A Green Future Merkel's Party in Need of New Allies
Following the FDP's dismal showing in recent state elections, there are growing calls within the conservative CDU for a new coalition partner. The Greens, however, are taking advantage of their new strength to dictate terms.
Julia Klöckner knew it was pointless, but she tried nonetheless. On the evening of the election, the top candidate for the center-right Christian Democratic Union (CDU) in the southwestern German state of Rhineland-Palatinate stood in front of the cameras to propose a dialogue with the Green Party. "The offer stands," she said, arguing that democrats ought to be able to talk to each other. To reinforce her case, she even wrote a letter the next day.
In theory, the Greens could choose Klöckner as the state's next governor. Because of the distribution of votes within the state parliament, the Greens are suddenly strong enough to be kingmakers in the state straddling the Rhine River. In fact, since the pro-business Free Democratic Party (FDP) has been voted out of the parliament, Klöckner has no other minority partner to choose from.
A secret conversation took place on Thursday afternoon in the town of Ingelheim near Mainz. Three people represented each side, and the meeting lasted two hours. Although there was no official comment on the contents, the top candidates revealed how they felt about the meeting on Twitter. "Just had constructive talks with #rlp #Greens @Ingelheim - was very pleasant!" Klöckner wrote. The Green Party candidate, Eveline Lemke, was not as effusive: "Clarification: Talks are not exploratory, nor are these coalition negotiations."
In other words, no matter how much the CDU tries, and even if more "talks" were to follow, there will be no CDU/Green Party coalition in the state capital Mainz. The Greens don't need the CDU to run the government. Sometimes politics can be simple.
For years, many saw promise in an alliance between the CDU and its Bavarian sister party, the Christian Social Union (CSU), on the one hand, and Alliance 90/The Greens, on the other. The hope was that a coalition between former bourgeois politicians and members of the 1970s and '80s activist movement known as Spontis would burst open the calcified fronts of a partisan war between right and left. New majorities would produce new policies. It would all be more experimental, more progressive, somehow fresher.
That dream seemed to come to an end in 2010 when the CDU switched to confrontation mode. The first CDU/Green coalition in a German state, in the city-state of Hamburg, was a failure, partly as a result of an education policy that was too experimental even for its supporters. In the so-called Fall of Decisions, last year, Chancellor Angela Merkel called for an attack on the "Party of Protest," declared alliances with the Greens at the federal level to be "pipe dreams" and laid the groundwork for the greatest provocation possible -- a drastic extension of reactor life spans.
But this strategy on the part of the CDU was a failure in parliamentary elections in the southwestern states of Baden-Württemberg and Rhineland-Palatinate, where confrontation with the CDU proved to be a successful strategy for the relatively small Green Party. Now it is about to appoint the next governor in the Baden-Württemberg capital Stuttgart, and in Mainz the Greens will decide whom they wish to entrust with running the state government.
Christian Democrats, Trying to Make Nice
The CDU/CSU, on the other hand, is in a bind. The election in Baden-Württemberg has made it abundantly clear that the FDP is now in a desolate position. Many in the CDU believe that the party will not be able to hold onto power in national elections in 2013 if it keeps the ailing FDP as its coalition partner. For this reason, the CDU/CSU is beginning a new campaign to court the Green alternative.
Partisan politics is not in the interest of the CDU, and the party should have "as many coalition options as possible," says Environment Minister Norbert Röttgen. One reason he fought to limit extensions of nuclear operating licenses last fall was to avoid spoiling his party's prospects for a future alliance with the Greens. He now sees the CDU's post-Fukushima reversal in energy policy as an opportunity.
Family Minister Kristina Schröder holds a similar view. The young conservative woman from the western state of Hesse, suddenly remembering cozy evenings spent drinking "a glass or two of organic wine" with the Greens, says: "My partiality for the Greens, at least the middle-class wing, is no secret. I share a similar lifestyle and a similar debating culture with many Greens, especially of the younger generation, and we approach problems in similar ways."
There is also growing sympathy for the Greens in the CDU/CSU parliamentary group, until now a stronghold of conservatives. "The liberals are our governing partners at the moment," says CDU/CSU deputy floor leader Günter Krings. "But I think it would be foolish to categorically rule out coalitions with the Greens."
- Part 1: Merkel's Party in Need of New Allies
- Part 2: The Green and the Black