Greens' push for conservative vote gives Merkel headache

Tue Jan 29, 2013 11:16am EST
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By Gareth Jones

BERLIN (Reuters) - Germany's Greens are on a roll after a big jump in their support in a regional election this month confirmed the growing mainstream appeal of a party once seen as a fringe leftist movement but which now poses a challenge to Angela Merkel.

Worryingly for the conservative Chancellor ahead of a federal election in September, support for the Greens is spreading from the cities to rural areas once dominated by her Christian Democrats.

In Lower Saxony on Jan 20. the Greens won 14 percent of the vote - up from 8 percent in 2008 - by focusing on local concerns about factory farming, nuclear waste and social issues.

Today's Greens - Europe's most successful ecological party - are a far cry from the muesli-munching, sandal-wearing peaceniks of popular mythology.

Long popular among high-earning urban professionals with a social conscience, they are now casting their net more widely by stressing 'conservative values' such as fiscal responsibility.

"We targeted not just our core supporters in Lower Saxony but all those who want real change, including in the rural areas," said Renate Kuenast, a Green leader in the German parliament.

"We have changed over the past decades from a party focused on particular groups, like the peace movement or human rights, because the country has changed and we had to change, to widen our appeal," said the former farm minister.

Their success in Lower Saxony, a sprawling industrial and agricultural hub, has reignited talk of the Greens sharing power with Merkel's conservatives in the autumn, though party leaders play this down for fear of upsetting core supporters.   Continued...

File photo of German Green Party co-leader Claudia Roth holding up a scarf reading: "Green will win" after her re-election at the party convention of the Green Party in Hanover, November 17, 2012. REUTERS/Fabian Bimme/Files