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Missed opportunity

Volker Wagener/ cb
October 18, 2013

Germany's conservative Christian parties and the Greens had long talks, but they weren't enough for a coalition - at least not now. But someday a government of conservatives and Greens could happen, says Volker Wagener.


It's all the FDP's fault. Since the free-market liberals failed to pass the 5 percent hurdle, Germany's traditional political camps are in shambles. Neither the conservative-liberal combination of Angela Merkel's Christian Democratic Union, along with its Bavarian sister party the Christian Social Union, and FDP, nor the social ecologists of Social Democratic Party and the Greens earned enough votes to form a parliamentary majority. Now Germany's coalition map is being redrawn. Party combinations that were previously unthinkable are suddenly on the table.

A CDU/CSU coalition with the Greens was the unofficial hot topic right after the election. It came up in the shadow of the more probable grand coalition of Germany's two large parties: the CDU and the SPD. But the Greens passed on this historic chance. Possible reasons for ending the exploratory talks that were of promising content as well as atmosphere? The Greens' bruised self-confidence after a lost election and the big, upcoming personnel changes in their party.

The fact is that the former political rebels, who have long since been part of society's middle, did not dare to take the leap and alter parts of their policy - not even with CDU that is more liberal and green than ever before. It was halfhearted and unnecessary on the Greens' part.

Portrait Volker Wagener. (Photo DW/Per Henriksen)
DW'S Volker WagenerImage: DW

The CDU and the CSU had moved toward the Greens in central questions regarding asylum and refugee policies as well as climate and energy issues. The parties had truly approached each other, only to then postpone the socio-political experiment of a conservative-Green coalition.

The biggest obstacle: the parties' respective milieus

The biggest problem still seems to be the parties' different social milieus. For a long time, the Greens considered the CDU and CSU part of the abhorred establishment. The young people who fought the CDU during the student riots of 1968 would soon become the founders of the Green Party.

The CDU in turn regarded the "ecos" as provocateurs, squatters, leftist ideologists and - at least in part - worthy of surveillance by Germany's domestic secret service, the Federal Office for the Protection of the Constitution. There is no doubt that there was no bigger political difference in the old West Germany than that between the CDU and the Greens.

It was only after reunification that the Greens passed on their socialist image to the East German Left Party. Ever since then, the Greens have become more and more bourgeois: in their attitude, their politics, even their wardrobe. Today's Greens can't be pigeonholed as "leftists" anymore.

CDU and CSU have also changed. Those who like the move to the center say the parties have become more modern. Merkel's critics, however, complain that the conservative essence has been lost. Ten years ago, a conservative-Green coalition wasn't even a hypothetical possibility. Today, both sides lost their deterrent potential for each other.

Cooperation at a later date

But they're not close enough for political marriage yet. The respectful and non-polemic talks that Green and conservative negotiators had are a kind of promise to us: yes, we will get together eventually. No, not now, but later. And it makes sense. The biggest political challenge in the coming years is the switch to renewable energies. That has always been a matter near to the Greens' heart, even more so after Fukushima. And it's essential for the conservatives as well.

Germany's wealth rests on the country's economic success. The CDU and CSU could prevent the Greens from taking the de-industrialization route for the energy switch. And the Greens would have the chance to force the conservatives to take an ecological approach to nuclear-energy-free industrial politics. That would have been the goal for this legislative period. But both sides weren't brave enough, so now the next chance is 2017.

A more dynamic political field

A glance back in history shows that a change of political partner has rung in change in German society before. Big things were set in motion. In 1969, the head of the SPD, Willy Brandt, said "We will do it!" right after the elections when he had seen the results. "We" meant the Social Democrats and the FDP, led by Walter Scheel. Charting new democratic waters, that was the goal of the social-liberal coalition until 1974. Brandt's East Germany policies stood for a political abandonment of the Cold War logic. Germany was in an era of reformation. A conservative-Green coalition could have shaped Germany's switch to renewable energy. That's what you call a missed opportunity.

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