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A new start

Kay-Alexander Scholz / sms
October 20, 2013

As the Greens rehash a disappointing election, members discuss what steps to take next. Some hope the party's new leadership will usher in an era of political flexibility and a more promising future.

A pair of hands inserts aq white plastic card with a gold chip on it into a green device with different voting options. Photo: Michael Kappeler
Image: picture-alliance/dpa

"What sets apart a modern ecological notion?" asked Anton Hofreiter, who with Katrin Göring Eckardt will take over as the Greens parliamentary floor leaders in the next German parliament.

A hundred years ago, it was about protecting places like forests and wetlands; in the 1970s it was defined by fighting industrial pollution of rivers. "Today it's about global problems like climate catastrophes and the extinction of species," Hofreiter concluded.

But as the smallest party in the yet-to-be-formed German parliament, the Green Party is likely to have a difficult time getting its issues on the agenda. "We overestimated ourselves," Jürgen Trittin, the party's candidate for the Chancellery in September's elections, told 800 Greens assembled in Berlin for a party conference to analyze the party's poor electoral performance. The Greens received 8.4 percent of the vote - far less than the party had hoped.

Anton Hofreiter giving a speech to party members Photo: Hannibal/dpa
Hofreiter said it's time to consider new optionsImage: picture-alliance/dpa

Despite constructive initial talks with members of Chancellor Angela Merkel's Christian Democratic Union (CDU) and its sister party, the Christian Social Union (CSU), party leaders on both sides of the table were not able to find enough common ground to start earnest coalition negotiations. The Greens' goal of forming a coalition with the Social Democratic Party (SPD) failed on election night after the results showed that the two parties would not be able to form a parliamentary majority.

Eying new alliances

The Greens want to influence policy and push the ecological transformation of society. "We want to save the world," said Antje Hermenau, a Green politician in the eastern German state of Saxony.

But for that, they'll have to be in the federal government. The Greens are represented in all 16 of Germany's state parliaments, but its goal remains being part of a federal government with the SPD, as it was from 1998 to 2005. But the Social Democrats' weak election performance makes that an unlikely prospect.

"That's why we need new options," Hofreiter said. "We have to spend the next years working on these options."

Claudia Roth raises her arms to salute party members during a conference in Berlin Photo: Hannibal/dpa
Roth received a warm sending off from party membersImage: picture-alliance/dpa

To the right and to the left, the Greens want to keep all their political options open. But exactly how the party will maintain ties to parties across the political spectrum was open to debate at the three-day conference in Berlin. Many of the speeches at the meeting mentioned the necessity of a thorough analysis of mistakes made during the election campaign. Discussions also focused on three issues voters needed better information about: tax increases, meat-free days in public cafeterias and lingering accusations of pedophilia in the party's early years.

Ecology, freedom and justice

In addition to the "ecological transformation," the Greens' party platform will have to include a modern expression of solidarity, Hofreiter said.

"That does not mean the freedom of the Wild West, but a freedom that also takes weaker members of society into account."

The key will be an expression of equality: equality of opportunity and between generations. Hofreiter, a part of the Greens' left wing, could make the party's definitions of "freedom" and "equality" bridge the gap between it and The Left party when it comes to potential future government coalitions.

Ecology, freedom and equality will be central topics in the Greens' platform as presented by party leaders. The trio of issues, Greens hope, will set them apart from Germany's other political parties.

Greens change direction

Emotional changing of the guard

In addition to a change in party views, the Greens also revamped their leadership. Many of the leading politicians who were part of the party's founding 33 years ago have stepped into the background to let younger members into the spotlight.

The emotional climax at the conference was the leave-taking of party head Claudia Roth, who had a major influence on the Greens for the past 11 years. Simone Peter, 47, was chosen to take over for Roth. Cem Özdemir, also 47, will remain the party's co-chair.

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