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What do the German Greens want if they gain power?

September 24, 2021

The Greens have been hoping of being part of Germany's federal government. What would they want to push through?

Annalena Baerbock speaking at a party conference
'Everything is possible' is one of the Green Party's slogansImage: Kay Nietfeld/dpa/picture alliance

When the Green Party first entered a ruling coalition in 1998 they had won a mere 6.7% in that year's federal election. Now, 23 years later, things are very different.

In recent years, the Greens have broken down barriers to all the other parties, with the exception of the far-right Alternative for Germany (AfD). In Germany's states, they have joined coalitions with all the other major parties, except the Bavarian Christian Social Union (CSU), though they have formed several coalitions with its "big sister," Angela Merkel's Christian Democratic Union (CDU). 

The environmentalist party has long since ceased to be committed only to working with center-left coalitions, which was the case for many years. They have never been as flexible as they are now. Some critics would say they have never had such arbitrary policy manifestos either.

But people who have suffered through previous Green party conventions, watching hours of chaotic arguments, are now rubbing their eyes. The Greens are united as never before, standing united behind their party leadership and avoiding ugly attacks on political opponents. They speak of defending the German constitution, which still sounds strangely statist coming from this party. Focused and concentrated, they are striving to make one thing clear: Nothing more is to go wrong on their path to power.

Evolution of Germany's Greens

Climate protection, foreign policy

In terms of policy, the Greens have remained largely true to their 40-year-old founding principles: Environmental protection, especially the fight against climate change, remains central to their election program, where the party says it wants to cut greenhouse gases by 70% by 2030, a major target extension compared to the current government's plan, which aims to achieve a 55% reduction. 

To meet this target, it will have to accelerate Germany's "energy transition" to renewables, to ensure a rapid expansion of renewable energies and put more electric cars on the roads. The other parties want all of this, too, but the Greens will have to struggle to achieve their high standards. 

As for foreign policy: There will be a lot of continuity with the Greens. Like most other parties, they are betting on a strong Europe, or better, on making the EU strong again; they are betting on reviving the transatlantic relationship. "Get out of NATO" is what isolated groups within the party may still think, but the leadership and large sections of the party see it differently. 

But the Greens are more likely to take a critical approach toward Russia and China. For example, they oppose the controversial Nord Stream 2 pipeline from Russia through the Baltic Sea, which Merkel's government is still defending. They have openly shown support for opposition groups in China, Russia, and Belarus. And we can expect clearer tones from the Greens toward China on its treatment of the Uighurs.

Green Party candidates for the European Parliament elections in 2018 with LGBT+ flag
The Greens campaign on environmental issues and diversityImage: picture-alliance/dpa/H. Schmidt

For a strong, investing state

In terms of economic and social policy, the Greens tend to favor a strong state and more spending. Their election program, which is still to be finalized at a party congress in June, is full of expensive programs, for example for people changing jobs, for more digitization everywhere in Germany, and for sustainable investment. It remains to be seen how this will fit in with the empty state coffers once the pandemic is over. 

And it also remains unclear how this could be implemented in a coalition with the CDU and CSU, for example, which have already said they want to return as quickly as possible to Germany's long-sacred policy of the "black zero," or balanced budgets. For this reason, the Greens want higher taxes on high earners, which would hardly be feasible in a coalition with the CDU and CSU.

How green is Germany really?

Against more social division 

In terms of social policy, the Greens are focusing on the fight against xenophobia and racism, and on gender justice. And they want to help push back against polarization. That will be difficult, because many Green politicians, such as the Bundestag Vice President Claudia Roth, have become hate figures for the country's far-right.

The current leadership of the Greens, which has rather less government experience, can be helped by the solid underpinnings, for example, in the parliamentary group, and in the states. 

Foreign policy experts such as Omid Nouripour, Europe experts such as Franziska Brantner, and experienced parliamentarians such as Britta Hasselmann, have all the necessary skills. Today's Green leaders no longer need advice from the old veterans like Joschka Fischer, Chancellor Gerhard Schröder's foreign minister, to whom many Greens made pilgrimages long after the end of his political career to get ideas.

If the Greens enter government, either as a junior partner or even in the chancellor's office, then at least one important circle will close for the Greens in 2022. They will be in power to see Germany's last nuclear power plant being shut down, thus winning a battle that was part of the party's founding goals. But it's also possible that today's Greens, pragmatic as they are, will simply take note and move on.

This article has been translated from German and updated since it was first published in April 2021.

While you're here: Every Tuesday, DW editors round up what is happening in German politics and society, with an eye toward understanding this year's elections and beyond. You can sign up here for the weekly email newsletter Berlin Briefing, to stay on top of developments as Germany enters the post-Merkel era.

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Jens Thurau Jens Thurau is a senior political correspondent covering Germany's environment and climate policies.@JensThurau