Sunday, September 6, 2009

The Green Luxury

This week one of the most popular German talk shows, named Hart aber fair (“Tough but Fair”), has demonstrated quite plainly the prevailing constellation of the party system: Renate Künast, one of the Green party’s front-runners and chair(wo)man of the parliamentary group, was sitting in the very center of the discussants. Sigmar Gabriel (SPD) and Oskar Lafontaine (The Left) were placed on her left, whereas Guido Westerwelle (FDP) and Roland Koch (CDU) sat on the right side of the panel. This seating arrangement was just perfect to follow the – more or less open – courtship of prospective coalition partners.

In fact the Green party seems to be in a very comfortable position at the first sight. The party not only achieved the best result ever in the European elections last May but also seized parliamentary seats in the recent ballots in Thuringia, Saxony and Saarland. It is represented in twelve of the sixteen Länder parliaments altogether. Only in two of these, however, the Green party is in government. In Bremen they opted for a coalition with the SPD, whereas in Hamburg they built the first coalition with the CDU. The ongoing coalition negotiations in Thuringia and Saxony offer another opportunity to restore them to power, at least at the regional level. On the national level the race is so close, that the Greens might be the necessary third partner to build a majority coalition in parliament.

When Renate Künast proclaimed that “the middle-class in Germany was Green” she referred to the fact that the green electorate is no longer restricted to the alternative, post-materialistic milieus but comes from the urban middle-class of the well-educated, better income establishment. At the same time it is worth noting that the Greens even gain some ground within the more conservative rural population. According to a most recent opinion poll at least 29 percent of the electorate would appreciate a coalition of CDU, FDP and the Green party (which is actually the second best rank at the moment).

At a closer look, however, the situation of the Greens is not so luxurious. Party strategists who tried to promote new coalition scenarios had to realize that the Green party is not yet ready for a coalition with the Christian Democrats and/or the Liberal Democrats. Instead, there are still some substantial conflicts with the liberal-conservative camp, above all the issue of nuclear energy. As a consequence the Green party convention in May rejected a “Jamaica-coalition” (CDU, FDP and Greens) and avoided any commitment for a “traffic light-coalition” (SPD, FDP ad Greens) as well. A coalition with the Left on the national level was repeatedly denied. The preferred revival of the red-green coalition does not seem realistic, yet. In other words: The Green party is in a quite stable up wind but lacks a clear strategic option to come back into power.

The campaign therefore avoids focusing too much on the coalition game. In contrary, Künast, Trittin, Roth, Özdemir et al. try to present the Green party as an independent player. The top slogan: Aus der Krise hilft nur Grün (“Only the Greens will overcome the crisis”) primarily refers to global issues, such as economic, ecological and development policies. The so-called “New Green Deal”, approved by the party convention in November 2008, lists proposals which explicitly distance the Green party from the grand coalition's policies as well as from the Liberal Democrats’. Given the fact that the voter market has become highly-competitive this might be the best strategy to mobilize voters. If there is enough leeway for compromise will be tested when it comes to coalition building.

Manuela Glaab

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