Greens make history as they take over Germany′s conservative southwest | Germany| News and in-depth reporting from Berlin and beyond | DW | 12.05.2011
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Greens make history as they take over Germany's conservative southwest

Germany's normally conservative southwestern state of Baden-Württemberg gets a Green premier - a first for one of Germany's economic powerhouses.

Winfried Kretschmann

Kretschmann will have to prove his mettle

For the Greens it is a milestone: 30 years after the party was founded, they get to govern a German state for the first time, and in the normally conservative southwestern state of Baden-Württemberg no less.

Since regional elections on March 27 the Greens have been riding on a wave of popularity. "More attention is definitely being paid to our policies, and people are more accepting of them," the Greens' federal manager, Steffi Lemke, said. "More people joined the party than ever before. There's a real sense that green issues are becoming more important," she added.

Sixty-two-year-old teacher Winfried Kretschmann will make history as the first Green premier ever after being voted into office on Thursday. Although the Greens have been part of several local and regional governments and have enjoyed a stint in the federal government too, they were always junior partners.

Junior no more

This time, the Greens are the strongest party and their partner, the Social Democratic Party (SPD), has to get used to being in the passenger seat - no easy task for one of the country's biggest parties.

Winfried Kretschmann and Nils Schmid

Green-red harmony?

"Of course, it's a new experience for them that the premier is from the Greens," said Alexander Bode, the new Green minister for consumer protection and rural areas. "The SPD is not used to that, but we are always fair to each other and it's clear that the SPD is as big [in this government] as we are," he added.

The SPD got a similar share of the vote in the recent elections, but while the Greens managed to gain 12 percent, the SPD suffered the worst result in Baden-Württemberg in its history.

In the aftermath of the March elections, the Greens were elated, the SPD depressed and the conservative Christian Democratic Party (CDU) traumatized. The CDU remains the strongest party in the state by a long way but, for the first time since 1953, will not be part of the government.

"I can see that the CDU and other parties are very insecure now; they are scared of losing their strongholds. That's why we are, of course, being attacked more than others," Green politician Lemke said.

A strong and green economy?

And there should be plenty of angles from which to attack the new government. Baden-Württemberg, with Stuttgart as its capital, is one of Germany's economic powerhouses and home to household names such as Daimler, Porsche and Bosch - Germany owes a good deal of its thriving economy to companies based in the state.

Bosch wafer production

Baden-Württemberg is one of the engines of the German economy

Unemployment is low, the level of innovation is high. Until now, politics and business mixed well in Baden-Württemberg. But company bosses are concerned about the future.

"If we want to remain successful, then we have to embrace change," Kretschmann has said. The way forward, according to the new premier, is 'green' products that save resources and energy.

"That's the only way to stay competitive globally," he insists. Ecology and economy must go hand in hand he says.

The Greens want fuel-efficient cars, fewer new roads and more wind power, whereas the old CDU-led government favored nuclear energy.

"And the interesting thing is that many companies in the state are far more advanced than the last government," Alexander Bode said, arguing that green technology is already a way of life for many of those businesses.

New style

In the new coalition, the Greens have made sure that they run those ministries concerned with environmental and energy issues as well as transport and infrastructure.

The Greens are opposed to a contentious project for a new underground main train station in Stuttgart, dubbed Stuttgart 21, which has met with fierce opposition from residents, sparking months of protests and demonstrations.

demonstrators holding Stuttgart 21 banner

A controversial rail project has divided opinion

Throughout the protests, the Greens promised to do away with the previous government's top-down attitude, which is believed to have won them a lot of support in the elections.

Kretschmann is determined to govern differently, promising that "a modern government does not see protests by its citizens as a burden, but as normal," he said.

Despite that, the fate of Stuttgart 21 is far from certain: what divides Stuttgart's residents also divides the coalition, as the SPD is in favor of the new underground station and the Greens are not, with a compromise remaining elusive. In the meantime, the government has demanded a review of the costs of the project, and it is toying with the idea of a referendum on the issue.

The Greens are only too aware that voters will judge them on those important issues and how they handle them. Along with their SPD partners, they are walking a tightrope.

Author: Nina Werkhäuser / ng
Editor: Nancy Isenson

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