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Germany’s Greens trade in woolly sweaters for business suits

September 11, 2009

Having traded in their woolly sweaters, jeans and sandals for dapper suits and shiny shoes, Germany’s Greens are ready for business, claiming that to be the “party that truly knows its economics”.

The world’s most successful environmental party is eager to get back into power at the federal election on Sept. 27 after a first stint in coalition with the Social Democrats (SPD) from 1998 to 2005.

(Photo: Leaders of Germany’s Greens party address a news conference in Berlin, April 20, 2009, Reuters/Tobias Schwarz)

The Greens hope that by developing a plan for economic growth, rather than just focussing on the ecology, they will broaden their appeal for voters.

“We are the party that truly knows its economics,” said Renate Kuenast, one of the party’s leading politicians, at a campaign rally in Stuttgart. “We are the party which brings together economics and the environment, as the environment has so much to offer to the economy.”

The concept is a enticing one, but I spoke with a couple of political analysts who were sceptical about the Greens’ new tack. “The Greens have attempted to add new competences beyond ecology to their electoral program, notably social and economic policy,” said Gero Neugebauer, political scientist at Berlin’s Free University.

“But this is only theoretical because they haven’t been able to prove them anywhere.”

Still, recent flagship projects — such as a 400 billion euro plan by a consortium of finance and industrial firms mostly from Germany to power Europe with sunlight — have reduced the perception that Green ideas are at odds with business interests, or pie in the sky.

Moreover, the perception that the global economic crisis is the result of the pursuit of short-term profit could work in the Greens’ favour, as they campaign for more sustainable economic growth.

(Photo: Workers build a thermo-solar power plant in Beni Mathar, August 20, 2009, Reuters/Rafael Marchante)

“Green policies are the only way out of the crisis,” read campaign posters plastered on billboards throughout Germany, which is slowly emerging from its deepest post-war recession.

I had the chance to speak with Cem Oezdemir, the new face of the Greens, having a break by the bar before taking to the stage and holding a speech before hundreds of supporters.

“Environmental policies create jobs, they don’t threaten them,” said Oezdemir, looking trendy and business-like, with his trademark sideburns and dark, tailored suit.

In their election manifesto, the Greens have promised the creation of one million jobs including 400,000 in renewable energy and other areas of environmental protection such as ecological agriculture.

They say there is a need to foster economic sustainability and innovation rather than plough money into the auto sector, for example, which is churning out gas-guzzling cars that nobody wants.

 Ultimately though, developing environmentally friendly alternative technologies takes time. So, the question remains whether voters are willing to look beyond their short-term interests towards a more sustainable, Green future? And are Green policies truly compatible with business interests?

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