The breakdown of the "Jamaica" coalition talks meant the Greens' dream of being part of government has been derailed. During a party congress in Berlin they aired their frustration — and focused on their strengths.
The bogeyman of the day was chosen quickly: No one was as vilified by the delegates at Saturday's Green Party congress as Free Democrat (FDP) leader Christian Lindner. He was blamed for the collapse of exploratory talks that had aimed to map out a so-called Jamaica coalition of Germany's conservative CDU/CSU, the FDP and the Greens. ("Jamaica" refers to the parties' colors, which match the Caribbean country's flag.)
"Christian Lindner was concerned about Christian Lindner" — he presented an "ego show," said Katrin Göring-Eckardt. She had led the Green Party's negotiating team along with Greens leader Cem Özdemir.
"Lindner lacks the humility needed in such a situation, for the tasks which are sometimes bigger than oneself," said Özdemir. He believes the FDP's withdrawal from the negotiations was not justified in terms of substance, but was a tactical maneuver.
'This has upset me.'
Winfried Kretschmann, a prominent Greens politician who is state premier of Baden-Württemberg, said, "I was particularly upset that it was the party that is supposed to stand for liberalism that broke off the negotiations." Kretschmann had also been part of the Green party's team for the preliminary coalition talks. Parliamentary group leader Anton Hofreiter said the FDP had run away in panic after trying to be more conservative than the CDU. It became apparent at the party congress that the traditional political hostility between the Greens and the FDP has been reinforced by the failure of the Jamaica talks.
'Strengthened inside and out'
The Greens had originally convened their one-day party conference to set the course for their participation in Germany's first "Jamaica" government on the federal level — they wanted to let their party base decide on the start of the coalition negotiations. Most of the delegates regretted that this experiment has failed. They would have liked to see their party be part of the government again; now they are facing the threat of four more years in opposition. But it would be wrong to glorify a Jamaica government after the fact, urged several of the speakers at the conference. It's not known whether the Greens really could have advanced some of their key policy goals in a government with the CDU/CSU and FDP.
Overall, however, the Greens' grief was limited. The general feeling was that even the failed talks had achieved something for the party. There was a new sense of unity and strength that the often divided party invoked almost euphorically. In the past the Greens had been weakened by infighting; now the 14-member negotiating team was being praised for its unity. The Greens also took as a positive the fact that topics close to their hearts, such as climate protection and the phasing out of coal, have shot toward the top of the political agenda as a result of the coalition discussions.
After the Social Democrats (SPD) signaled that they were prepared to enter into talks about forming another grand coalition after all, the Greens are no longer seriously counting on being part of the government, for instance, by joining with the CDU/CSU to form a minority government.
Nevertheless, they are keeping their options open and remaining ready to talk. "We will keep on playing our part and take on responsibility where we are asked to," Özdemir said.
Özdemir believes the Greens will also have an important role to play in opposition. In the case of a revival of the "grand coalition" (the "grand coalition" governed Germany from 2013 to 2017 with 504 of 631 seats in the previous legislature) "populists from the left and right will be trying to outdo each other in parliament," he said.
In this situation, the Greens, as the smallest party in parliament, can claim "political opposition leadership in this country," according to Jürgen Trittin, a Green party politician and former environment minister.
In terms of its own leadership, the Greens plan to set their future course and elect new heads of the party at a further congress planned for January. Longtime chairman Cem Özdemir will not be standing.