German politics are turning green in an unpredictable way


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Like no other Western democracy, Germany is synonymous with political stability, moderation and continuity of leadership. Since the creation of the Federal Republic in 1949, only eight chancellors of two political parties have governed the country: five Christian Democrats and three Social Democrats. When Chancellor Angela Merkel takes her leave after the Bundestag elections in September, she will have governed for almost 16 years, 12 of which in “grand coalitions” uniting her CDU with the SPD.

Yet the impending elections are pushing German politics in an unknown and unpredictable direction. The CDU is struggling, unable to find a convincing successor to Merkel and damaged by corruption scandals. The government is struggling to overcome the Covid-19 crisis and reopen the economy. Merkel’s weighted centrism and personal authority drew her to risk-averse German voters in four elections from 2005 to 2017, but over time they eroded the CDU’s ability to come up with new ideas and leadership.

The fragmentation of the post-1949 political order in the Merkel era makes it risky to predict which party mix will come to power after the elections. But it is no longer inconceivable that the CDU, whose lead is dwindling in the polls, will enter the opposition. On the other hand, it seems likely that the next government will include the Greens, elevated by the decline of the SPD, to the status of the main challenger of the CDU.

For this reason, the electoral platform project of the Greens, published last month, deserves attention. In power, the party could make a difference in German foreign, security and economic policy, especially if either Annalena baerbock or Robert Habeck, the party’s co-leaders, will become chancellor. It is the Chancellery rather than the Foreign Ministry, usually occupied by a politician from a junior coalition party, that defines Germany’s international role the most today.

A proposal from the Greens stands out. The party wants stop the Nord Stream 2 gas pipeline project to import Russian gas across the Baltic Sea, an initiative dear to Merkel. The Greens are pleading their cause not only for environmental reasons, but “because it causes damage at the geopolitical level – especially given the situation in Ukraine”. The Greens are more aligned on the controversial gas pipeline issue with the eastern neighbors of the United States and Germany, such as the Baltic States and Poland, than with the CDU.

The Greens also look harsher than the other parties about China. They hope to cooperate with Beijing on climate change, but do not mince their words to denounce “gross human rights violations in Xinjiang, Tibet and increasingly in Hong Kong.” It should be remembered that they were the only German party to speak out last year against Merkel’s decision to speed up an EU-China investment deal – a deal that could struggle to gain the approval of the European Parliament because of the treatment inflicted by Beijing on the Uyghurs of Xinjiang.

In terms of economic policy too, the Greens are attacking the orthodoxies of the Merkel era. Calling for reform From the constitutionally enshrined “debt brake” which imposes balanced budgets or surpluses in normal times, they question a cornerstone of German fiscal policy during the eurozone debt crisis.

They want less rigid fiscal rules in order to increase investment in, for example, broadband internet connections – an area where they describe Germany, not without reason, as being “among the bottom of the class in the EU”.

Indeed, the Greens formulate two criticisms with regard to the long period in power of the CDU. First, Merkel’s party avoided serious economic reforms, preferring to ride a wave of welfare generated by the welfare state and the labor market. SPD-Vert government initiatives who ruled from 1998 to 2005. Second, German policy towards China and Russia has become too subservient to commercial interests and has been slow to become aware of the geopolitical challenge posed to Europe and the transatlantic alliance by authoritarian powers.

Whether the Greens can have an impact will depend on the outcome of the elections and, if they come to power, with whom they govern. Nord Stream 2, the debt brake and more tolerant Greens migration policies are three potential obstacles to a CDU-Greens coalition.

The views of small parties matter too. The Liberal Democrats don’t like what they describe as the Greens’ penchant for “more debt and more taxes”. This could defeat a coalition “at the traffic lights” uniting the SPD and the FDP, whose respective colors are red and yellow, with the Greens.

As for an all-left coalition, that might be even more difficult to form. Neither the Greens nor the SPD share the challenge Die Linke’s anti-NATO position, a leftist party rooted in the former communist East Germany.

The Greens have matured a lot since their exit from the civic protest movements which swept West Germany after 1968. They see themselves as the builders of a united Europe, defenders of liberal values ​​and faithful to the Atlantic alliance.

Yet German governments are invariably coalitions. If the Greens remain in power, they will have to compromise. Germany’s allies will be watching to what extent the Greens dilute their plans for the sake of returning to power.

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