German Greens at 30, world’s No. 1 green party

January 13, 2010

GERMANY/Germany’s Greens party celebrated their 30th birthday on Wednesday.

The world’s most successful environmental party spent seven of those 30 years as junior partner in the government of one of the world’s biggest industrial nations and are now part of three state governments. They were the driving force behind the country’s Renewable Energy Act (EEG) 10 years ago that has made Germany the world’s leader in wind energy and photovoltaic and the world’s first major renewable-energy economy — laws promoting the development of renewable energy that led to the creation of some 280,000 jobs in the last decade.

Despite their rather chaotic and inauspicious start on Jan. 13, 1980, the Greens have matured into one of Germany’s major political forces and formed a centre-left government with the Social Democrats in 1998 — even though they ended up on the opposition benches again in 2005. An opinion poll published in Stern magazine today showed 63 percent of Germans believe the Greens are indispensible.

The Greens won 10.7 percent of the vote in September federal election, their highest score ever. They would win 14 percent of the vote if an election were held this Sunday, the Stern poll also found. That makes them the third largest party in Germany at the moment. But more important than their seats in the federal, state and local assemblies, the Greens have become an established force in Germany with clout that goes far beyond their numbers.

Every major party in Germany — from Chancellor Angela Merkel’s conservatives on the right to the Left party on the far-left wing — have borrowed and even tried to usurp green ideas for their own party platforms. Their once radical demands have long since become mainstream. For example, all parties in Germany now favour renewable energy (after seeing how many jobs it can create) and everyone in Germany dutifully separates their trash into four different bins — paper, plastics, glass and other waste.

The Greens, who have now begun forming coalitions with the conservatives as well despite their left-leaning roots, are probably the most coveted and flexible party in Germany’s five-party landscape right now at a time when climate change has helped make green parties more popular in a number of industrialised countries around the world.

“It’s been a pleasure during our 30-year celebrations to see how the other parties are all chasing after us now,” said Greens co-leader Cem Oezdemir. “They’re welcome to court us.” The Greens in Germany were founded in 1980 by a diverse group of environmental and peace activists, leftists and anti-nuclear demonstrators.

GERMANY GREENSThey first won seats in parliament in the 1983 federal election, stunning the established parties that at first eschewed their very existence. They wore woolly sweaters, thick beards and were proud of their muesli-eating traditions. Many put flowers on their parliament desks and some brought their knitting equipment in to work on more wool scarves, socks and sweaters.

“At the time no one would have placed a bet that the Greens would even still be around a year later, let alone 30 years later with these women wearing farmers’ overalls and unshaven men,” wrote Bild newspaper columnist Franz Josef Wagner in a tribute in Germany’s best-selling daily on Wednesday. “But you’ve become a great and important party. I’ve even voted for the Greens twice. You’ve changed our country — for the better.”

PHOTOS: Greens co-leader Cem Oezdemir (top) receives a present for his infant son — a sheep fleece for his pram — at a Greens party meeting this week (REUTERS: Wolfgang Rattay) while Greens party members show their displeasure at a typically rowdy Greens party meeting in Karlsruhe in 2000 (REUTERS: Kai Pfaffenbach)

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