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2017 Election

Call for 'prescription sex' highlights division among Germany's Greens

Entering election year, Germany's political discussion has been dominated by domestic security. The Greens' call for a controversial medical expense is proof of division, political scientist Heinrich Obberreuter told DW.

"The start to this year is enough to make us tear our hair out," said Green party politician Boris Palmer on Monday.

Going into Germany's election year, it's a far cry from the start the Green party would have hoped for.

Within the first week of 2017, Green party co-chair Simone Peter had already been criticized by members of her own party for bemoaning the tactics of police patrolling the New Year's celebrations in Cologne.

And just days later, the newly appointed justice minister for the state of Berlin, Dirk Behrendt, busied himself in his first document to the state parliament with the matter of unisex toilets in public buildings.

Sex subsidy

Most recently, on Sunday the Greens hit the headlines again after the party's care policy spokeswoman, Elisabeth Scharfenberg, told the "Welt am Sonntag" newspaper that people with severe health issues should be able to claim sex with prostitutes as a medical expense - a concept already in place in the Netherlands.

"I can imagine a [public] financing of sexual assistance," she said. Local officials could provide information about "offers of this kind in the area," as well as grant the necessary funds.

Under the concept, patients would need to obtain a medical certificate confirming that they are unable to achieve sexual satisfaction in other ways, as well as prove they are unable to pay sex workers on their own.

'Unworldly oddballs'

Green parliamentarian Palmer, who is also mayor of the southern German town of Tübingen, slammed Scharfenberg's proposal: "Can't members of parliament simply leave their well-intentioned ideas packed away when they could so clearly brand us as unworldly oddballs?"

Boris Palmer, Oberbürgermeister von Tübingen (Grüne) (DW/M Bölinger)

Palmer: Greens risk being not taken seriously

In the health industry, the concept met with mixed reactions. While Vanessa del Rae, a sexual adviser for care homes, said prostitution - which is legal in Germany - was a "blessing" for some residents, a care researcher at Nordhausen University, Wilhelm Frieling-Sonnenberg, described Scharfenberg's idea as "misanthropic."

Admittedly, Frieling-Sonnenberg said, the subject of sexuality was constantly present in homes, but he maintained that sex with prostitutes wasn't the way forward.

"Old people and disabled people want to be viewed as holistic people. And not as a cooking pot from which pressure is released," he said.

Greens 'responsible for decline'

Looking ahead to this year's election, the chairman of the German Foundation for Patient Protection, Eugen Brysch, told DW in a statement that while such concepts might win the popular vote, they wouldn't really help those who are affected.

"Those who struggle on a daily basis to get help with a wheelchair, washing and food have other worries," Brysch said.

"That's where the party can convince with their suggestions for improvement."

And convince they must, if they want to stand any chance of forming part of a coalition in government. In the last federal election in 2013, the Green's vote share fell to 8.4 percent, from 10.7 percent in the previous election.

Deutschland Bündnis 90/Die Grünen Schleswig-Holstein - Robert Habeck (picture-alliance/dpa/K. Nietfeld)

Habeck says the Greens have only themselves to blame

With the most recent polls leaving the Greens on 9 percent, Robert Habeck, the deputy premier and environment minister of the northern state of Schleswig-Holstein and one of four candidates looking to represent the Greens in an election duo, said on Saturday that the party itself was to blame.

"The fall to the 9 percent is not the fault of the general political climate," Habeck said. "It is our fault, our own responsibility, and if we deny it, there's no need for us to be in politics."

Divided party

"This is all points to the fact that the Greens are going into the election very divided," political scientist Heinrich Obberreuter told DW.

"The Greens are following the trend of the current political discussion," Oberreuter said. "But even that's inconsistent."

Following the terror attack in Berlin last month, for example, Cem Özdemir - the current federal chairman for the Greens - supports an increase in video surveillance, while Anton Hofreiter - the co-parliamentary party chief and the only representative of the left of the Greens - talks more about the competencies of different security bodies. Fellow co-parliamentary party chief Katrin Göring-Eckardt, on the other hand, has demanded more police.

All four candidates spoke about their security concepts for Germany while making their final pitches at a party meeting on Saturday. Göring-Eckardt is already assured a place on the party's ticket and will be joined by one other candidate after the results of the party primaries are announced on January 18.

Green Party election candidates: Robert Haback, Katrin Göring-Eckardt, Anton Hofreiter and Cem Özdemir

Green Party election candidates: Robert Haback, Katrin Göring-Eckardt, Anton Hofreiter and Cem Özdemir

Core Green issue: the environment

"If someone had said a year ago that the Greens would be calling for more police or video surveillance, you'd have been left rubbing your eyes in amazement, because it doesn't really go with the party," Oberreuter said.

The conflict, Oberreuter said, between "realpolitik" - which concerns domestic security - and liberal, social proposals - such as as the call for subsidised sex services for people in care - showed the division not only between the liberals and the conservatives in the Greens, but also between those leading the party into the election and parliamentarians from the second or third benches whom no one knows.

"But it's worth remembering," Oberreuter added, "that the Green party is also going into the election with its main issue - the classic subject of environment."

"That's what they stand for and that's what they'll receive votes for. The question is, to just what extent?"