Interview with Green Party Leader Renate Künast: 'Merkel Will Regret This'
In an interview with SPIEGEL, Green Party floor leader Renate Künast, 54, discusses her opposition to Chancellor Merkel's plan to extend the lifepans of nuclear power plants and her party's dramatic recent surge in the polls.
SPIEGEL: Ms. Künast, where do the limits of growth lie?
Künast: I could talk about which sectors of the economy will have to shrink radically and which must grow, but I think I know what you're getting at.
SPIEGEL: In the most recent Forsa poll, the Greens stood at 22 percent nationwide. In states such as Berlin and Baden-Württemberg, where local elections are to be held next year, the Greens are headed towards 30 percent.
Künast: Those are great figures, but they still only represent a mood -- they aren't votes yet. We want to keep our feet on the ground; we have to make sure we don't get carried away. We don't have any dreams of becoming a new kind of large, mainstream party with a broad base of popular support (like the center-left Social Democratic Party, the SPD, or the conservative, the Christian Democratic Union, CDU, and it's Bavarian sister party, the Christian Social Union, or CSU).
SPIEGEL: But the numbers do indicate that there is a political shift underway in Germany right now. Do you think that next year could see the first appointment of a Green politician as head of one of Germany's state governments?
Künast: It's possible.
SPIEGEL: The next test will be the state parliament election in Baden-Württemberg on March 27. Will it be the Green's goal to do well enough to have a candidate become governor in the state?
Künast: I don't want to pre-empt what happens in Baden-Württemberg. Our primary aim is a situation where a coalition cannot be formed without the Greens. Then basic parliamentary arithmetic takes over -- the party with the most seats has first prerogative to form a government. If that doesn't work out, it falls to the second largest party.
SPIEGEL: Up until now Baden-Württemberg was a state where there was potential for a coalition government between the conservative Christian Democrats (CDU) and the Greens. Is that still a possibility after the governing Conservative-led coalition decided to extend the lifespans of nuclear reactors by an average of 12 years?
Künast: The Greens see the recent decisions on nuclear policy as a declaration of war, that much is clear. There had been a consensus existing between the state and the energy companies, but the Conservative-Liberal coalition has abandoned that, at the very latest, with the multibillion euro gift (to the energy industry).
SPIEGEL: You of all people must regret recent developments the most. You wanted to form a new mainstream coalition with the conservatives and had been fostering good relations with Angela Merkel.
Künast: I heard the door go clack as Ms. Merkel closed the door on a conservative-Green coalition. That door is now locked. Merkel has to fight her ideological battle for nuclear power in order to keep her government together. She'll pay a high price for that. As long as the current nuclear policy remains, there will be no conservative-Green coalition. The fight against nuclear power is written down on the Green Party's birth certificate -- that isn't going to change.
Spiegel: Do you think it's possible to stop the reversal of the nuclear phase-out agreed to in 2001?
Künast: Nothing's set in stone yet. We are going to use all the tools we have at our disposal (to fight it): legal action, demonstrations, campaigning. Ms. Merkel will live to regret her recent decisions on nuclear policy. She is going to meet resistance at all levels, even from within her own ranks.
SPIEGEL: You should be grateful to Ms. Merkel -- the Greens are in a much better position to mobilize support now. Will the Greens now become the conservatives' main opponent in place of the SPD?
Künast: Today it's an open question which party is the biggest in the left-wing camp. You can see that most clearly in energy policy. We're fighting against the government, whereas the SPD are just swimming in our wake. But there are also other policy areas where this is true.
SPEIGEL: Is that still self-confidence or could it be delusions of grandeur?
Künast: Keep on speculating -- I've got proof. Our family policy is diametrically opposed to the conservative perspective because we don't see a marriage certificate as a central criterion. In transport policy, too -- just look at Stuttgart 21 (the massive project in the southern German city to transform the train station in the Baden-Württenberg capital from a terminus to a through station for billions of euros and to build a geographically complex high-speed rail line to nearby Ulm) -- it's the Greens that are defying the government, not the SPD. So you see it isn't automatically always the SPD that sets the tone of policy on the left.
SPIEGEL: Chancellor Merkel has signalled that the Baden-Württemberg state elections should serve as a referendum on the controversial Stuttgart 21 rail project. Are you taking up that gauntlet?
Künast: With pleasure. She'll get her referendum. Only Merkel has to play fair and make sure that the people aren't presented with a fait accompli when they finally get to vote. We're demanding an immediate stop to the building and demolition work until the day of the election.
SPIEGEL: And if the Greens win, can they give voters a guarantee that Stuttgart 21 will be stopped?
Künast: The project can be stopped, no matter what the state government tells people. It is largely financed largely with federal funds and not all of the official planning procedures have been completed yet.
SPIEGEL: There is also a new government due to be elected in the city-state of Berlin next year. Many are calling for you to become the city's mayor -- even current mayor Klaus Wowereit is waiting with baited breath. When are you going to say yes?
Künast: My time plan doesn't run according to the wishes of SPIEGEL reporters. The Berlin state branch of the Green Party is working on new, comprehensive platforms to reinforce the Greens as a party for the whole city. Only after that is finished will decisions about candidates be made.
- Part 1: 'Merkel Will Regret This'
- Part 2: 'I Admit We Have a Deficiency in the Green Party'
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The new numbers for the Greens are up two percentage points from last week, and are more than double the party's actual results during the last election in September 2009, when they received 10.7 percent of the vote. Support for the Social Democrats remains nearly the same as last year, when the party secured 23 percent of the vote.
This has instilled Jürgen Trittin, co-chair of the Greens' parliamentary group, with a new sense of self-confidence. He says that it will be the Greens, not the Social Democrats (SPD), who are the primary opponents of Chancellor Angela Merkel's Christan Democrats (CDU) in the next election. He told the Rheinischen Post newspaper this week that he had learned with great interest that Merkel considers the Greens, on issues ranging from nuclear energy to the massive Stuttgart 21 railway infrastructure project, to be her true political opponents. "We gladly take on this challenge," he added.
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