundestag seats. In 1994, Greens from East and West returned to the Bundestag with 7.3% and 49 seats in 1998; despite a slight fall in percentage of the vote (6.7%), the Greens retained 47 seats and joined of the federal government for the first time in coalition with the SPD. Joschka Fischer became vice chancellor and foreign minister in the new government, which had two other Greens ministers.
Upon their victory in the October 1998 elections, the Social Democrats had been out of power in Bonn for 16 years, and the Greens had never been there at all. Neither party had ministers with any experience of federal office, so it was not surprisingthat they should take time to settle in. In power the Greens were models of fiscal and foreign-policy rectitude. Joschka Fischer, the Green foreign minister, waded into NATO strategy, calling into question the alliance's long resistance to a pledge against the first use of nuclear weapons. Several Greens attacked Schröder and his interior minister, Mr Schily, for saying Germany could take no more immigrants; and Jürgen Trittin, the Green environment minister, proposed more regulation of Germany's 19 nuclear power stations before their eventual shut-down.
In 1998, nearly two decades after its founding, the party advanced into the inner realms of power. Joschka Fischer was named foreign minister, and along with its coalition partner, the SPD, the Greens ruled the country for seven years. It was during this time that the Green party experienced the first major turning point in its history: Fischer endorsed Germany's participation in the Kosovo War — marking the first time since WWII that German soldiers would be involved in a combat mission. The party of strict pacifists were troubled as they reluctantly followed his lead. The frayed unity was illustrated when a protester hurled a bag of paint at Fischer during a party convention.
At the time, Kellner was brand new to the Green party and strongly opposed Fischer's stance. After Fischer's victory at the 1999 party convention in Bielefeld, Kellner thought long and hard about whether he should resign from the party. He ultimately chose to stay on. What the Greens stood for, at their core, was more important to him "because we introduced a unique idea to politics,” he says, "namely the idea that it's important to people to bring the issues of environmental protection and the preservation of nature, and climate protection, to the center of politics," says Kellner. "None of the other parties — the Social Democrats, the conservatives or the free-market liberals — were addressing any of that."
Even before all this, when the party was still part of the political opposition, there was another crucial turning point: when the Greens got an eastern kindred spirit. Various civil rights movements, including the New Forum political movement, formed Alliance 90. But it wasn't until much later, in May 1993, that the two parties joined forces to become Alliance 90/The Greens — as they are officially known today. Even to this day, however, the Greens have yet to really make their mark in eastern parts of the country. The party's election results there are consistently well below those in the west, especially when compared to the major cities of former West Germany.
Another milestone under the Greens-led government was the phasing out of nuclear power in Germany. After a long, hard struggle, business and political leaders reached an agreement in 2002 to shut down reactors and phase out nuclear power by 2020. For current party co-leader Annalena Baerbock, then 22, it was a defining moment. Looking back, Baerbock says it was an example of how politics can trigger change, even when there is big resistance. When the SPD-Greens coalition achieved nuclear withdrawal, "That's when I saw that Greens participation in government achieved what the party has been fighting for for years." A subsequent government went on to reverse the decision to phase out nuclear power, but then, in the wake of the Fukushima nuclear disaster in 2011, the exit was reinstated and made final.
The Green party has since experienced an upswing in the polls and then landed a spectacular win in Baden-Württemberg state elections, with Winfried Kretschmann becoming the first-ever Green Minister-President of any German state. Ever since climate change climbed to the top of the political agenda, the Greens have consistently scored 20% and higher in the polls, and by 2020 they co-governed 11 of Germany's 16 states. In European elections last year, they achieved a record-breaking 20.5% of votes among Germans. They had a surge in popularity over the past five years. Even though their critics often brand them as a "party of prohibition," many young people are signing up to join, with membership now topping 100,000.
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