Greens party soars to new heights in Germany

September 17, 2010

Germany’s Greens party are already the world’s most successful environmental party — having spent seven GERMANY GREENS/years in government of one of the world’s largest economies as junior coalition partners to the centre-left Social Democrats. The Greens wrote Germany’s renewable energy law that helped the country become a major player in wind and solar energy technology between 1998 and 2005 — and the party is chiefly responsible for raising the share of renewable energy to 16 percent of the country’s total electricity consumption.

Although in opposition since 2005, the Greens’ popularity has nevertheless soared to record levels over 20 percent in recent months and the party – which only recently celebrated its 30th anniversary – is doing so well in opinion polls that they could possibly end up heading coalitions in two state elections next year ahead of the SPD in Baden-Wuerttemberg and the city-state of Berlin. 

Pollsters say the Greens are benefitting from an increasing awareness in environmental issues, such as climate change and the public’s opposition to government plans to extend nuclear power in Germany beyond 2021. The Greens are also profiting from voter frustration over broken promises by the ruling parties.

So what’s their secret? Why is the unabashedly pro-environment party so successful in an industrial nation like Germany? We got the chance to chat with the co-chairman of the Greens, Cem Oezdemir, who explained why the Greens are doing so well –but also warned that good opinion polls do not always translate into good election results.

“We’re thrilled about the good run in opinion polls but there’s no danger of us getting arrogant about it like the other parties might,” Greens party co-chairman Cem Oezdemir said in an interview with Reuters at the Greens’ party headquarters in Berlin – under a roof with a photovoltaic system on top. “We’re not going to suddenly start changing our positions according to how the political winds are blowing. We’re sticking to our guns and concentrating on our core issues. We’re not going to squander our political capital and we’re not going to make promises before elections that we forget about after the elections.”

That, in essence, is why the Greens have climbed to around 20 percent in national opinion polls this year from the 10.7 percent they won in the last federal election. Chancellor Angela Merkel’s centre-right coalition has, by contrast, lost credibility and plunged in the polls because many of the pre-election promises the ruling parties made were quickly scuppered after the vote. Pollster and analysts agree the Greens have taken advantage of the weaknesses of the other parties.

The Greens have also been helped by such things as their consistent opposition to a new rail station in the southwestern city of Stuttgart that will cost billions of euros. They are the only party that has argued against the mammoth project from the start and, because most voters in the state are also opposed, have gained from that stance.

As my colleague Dave Graham noted, the Greens are confident they can take control over the state governments in Baden-Wuerttemberg and Berlin next year — a sensational breakthrough for a party that has until now been seen as a small splinter party.

The Greens are also riding high in the polls because they have broken free from their traditional centre-left partners, the SPD, to form a centre-right government in the city-state of Hamburg with Merkel’s Christian Democrats. The so-called “black-green” government in Hamburg with the conservative party (whose party colour is black) has opened the Greens up to new voter groups, analysts say. Oezdemir says they are still the natural allies of the SPD but in a country where no party is strong enough to rule along and allies are needed, the Greens have now opened the door to centre-right alliances. They are also in a three-way coalition in Saarland with the CDU and liberal Free Democrats, a “black-yellow-green” government.

“It shows that we’re not slaves to any one party,” Oezdemir said when asked if he thought the CDU-Greens alliance in the port city had helped the Greens attract conservative voters. “We’re not the SPD-Greens. We’re the Greens. And that means we want to bring as much green content into a government as possible. That works for the most part more easily with the SPD because we have quite a bit in common. But when the math for a SPD-Greens government doesn’t add up or when the content doesn’t mesh, we’re open to other coalitions. We’re not an attachment of the SPD.”

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