PARTY POLITICS

The New Market Friendly Eco-Liberals

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Simone Peter (left) and Cem Özdemir, co-heads of the new, more business friendly Green Party.
  • Why it matters

    Why it matters

    The Green Party is embracing business and the free market as paths to a clean economy instead of viewing them as obstacles.

  • Facts

    Facts

    • Cem Özdemir and Simone Peter were re-elected as co-heads of the Green Party.
    • The Green Party, first elected to the Bundestag in 1983, now co-governs in nine of Germany’s 16 state governments.
    • In Hessen, the left-of-center Greens govern as the junior partner in a coalition with the conservative Christian Democrats, a possible future model.
  • Audio

    Audio

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The Greens aren’t known for being great friends of the business community. After being reelected party head by a wide margin, Cem Özdemir had to tell his fellow environmentalists that they shouldn’t pretend “as if earning money is a bad thing per se.”

The 700 delegates at the Green Party’s Sunday conference listened to Mr. Özdemir. They endorsed a new and potentially transformative platform called the “Green New Deal,” which seeks to harness the power of the free market to usher in an era of clean energy.

The idea is to advance Germany’s transition away from fossil fuels by encouraging businesses to go green with a series of carrots and sticks. Companies that don’t move toward greater sustainability would face the threat of higher emissions standards and the withdrawal of public subsidies.

According to Kerstin Andreae, an economy expert in the Green Party’s parliamentary group, some businesses are actually calling for stronger emissions standards, saying it bolsters their competitiveness.

“We will look at which branches and companies are a part of the problem and which are a part of the solution,” Ms. Andreae said of the party’s new business platform.

The party endorsed the "great potential of the market" to create innovations in production that no longer harm the planet, and tax-funded support for small and mid-sized companies to conduct research.

In return for a commitment to sustainability, the Greens would offer the business community “dependability and predictability,” Mr. Özdemir said at the conference on Sunday.

The party endorsed the “great potential of the market” to create innovations in production that no longer harm the planet, and tax-funded support for small and mid-sized companies to conduct research.

It’s a significant ideological shift for the Green Party, which emerged from the peace and anti-nuclear movements of the 1970s. The party, which first won representation in the Bundestag in 1983, was founded on anti-establishment, post-materialist principles that put them at odds with business.

“What’s decisive for us is what a company produces and in which direction it’s developing,” said Tarek al-Wazir, Hessen’s economy minister and a member of the Green Party, told Handelsblatt.

“If a company wants subsidies for brown coal, then we are decisively against that,” Mr. Al-Wazir said. “If a chemicals company develops new insulation material or a company is banking on saving resources, then that’s exactly in our direction.”

The Greens left-wing politics made them natural allies of the Social Democrats, Germany’s traditional party of labor. From 1998 until 2005, the Greens governed as the junior partners in a coalition with Chancellor Gerhard Schröder’s increasingly market friendly Social Democrats.

Nine of Germany’s 16 state governments are now co-governed by the Greens. As support for the Social Democrats has eroded and the Christian Democrats have surged, the Greens have begun to look for other avenues to power.

The business friendly makeover increases the chances that the environmentalists could govern in a coalition with the conservative Christian Democrats after the 2017 federal elections. The two parties, normally viewed as on the opposite ends of the political spectrum, already govern in a coalition in the state of Hessen.

“If the traditional alliances don’t suffice after the elections, then we should talk with everyone and see with whom we can implement enough Green content,” Mr. al-Wazir said. “I assume that talks with the Christian Democrats in 2017, if it came to that, would be much more serious on both sides than in 2013.”

“We are the official outfitters of the energy revolution in Germany.”

Hans-Peter Wollseifer,, head of the artisans chamber

The party’s national leadership is also open to the idea. Simone Peter, reelected as the party’s co-chief along with Mr. Özdemir during Sunday’s conference, said the Greens wouldn’t rule out any partners.

Given a chance to implement their new agenda in 2017, the Greens say they would promote competition by breaking up concentrations of economic power through stronger anti-trust laws in Germany and a monopolies commission at the European level.

The party has already won at least one ally: Hans-Peter Wollseifer, head of the artisans chamber, attended Sunday’s conference. Mr. Wollseifer said that artisans think “in generations and not in quarterly figures.”

“We are the official outfitters of the energy revolution in Germany,” Mr. Wollseifer said.

Despite the efforts to court business, the Greens still support higher taxes, though they are holding off on specifics until 2016. A raft of tax increases proposed during the 2013 election cycle sparked massive criticism.

What’s clear is that they support a wealth tax and an inheritance tax. Rules that allow married couples to reduce their tax burden by equally dividing their joint income also would be done away with. Some things never change.

 

Barbara Gillmann is a Handelsblatt correspondent. To reach her: b.gillmann@handelsblatt.com.

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