Seldom have the Greens been so optimistic as they were at the close of their party conference in Berlin. Their goal is to replace the current center-right government. But what is their strategy?
At the German Green Party's pre-election congress, party co-chair Claudia Roth described the electoral promises of the ruling Christian Democrats (CDU) as superficial and full of nasty surprises. She accused Chancellor Angela Merkel of initially being in favor of nuclear energy, then changing her mind - and of hindering environmental protection measures after having supported them in the past. According to her, the "Teflon chancellor" does not accept any real responsibility.
The audience rose to its feet and cheered as Roth declared the dissolution of the governing center-right coalition the top goal of the Greens' campaign. "The next federal government will be red-green," she said, referring to the color combination used to describe a Green and Social Democratic Party coalition in Germany.
But which issues are pertinent enough to remove the popular chancellor from her post? When asked, many Greens hesitate for a moment. With 150 pages, their electoral agenda is extensive. Long gone are the days when the formerly eco-focused party used environmental protection as its main rallying cry.
Lack of fairness
One of the Green party's big themes nowdays, besides phasing out nuclear power in favor of alternative energy sources, is social justice. Many ordinary people, they argue, feel 'left out' in their jobs and society: low wages that they can't live from, fewer public services, pensioners lining up for a warm meal at soup kitchens.
The Green party credo is that the ruling center-right government has failed to alleviate these problems, citing, for example, the fact that numerous wealthy Germans have been able to smuggle their money abroad and out of reach of the tax authorities. The Greens complained of the sorry state of schools, roads and rail service, not to mention insecure and low-paying jobs.
For Jutta Bruns, who lives near Frankfurt and is a Green candidate for parliament, one of the biggest social issues is women's equality. The Greens have a quota in place to ensure that they fill all their posts with an equal number of men and women, and the fact that women in German society still earn less than men doing the same job is a sore point with the Greens. Conference delegates scoffed at Merkel's move to install a quota for women on corporate boards by 2020, arguing that it should come much sooner.
A 'yes, but' for the SPD
A controversial discussion erupted when it came to the subject of joining forces with the center-left Social Democrats. Although many Greens are not big fans of the SPD, they realize that without them, they have little chance of governing come September. But leading candidate Katrin Göring-Eckhardt was quick to point out that the Green election campaign would not be "run in the slipstream of the SPD."
On the other hand, the theoretical option of forming a coalition with Chancellor Merkel's CDU was not even raised during the conference, since the party leadership thought the issue would be too divisive.
For his guest address, SPD leader Sigmar Gabriel was welcomed by delegates with friendly applause and warmly embraced by Green party leaders.
But not all delegates consider it necessary to infuse the election campaign with the sense of a joint venture. Bavarian Green Johann Mayer would have preferred a more independent Green campaign and then "look at what's possible afterwards." This is not because he has anything against the SPD, he stressed, but that it just does not feel right to be "co-opted" by another party.
'There's always a chance'
It has not gone unnoticed that the SPD's chancellor candidate Peer Steinbrück has not handled his campaign well so far. "It's no secret that over the last six months Peer Steinbrück has demonstrated a remarkable talent for putting his foot in his mouth," noted Alexander Maul, a conference delegate. That is "an SPD problem," he says, but overall, the compatibility of the red and green platforms is enough for a realistic chance to win the election.
The confidence of the Greens has not suffered despite the SPD's poor ratings in opinion surveys. "If the SPD moves toward ordinary people, back to its original base, and mobilizes them, then I'm optimistic," said Green party member Robert Klein from Hamburg. Considering the good ratings for the Greens, he added wryly, "if it's not good enough for red-green, then maybe it's good enough for green-red."