For the first time, Germany's Greens have put the economy above ecology on their political agenda. But more than that, they must learn to bid farewell to power.
Can the last Green out please turn off the lights?
Germany's Consumer Affairs Minister Renate Künast said her Green party was dumbstruck when German Chancellor Gerhard Schröder announced on May 22 that he would seek early elections in September.
Consumer Affairs Minister Renate Künast
Addressing the party congress in Berlin on Sunday, Künast spoke from the bottom of her heart. Künast moaned that the red-green coalition government -- between the Social Democrats (SPD) and her party, the Greens, -- still had so much they wanted to accomplish.
Now, seven weeks after Schröder began his "panicked race to new elections," as one Green party delegate referred to the chancellor's early election bid, the Greens are showing themselves reluctant to give up power. Over the past seven years, the once-alternative ecology party has morphed so completely into a governing party that it can hardly believe there soon won't be Greens governing at the state or national levels.
Yet if opinion polls are to be believed, the outlook for another red-green coalition in the near future is highly unlikely. Only 15 percent of voters support it. But that didn't stop a feisty Green party Foreign Minister Joschka Fischer from crying out -- well, practically yelling at the top of his lungs -- for victory during the party congress. Victory was his focus, he said. Of course he would continue to seek it -- even with the perfidious SPD, who else? -- even though they had thrown in the towel.
Now, accusing the Greens of clinging to power against all odds is not entirely fair. Their popularity in the polls is stable; even the chancellor recently admitted (quietly of course) that his SPD party was the one responsible for bringing the government to its knees. Thus the Greens defend the red-green platform more strongly than do the Social Democrats. This is made partiucularly clear by the Greens' newly announced political platforms, which for the first time ever put economic measures at the top of their agenda.
The platforms include altering the debated workplace reforms, as well as increased taxes for the very wealthy. But the heart of the reforms was correct, the Greens said. Just as it was correct to support renewable energies, to promote the phasing out of atomic energy, to push for the reform of citizenship laws and the ecology tax. Basically, to hear them tell it, everything the Greens have done thus far was ... right.
Who is to blame?
Of course, the Greens don't want to see their first efforts at governance badmouthed. Add to this the fact that it was their first shot at power, and that an entire generation had waited for them to come to power, and it becomes clear how difficult it is to take objective stock of their achievements. It is even more difficult to look to the future -- quickly, and without nostalgia.
But one thing gets passed over when politicians behave in such a self-confident, defiant manner. That is, the admission that they failed -- as much as the SPD did-- when it came to tackling the country's biggest problem, mass unemployment. They took part in cobbling together the patchwork social reforms, and the citizens have had enough of it.
The Greens owe it to their voters to keep ecological projects a high priority in their platform. They owe it to the country to finally take important economic questions seriously. Can they do it? The chances aren't so bad, in the long term. But first they have to bid farewell to their initial effort at national power.