BERLIN — While other mainstream political parties in Germany flounder in polls and struggle to answer a far-right challenge, the Greens have gained strength as a magnet for liberal-minded voters.
Offering a compassionate approach to migration, a pro-European Union stance and an emphasis on fighting climate change and protecting biodiversity, the party appears poised for an unprecedented second-place finish in traditionally conservative Bavaria in a state election Sunday. It is polling strongly ahead of an election in neighbouring Hesse two weeks later.
Nationally, some recent polls have shown the Greens level with the Social Democrats, traditionally Germany’s main centre-left party.
The Greens have new, dynamic and relatively young leaders, a pragmatic approach that has made them a partner to parties from the centre-right to the hard left in nine of Germany’s 16 state governments, and clear stances on central issues.
Unlike its mainstream rivals, the party doesn’t have to worry much about losing supporters to the far-right Alternative for Germany, or AfD, which entered the national parliament last year and has been the other main beneficiary as the government bogs down in infighting.
“They have settled pretty well into the big niche of higher-earning big city dwellers with global awareness,” daily newspaper Sueddeutsche Zeitung wrote in an editorial.
The newspaper noted “they have an existential issue in climate protection” and said that they appear to be on the way to replacing the struggling Social Democrats — conservative Chancellor Angela Merkel’s junior partners in an unhappy “grand coalition” government of Germany’s traditional political heavyweights — as “a new major party.”
The Greens’ election slogan in Bavaria is “Give courage instead of spreading fear.” Party co-leader Robert Habeck recently lamented a “brutalization of political discourse,” adding: “We think the only way of answering that is to no longer let ourselves be driven by fear of making mistakes or by fear of AfD.”
The Greens were keen to enter government under Merkel last year, although that required difficult compromises with her conservatives and the pro-business Free Democrats, both traditional opponents.
The Free Democrats pulled the plug after weeks of talks, but the Greens’ willingness to govern appears to have paid off. National polls show their support as high as 18 per cent, compared with 8.9 per cent in the 2017 election. AfD, which won 12.6 per cent last year, is polling at similar levels.
The Greens’ current flexibility would have been hard to imagine in 1983 when the Greens, then a protest party with a penchant for beards and sunflowers, first took their seats in the German parliament.
From 1998 to 2005, they governed Germany as the junior coalition partner to Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder, a Social Democrat. Joschka Fischer, a one-time left-wing militant and taxi driver, served as a popular foreign minister.
At present, the Greens are benefiting from the weakness of the Social Democrats, their traditional partners. They also partner with Merkel’s Christian Democrats in four state governments. Those include southwestern Baden-Wuerttemberg, a traditional conservative stronghold run since 2011 by Green governor Winfried Kretschmann.
Even a coalition with Bavaria’s hardline conservatives appears conceivable after the …read more