Germany′s Greens seek stronger national presence | Germany| News and in-depth reporting from Berlin and beyond | DW | 23.11.2014
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Germany's Greens seek stronger national presence

Though successful in state elections, Germany's Green Party cuts a weak figure in the Bundestag. The Greens' conference in Hamburg showed unity, despite internal differences regarding the party's future course.

Though successful in state elections, Germany's Green Party cuts a weak figure in the Bundestag. The Greens' conference in Hamburg showed unity, despite internal differences regarding the party's future course.

For the Greens, 2014 is ending much better than it began. At the beginning of the year, the party was still suffering a hangover stemming from Bundestag election losses. The party has since picked itself back up.

"The period of mourning is over," Cem Özdemir, the party's co-chairperson, said Friday, at the beginning of the three-day party conference in Hamburg.

The Greens are looking to build on their success in state elections. The Greens, participants now in seven state government coalitions, will soon participate join an eighth as part of the first red-red-green coalition in Thuringia under a Left Party state premier.

"Our goal is also to build on these election results nationwide," Özdemir said, warning his party against too much self-criticism. "Let's remain calm."

In his speech, Özdemir sharply criticized the government's climate politics, saying their refusal to shut off polluters like old coal power plants is "a sabotage of German climate goals." The balanced budget from Finance Minister Wolfgang Schäuble ends not with a black zero "but a black hole," Özdemir said.

The 800 delegates have debated themes such as climate and animal protection, a humane refugee policy and the foreign crises in Ukraine, Syria and Iraq. As guests, they invited the chairman of the Central Council of the Yazidis, Telim Tolan, and the Indian globalization critic Vandada Shiva.

Bundesparteitag der Grünen in Hamburg Özdemir 21.11.2014

Cem Özdemir, chairman of Germany's Green Party, is looking to translate his party's success in state elections to the federal level

Shooting at one's own goal

Unlike in the states, the party, which in 2013 received a meager 8.4 percent of the vote, does not cut a good figure in Berlin. It is the smallest national opposition party in the lower house of parliament, the Bundestag.

In the shadow of a the "grand coalition" government with a large parliamentary majority, Green Party representatives can make their opposition to government policies known but have little power to change them. The party has also come under criticism for prolonged navel-gazing rather than addressing what it regards as its core issues, namely the environment, climate and human rights.

The two party heads, Özdemir and Simone Peter, are said to have a difficult relationship and members of the party base have expressed doubt in the pair's leadership, despite being elected to the positions just a year ago. There are also substantive differences, whether regarding arms delivery to the Kurdish peshmerga in northern Iraq or the tightening of asylum laws, which the ruling green-red coalition in Baden-Württemburg agreed on, to the dismay of many Greens in other parts of the country.

Symbolbild Windkraftwerk Kohlekraftwerk

The Greens are hoping to get back to their core issues of the environment, climate protection and human rights

Good advice for the voters

The lack of unity is the party's Achilles heel. To this end, the Greens vowed after the election to no longer make themselves vulnerable. The cause of this decision was the unsuccessful "Veggie Day" campaign in which they promoted making one day of the week meat free. The Greens would have liked to have instituted at public cafeterias all over the country, until unnerved voters responded that they would like to decide for themselves whether they would prefer a pepperoni pizza or one with vegetables.

Bundesparteitag der Grünen

The final day of the Green Party conference wraps up Sunday in Hamburg

Later, the party ruefully conceded that they had scared off and patronized people not only with Veggie Day but also with call for higher taxes. First they wanted to take the meat from people's bread and then they went for the butter as well, as one Green Party leader summed up the disaster. The Greens are still fighting against the image of being an invasive, know-it-all party with its own prescriptions for all of life's problems.

Convince, don't convert

A proposal on the party's future course was hotly debated before the conference. The Greens have become an integral part of German society, according to chairman of the Hessian delegation Mathias Wagner, adding that some in the party were apparently afraid of gaining too much influence.

"Some seemed genuinely afraid of their own positions having a majority appeal in society," said Wagner, in whose state the Greens rule with the center-right Christian Democratic Union. At the federal level, the Greens have to aim to once again become part of a governing coalition. Wagner added that the party needs to do away with a mentality of battling against society; citizens wanted to be "convinced but not converted."

The proposal was so disliked by the federal executive board, that it put together a counter proposal. The desired goal here also was to become part of the governing coalition by 2017. A redefinition of the party's course, however, would not be necessary.

"We need no navel-gazing or mutual reprimands," the proposal said. At the beginning of the party conference, the two proposals were blended into a single draft so both groups of Greens could prevent the fight over the party's future from overshadowing the meeting.

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