Alliance ‘90/The Greens. As in much of the West, the 1960s were a time of great tension in West Germany. A student protest movement arose which campaigned against the stale conservatism of post-war Germany, and its alleged authoritarianism. The protest movement also embraced radical ‘New Left’ stances, in opposition to war, in favour of environmentalism, in opposition to nuclear power and weapons and in favour of feminism.
While they can, by no means, claim to be the sole heir of this movement, the Green Party is largely the modern descendant of it. The party’s former de facto leader, Joschka Fischer was heavily involved in the movement for instance.
The Greens were founded in 1980 with four key principles, social justice, ecological wisdom, grassroots democracy and nonviolence which form the basis of Green ideology worldwide today.
The party first entered the Bundestag in 1983, the first time a fourth party had won seats in thirty years. The early years of the Greens were dominated by the conflict between the realo and fundi factions. The fundis had a fundamentalist interpretation of Green ideology, tending towards veganism and animal rights protest and opposed cooperation with other parties in governing coalitions. The realos, around Joschka Fischer, supported cabinet involvement. Fischer became the first Green minister in a Land government when he became a minister in a SPD-led government in Hesse in 1985. Fischer would later become foreign minister and Vice-Chancellor in a coalition with the SPD in 1998. Despite a few rocky moments (such as internal disagreement over whether to agree to entry into the Kosovo conflict), the Greens were successful in government getting many of their key policies into place. Fischer was frequently named as the most popular politician in Germany and the party, unusually for a junior coalition partner, saw its vote climb in 2002, with many suggesting that Schroeder’s government only won a second term on the back of Green popularity.
In 1993 the Greens merged with Alliance ’90, an alliance of left-liberal East German pro-democracy groups, hence it’s the ‘Alliance ‘90’ party of the Green Party’s name.
The Greens have been particularly successful in Germany, due to the unusual popularity of environmentalist and anti-nuclear stances amongst the German population. It has an unusually stable base of support for a Green party, and has become the preferred coalition partner of the Social Democrats. Due to its success, and its sheer size due to Germany’s high population, the German Greens have been highly influential in the European Green movement. As with the SPD a century before, the Greens have provided assistance to other Green parties and served as an ideological leader and model.
In recent years the Greens saw their popularity climb, with some polls having them as high as the low 20s in the vote. In 2011 they ended half a century of CDU dominance in Baden-Württemberg when they won almost a quarter of the vote on the back of opposition to a widely disliked transport infrastructure project in Stuttgart. Beating the SPD by one seat, they were able to form the first Green-led government in Germany, and the only government in Germany not led by the SPD or CDU/CSU with the SPD as junior coalition partner. The party began to adopt a more centrist, social liberal stance. Arguments began in the party as to the possibility of forming governments with the CDU and coalitions were formed with the CDU in the Lander of Hesse, Hamburg, and Saarland. Portions of the party hoped to be able to eventually place the party into almost permanent government, switching between CDU and the SPD depending on circumstance. Several elements served to scupper this plan. Firstly, relations with the CDU in state coalition governments turned quite sour. Secondly, the brief rise of the Pirate Party led to large portions of the Green’s base abandoning it. While the Pirates quickly collapsed, this illustrated that the party does not have the unconditional loyalty of its base. Thirdly, Merkel, noting the Green Party’s popularity, performed a monumental u-turn and announced the scrapping of all nuclear power plants in the wake of the Fukushima crisis in Japan. In doing so she essentially robbed the party of one of its key issues. The party was left without a unique platform for the 2013 election, and ended up with a dull and uninspiring platform which was largely very similar to the SPD’s. Merkel ruled the Greens out as a coalition partner and while the party could have formed a coalition with the CDU and engaged in talks with the party after the election, it was eventually left to the CDU to form a grand coalition with the SPD. The party also, after four years of extremely good polling, lost 2% of its support on election day 2013.
The party’s base is well-educated, generally in its late 30s and 40s, more female than other parties and predominantly made up of public sector workers.
The Greens are a pro-European party. They are a member of the European Green Party, and have usually formed by far its largest member party. The French Greens Europe Ecologie won one more seat than the German Greens but the party continues to retain significant power in the group and will likely return to the largest party position, even if it loses seats, with the EELV likely to fall away. One of the Greens MEPs, Rebecca Harms, serves as a co-president of the Greens/EFA group, and another, Ska Keller, serves as one of the co-candidates for the Presidency of the European Commission for the group. Unsurprisingly the Green Party is extraordinarily loyal to its group. With 99.8% loyalty the German Greens are not just the most loyal group in the Greens/EFA group, but in the entire European Parliament, though it is worth remembering that due to its leading position within its group it largely has the power to set group direction.