A Silver Jubilee for Germany′s Greens | Germany| News and in-depth reporting from Berlin and beyond | DW | 13.01.2005
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A Silver Jubilee for Germany's Greens

The German government's junior coalition partner has come a long way since its birth 25 years ago: The formerly pacifist Green party now supports military missions, but the environment still tops its agenda.


Looking ahead to a bright future: Claudia Roth, the Green's co-chair

"A danger for democracy" -- that's what a leading German Social Democrat called so-called "green lists" -- a conglomeration of environmentalist, peace and anti-nuclear groups -- back in 1977.

Die Grünen 25 Jahre Jubiläum

The Greens first leadership at the founding convention on Jan. 13, 1980

Just three years later, on Jan. 13, 1980, some of these "dangerous organizations" joined forces after a long debate about the necessity of founding a new party: "Die Grünen" or "The Greens" were born.

Few believed that the party would survive. Debates over the inclusion of left-wing radicals foreshadowed the later power struggles between ecological radicals, the so-called "Fundis," and pragmatic "Realos ."

Politically, the Greens questioned the status quo from the start: Calls for an immediate end to the use of nuclear power, the dissolution of NATO and an ecologically oriented economy scared away potential voters.

Environment first

But the Greens deserve the biggest credit for putting the protection of the environment at the center of their agenda, according to Karl-Rudolf Korte, a political scientist at the University of Duisburg/Essen.

Protest gegen den Castortransport

The phasing out of nuclear power has been a priority for the Greens

"This led established parties to take up these topics," he said, adding that state and federal governments responded by setting up ministries for the environment.

The success became a danger for the Greens, however, as others adopted their agenda and made it their own, Korte said.

Additionally, the party limited itself by imposing a strict political culture. For many years, elected members of parliament had to give up their seats mid-term to make room for others. Until recently the Greens also did not allow party functionaries to hold public office at the same time.

Joschka's sneakers

Still, German society quickly warmed to the party's ecologically-oriented politics at the beginning of the 1980s while the big parties still didn't have the subject on their agenda. Because of this, the Greens were able to get enough votes to enter local and state parliaments throughout Germany, culminating in the first "red-green" coalition government with the Social Democrats in the central state of Hesse in 1985.

Joschka Fischers Turnschuhe gehören zur deutschen Geschichte

Fischer (right) taking the oath of office as Hesse's Environmental Minister on Dec. 12, 1985

That government's environmental minister -- the first in Germany -- later became the country's foreign minister. At the time, though, Joschka Fischer caused an uproar when he took his oath of office wearing jeans and sneakers.

While successful with voters, the Greens began falling apart from the inside as "Fundis" and "Realos" kept fighting about the future of the party.

The low point was reached with German unification in 1990: Campaigning with the slogan "Everyone talks about Germany. We talk about climate," the Greens failed to win over voters and were kicked out of parliament.

Bündnis 90 Die Grünen Parteitag

The united party's logo

Only members of the Greens' eastern German sister party, "Bündnis 90," or Alliance 90, managed to garner seats. The two parties finally merged in 1993 and the Greens are now officially called "Bündnis 90/Die Grünen."

Reaching for power

A year later, the party, now led by "Realos" around Joschka Fischer, re-entered parliament and reached its high point in 1998, when the Greens became the junior partner in Germany's governing coalition with the Social Democrats for the first time.

By then, the party had gone through a tremendous process of transformation, reflected in its approval of the participation of German soldiers in the NATO-led Kosovo mission in 1999. Fischer can take the credit for the turn-around in the party, according to Korte.

"This was probably the biggest challenge for a party that was founded on a pacifist platform," he said.

Joschka Fischer und Gerhard Schröder EU Gipfel

Fischer (left) and German Chancellor Gerhard Schröder

Together with the Social Democrats, the Greens made a number of difficult decisions in the following years. They opted for reforms to Germany's tax and social welfare systems and approved other military missions to Macedonia and Afghanistan.

While Social Democrats have lost voters in elections since 2002, the Greens managed to hold onto their seats or increase them almost everywhere. And for years, Fischer has led the list of Germany's most popular politicians.

Black future?

But the party's base remains a distinctly western German one -- a fact that doesn't surprise Danial Cohn-Bendit (photo below), a prominent Green member of the European parliament.

Daniel Cohn-Bendit

Daniel Cohn-Bendit

"It will take some time for people in eastern Germany to realize that economic growth comes with an increased social-ecological responsibility," he told Die Welt newspaper. "It's a cultural development. We're a modern party which requires a modern civil society and the latter's still emerging in (eastern Germany)."

And while the Social Democrats still seem to be the Greens' natural coalition partner, that could change in the future, according to Korte. On the municipal level, coalitions with the conservative Christian Democrats already exist -- Cologne is the most prominent example. The southwestern state of Baden-Württemberg is the most likely candidate for a "black-green" coalition, Korte said.Maybe it'll take a bit longer than the next election, however, as it's taking place near the time when Fischer and German Chancellor Gerhard Schröder will fight for re-election on the national level in 2006.

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