Germany's Greens: from unelectable to unavoidable

Mon Nov 7, 2011 12:55pm EST
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By Stephen Brown

BERLIN (Reuters) - The Greens have grown out of their woolly jumpers and sandals and turned enough fellow Germans on to environmentalism to make the party -- already the world's most successful green movement -- the possible kingmakers in the 2013 elections.

Founded three decades ago by rebels from the 1968 student movement, 'ban-the-bomb' peaceniks, ecologists and feminists, the Greens got their first taste of power from 1998 to 2005 under Gerhard Schroeder's Social Democrats (SPD).

But they have come into their own in the past year. A strong run of local elections gave them a presence in all 16 regional assemblies for the first time as well as their first state premier, Winfried Kretschmann, who ousted Chancellor Angela Merkel's Christian Democrats (CDU) in conservative Baden-Wuerttemberg.

The progressive "greening" of German politics, with even Merkel converted to the anti-nuclear cause after the disaster at Fukushima and now in a hurry to shut down atomic power plants, has given the party broad appeal in the mainstream.

"We have shown that economics and ecology don't contradict each other -- which is a quantitative leap forward," said party co-leader Claudia Roth in an interview.

"People used to say 'we can afford the Greens when times are good, but when it's a matter of jobs of growth, it's not the Greens you need'," said Roth.

The party has climbed to historic highs in opinion polls in the past year of 15-20 percent, from 10.7 percent in the last elections in 2009.

It has now surpassed the current junior coalition partners, the Free Democrats (FDP), to become the third force in a system that has been dominated by the conservatives, now at around 32 percent, and the SPD, who poll as much as 30 percent.   Continued...

<p>Green Party members Theresa Schopper, Claudia Roth and Margarthe Bause (L-R) toast during the opening ceremony for the 178th Oktoberfest in Munich September 17, 2011. The world's biggest beer fest runs until October 3. REUTERS/Michael Dalder</p>