Are the Greens Turning on Their Roots? | Germany | News and in-depth reporting from Berlin and beyond | DW | 18.05.2006

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Are the Greens Turning on Their Roots?

After being voted out of power in federal elections, the eco-friendly Greens are going through changes. The struggle between pragmatists and fundamentalists is part of the party’s tradition, but will it tear them apart?

For some, the eco-party have drifted too far

For some, the eco-party have drifted too far

It could be described as a watershed event for the Greens. In Frankfurt, Germany's financial capital, the party had signed what was for Fundis -- the party's fundamental ideologists -- a deal with the devil. The Greens now govern in Frankfurt with the very party that used to represent the antithesis of their beliefs, the Christian Democrats (CDU).

In the process, they resigned themselves to accepting projects that went against the grain of their traditional politics -- the building of an autobahn tunnel and the expansion of Frankfurt International Airport.

Frankfurter Flughafen China Airlines

Frankfurt Airport has been a battleground for grassroots Greens for decades

The emotional debate during the Greens' Frankfurt party caucus at the beginning of May, and the cool ending of it by the Realos -- the party's pragmatic wing whose name comes from Realpolitik -- was just a microcosm of the Greens' ideological battle since its birth in 1980. Eco-freaks against power-hungry "traitors." Forests given up for economic goals. It has been a balancing act that has generated ceaseless debates within the party.

Still a protest party

People usually associate the Greens with the environment and the peace movement. Protests and demonstrations were once the order of the day.

Yet gone are the times when tens of thousands gathered for anti-nuclear protests. After all, Germany has committed itself to closing down all its atomic power stations by 2021.

Luftangriff auf Belgrad

NATO air strikes on Belgrade were reason enough to leave the party

And war? The Greens decided it cannot be avoided sometimes when they supported NATO air strikes against Belgrade in 1999. Indeed, that military operation left such a bitter aftertaste that strongly pacifistic Green members, if they still are members, cringe when the subject is brought up.

"For Fundis, the main issues are environment and the peace movement. The Green leadership had difficulty getting the point across that other issues, such as civil and human rights, or immigration play a major role in the party," said Hajo Funke of the Freie University in Berlin.

Nevertheless, the Greens are a "protest" party, and remain so, according to Funke.

It's just that the protest touch is not as dominant as in the past. One could say that the Greens have exited the rebelliousness of political puberty and are entering young adulthood.

Less glamor, more competence

A look at the party's Web site reveals this clearly. The top item is the poor chances for immigrant children in German schools, followed by the party's position on Germany's intelligence service having spied on journalists.

Minister gegen Irak-Krieg

After Joschka Fischer's departure, Renate Künast (r.) became a prominent party leader

"The Greens have an obvious voter base, one that is concerned about the environment. But the party's new co-chairwoman, Renate Künast, is very pragmatic, well-organized and has found new problems to concentrate on. One part of the party's profile is civil rights," said Funke.

Furthermore, humanitarian missions, such as one that could send UN troops to Darfur, are acceptable as long as peace is the intention. The topics are less glamorous, but Funke believes the party leadership -- even without its PR figure No. 1, former Foreign Minister Joschka Fischer -- is highly competent.

Governing with the CDU deemed anti-social

Pragmatism is prevalent at all levels of the party. Coalitions solely with the Social Democrats as an option now appear hardly realistic. Daniel Cohn-Bendit, head of the Greens in the European Parliament, has said that governing with the conservative Christian Democrats offers "good political perspectives."

Petra Kelly und Gerd Bastian

Petra Kelly was a founder of the Green party

Jutta Ditfurth, a prominent leader during the party's infancy who left it in 1991, viewed the Greens as a party in decline. The far-left author called the CDU-Green coalition in her city a "pact."

"Two factions are joining up that have very clear messages in Frankfurt. They are against the underprivileged, the poor and welfare recipients. The Greens handed the social welfare office to the CDU due to sheer incompetence," Ditfurth said.

For her, the Greens have exhausted their effectiveness, no matter who they govern with. When Petra Kelly founded what she called "the anti-party party," Ditfurth thought that a decade was the maximum it should remain in politics. It has been 26 now, 16 too many for her.

"We had 10 years, and during eight of those, we were able to make left-wing politics popular with slogans like 'Out of NATO,' women's emancipation, radical views against nuclear energy. These topics weren't on people's minds in the 1970s," she said.

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