Comeback kids

Once-forgotten Green party a surprise force as election season starts

Bündnis90/Die Grünen mit Europa-Wahlprogramm
Two leaders, one direction. Source: dpa

It’s only been about a year since the latest federal election when pundits wondered if the Green party would even crest the 5 percent hurdle required to get a seat in the Bundestag, Germany’s lower house of parliament. The party, they said, had outlived its purpose, its environmental platform long since adopted by other parties. And anyway, it was just a party of patronizing know-it-alls who wouldn’t be missed.

That’s all changed, even though they only garnered 8.9 percent of the vote in that election, which made them the smallest opposition bloc. After the election, Chancellor Angela Merkel tried to negotiate a government with her conservative CDU, the pro-business FDP and the Greens. The wobbly talks failed after two months of horse-trading but the Greens walked away graciously, looking like the only adults in the room. They have steadily increased in opinion polls since. The environmentalists have now even outstripped the center-left Social Democrats (SPD), Ms. Merkel’s junior coalition partner. And in Bavaria, where elections will be held Sunday, they can hope to become the second-strongest force after the CSU, the Bavarian outpost of Chancellor Merkel’s conservatives.

What happened and how can the Greens hang onto this new-found fame?

There are several reasons for their popularity. First, the governing parties — the CDU/CSU and the SPD — are weak and their constant infighting is growing tiresome. Second, the Greens themselves have stopped the internal quarrels that marred their campaign last year and appear more focused. Co-leaders Annalena Baerbock and Robert Habeck (pictured) have made a clear difference in their six-month tenure. Mr. Habeck, in particular, is regarded as the party’s trump card. He has a rare talent of showing voters that he believes in both short-term victories as well as important issues.

That has long since spread to the party as a whole and its tiny parliamentary group in particular. They’re no longer content to simply be a constant thorn in the side of the government; they have made progress on actual issues, even if those issues aren’t in their traditional environmental boathouse. If the current government coalition were to break up tomorrow, the Greens’ phone would ring off the hook. They have shown little apprehension against working with any German party, other than the far-right AfD. They would likely even re-enter talks with the FDP, who they blame for ruining their shot at a coalition last year.

But what is not, can still become. The new party leadership is in the process of moving the Greens further into the middle. This might open the door to new strata of voters but could also spook their former, rather fundamentalist electorate. But there is potential, undeniably. Not even entrepreneurs count the Greens out any longer.

To contact the author: kersting@handelsblatt.com

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