Home / News / Climate Crisis, Growing Expertise, and Resistance to Populism — Three Reasons for the Success of the German Greens by Elia Panskus

Climate Crisis, Growing Expertise, and Resistance to Populism — Three Reasons for the Success of the German Greens by Elia Panskus

The German Greens are on the rise. The polls see the Greens high up, even up to 26 percent[1]. That would make them the largest caucus in the German Bundestag. By comparison: In the election for the German Bundestag in 2017, the result for the Greens was only 8.9 percent, the smallest caucus in the Parliament.

These are just polls; much will happen before the next election. But the German Greens will be strong in the next Bundestag for sure. And there are simple reasons why: the climate crisis, the Greens’ growing competence in policy, and the Alternative für Deutschland (AfD).

  1. Climate Protection

The Umweltbewusstseinsstudie 2018, a study developed by the German Environment Ministry and the Federal Environment Agency, shows that 64 percent of Germans in 2018 thought the environment and climate protection are “very important.”[2] That means climate protection is within the top three concerns of German citizens. In 2016, climate protection was clearly listed after concerns such as terrorism, migration, and public safety.[3] Today Germans are concerned about climate protection, education, and social justice.

And if climate protection is important to people, they will vote for a party with a positive track record and a commitment to this topic. In May 2016, when Germans were asked what party they trust to have a good environmental and climate policy, 60 percent said they would trust the Greens, followed by the CDU/CSU at 15 percent.[4]

The Umweltbewusstseinsstudie 2018 also shows that just 14 percent of German citizens think that the current government is doing enough for climate protection. This figure has been falling progressively, from 49 percent in 2008 to 34 percent in 2016 to 14 percent last year.[5]

It is only fitting that people are now starting to vote for the Greens. Until other parties demonstrate a strong commitment to climate protection – something that appears unlikely – the Green party will get stronger bit by bit. And this rise will be reinforced with time: The Greens are already the strongest party among Germans from ages 18 to 30.[6] Also, the result of the Juniorwahl 2019, where students could vote, found the Green party in front with nearly 34 percent, followed by the Social Democrats with 12 percent.[7]

  1. Demonstrated Expertise

But the Green party is attractive for voters not only because of climate policy. The Greens have shown expertise in other fields. The most prominent example: economic policy. The long-standing opinion that the Greens aren’t geared to handle economic policy – with some going so far as to say “Die Gruenen koennen keine Wirtschaft” – has dissipated. It is becoming common sense that a healthy economy needs a heathy environment. And the Greens bring these two issues together in ways that other parties don’t.

This showed in the appearance of Annalena Baerbock at the Day of German Industry in June – traditionally a difficult audience for a Green politician. Her speech was very well received.

In October 2018, the Green caucus in the Bundestag established the Economic Advisory Board. Members include representatives of BASF, the Lufthansa Innovation Hub, REWE Group, and thyssenkrupp.[8] The Green Party has pushed to make founding a company easier, particularly in a country with a flourishing Mittelstand. Green legislation in the Bundestag, for example, proposes to support founders financially, dismantle bureaucracy, and promote research from the federal side.[9]

A second example is defense policy. The Green party started as a strictly pacifist party that had problems dealing with the German Bundeswehr and NATO. The party now clearly stands by NATO and the Bundeswehr. The Greens are aware of their international responsibility and their duty to care for soldiers. The Greens also have called for a common European security policy. In this context, Green parliamentarians in the Bundestag gave their consent to several foreign missions, such as UNAMID in Sudan, UNIFIL in Lebanon, and KFOR in Kosovo. Nearly everyone within the Greens agrees that weapon systems are needed in order to keep the Bundeswehr functioning.

The Green party certainly started to open up to new fields as part of the red-green government between 1998 and 2005, because they had to. Especially decisive was the year 1999, when the Greens decided to intervene in the Kosovo conflict. Former Green leader Joschka Fischer said in his speech in May 1999: “This war has been going on since 1992 […] and now there is a point reached, where Bündnis90/Die Grünen are no longer a protest party.”[10] While the Greens do not take decisions on foreign assignments of the Bundeswehr lightly, they do agree to necessary missions even today.

The Greens are more and more aware of their political position in Germany. They are now part of several state governments and therefore are well equipped to handle policy of all kinds. And they do it successfully.

  1. Rising Populism in Germany

And finally, there is a third reason: The Alternative für Deutschland has brought another tone into German politics. Many AfD members use populism, racism, and even relativization of the Third Reich as an instrument to get attention.[11]

While most parties in the Bundestag do not know how to handle the AfD, the Greens have a clear demarcation from the AfD and an anti-populist profile. As other parties try to win back voters by adopting some of the tone and demands of the AfD on migration and other issues, the Green party remains staunchly opposed to the AfD.

Elia Panskus is Speaker for Press and Public Relations for Bundestag Member Ekin Deligöz (Greens). He is currently conducting research on the influence of social media on politics as part of the ACG’s 2019 Carl Duisberg Fellowship for Future German Transatlanticists.

[1] ARD Deutschlandtrend from 7/04/2019
[2] Umweltbewusstseinsstudie 2018, p. 17.
[3] Umweltbewusstseinsstudie 2016, p. 17.
[4] Statista.com from 5/04/2016
[5] Umweltbewusstseinsstudie 2018, p. 16.
[6] ZDF/Forschungsgruppe Wahlen from 5/26/2019
[7] Juniorwahl 2019
[8] Website of Grüner Wirtschaftsbeirat, Die Mitglieder
[9] Application Bündnis90/Die Grünen „Für eine Gründerkultur in Deutschland“
[10] Joschka Fischer on 5/12/1999 at the party convention in Bielefeld
[11] „Die AfD vor der Bundestagswahl 2017“ by the Otto Brenner Stiftung

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