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The World from Berlin: 'Green Party Issues Have Gone Mainstream'

Germany's Green Party is experiencing an unprecedented rise in public opinion polls. But why? German commentators say that disgust with other parties is on the rise -- and the Greens have profited by moving to the center.

Germany's Green Party has never been as high in public opinion surveys as they are now. Zoom
dpa

Germany's Green Party has never been as high in public opinion surveys as they are now.

Political parties in Germany have not been having an easy time of it lately. The business-friendly Free Democrats (FDP) have plunged in the polls since their record 14.6 percent result in parliamentary elections one year ago. Recent surveys show that a mere 5 percent of Germans would vote for the party now. Chancellor Angela Merkel's conservatives have likewise lost support and have stagnated below 30 percent.

Even the center-left Social Democratic Party (SPD), which hit rock bottom last year and has staged a moderate comeback since then, has once again struggled in the polls, having dropped four percentage points in recent weeks.

One party, though, seems to be benefiting. In survey after survey this summer, the Green Party has hit new record highs. And this week, for the first time ever, the Green Party hit poll parity with the SPD, a minor miracle in a German political landscape which for decades was dominated by the CDU on the right and the SPD on the left.

According to a public opinion poll conducted by Forsa, both the SPD and the Greens would receive 24 percent of the vote were elections to be held this Sunday. Together, the two parties would be able to cobble together an absolute majority in parliament and topple Merkel's government.

For a former protest party, the elevated poll numbers are remarkable. But the Greens have changed dramatically from their beginnings in the 1970s. "The Green Party has been successful because they have become mainstream. They have moved to the middle of the political spectrum," Gerd Langguth, a former CDU parliamentarian who now teaches at the University of Bonn, told SPIEGEL ONLINE last week. "Now, they create the impression of being reasonable and normal."

The party has also profited from the numerous tribulations that have beset Merkel's government and from her recent, controversial decision to extend the lifespans of Germany's nuclear reactors. Commenting on the issue on Wednesday, Green Party floor leader Jürgen Trittin said, "One energy model is from the CDU and it stands for the atom. The other is from the Greens and it stands for renewable energies."

German editorialists take a closer look on Thursday at the success of the Green Party.

The financial daily Handelsblatt writes:

"Surveys are not election results. It is possible that the SPD will once again gain traction, and the FDP is not dead yet. But the wave of approval for the Greens cannot be explained solely by pointing to the desolate state of the competition. In 1983, when the Greens first gained seats in the national parliament, they were outsiders, both politically and habitually. Now, they are in the center of society because their issues have gone mainstream. Greens embody the lives of the urban middle class: liberal, environmentally aware, cosmopolitan, tolerant and interested in social equality."

"Perhaps we are witnessing the decisive turning point: that today, because of climate change and the global resource crisis, the green industrial revolution is the only promising economic strategy that we have remaining. What should be the foundation of Germany's future economy if not environmentally friendly technologies, products and services?"

The left-leaning Die Tageszeitung writes:

"The Greens are more popular than ever before, but why?... They are mainstream, but also a little bit alternative; accountable but also not out of place at demonstrations; a little bit neo-liberal, but in favor of a Green New Deal. They have arrived in the political center, but they are also a bit different. They are still opinion leaders when it comes to the environment, but nowhere else. Seldom has a party been so successful for no reason."

"Surely some of the Greens' recent success is fleeting and a result of the current situation. The Greens are profiting from a diffuse disgust with Germany's party landscape and are, like a sponge, absorbing dissatisfied voters from both the left and the right. Plus, the rhythm of political mood swings has become quicker. Not long ago, it was the FDP that was way up high, today it is the Greens, tomorrow others will take over. It is thus a mistake to call the Greens a party of the people. They are nothing more than a relatively small niche party made up of public officials, teachers and entrepreneurs and excluding blue-collar workers and the unemployed. Just what will remain of their current high in the end remains to be seen."

The conservative daily Die Welt writes:

"Currently, the Greens are, without a doubt, enjoying an effortless prosperity comparable to late-Roman decadence. What new proposals have the Greens developed? Where is the new approach to offset their familiar anti-nuclear chants? Is there a single project in Bremen, Hamburg, North Rhine-Westphalia or Saarland -- all states where the Greens are in government -- that has generated enthusiasm on the national level? The party doesn't even have any new, young political personalities to offer."

"Nothing, however, is as successful as success. Other parties can learn from the self-confidence shown by the Greens and the ongoing wave of contagious support. The SPD, however, has already begun attacking the Greens.... That is a big mistake."

-- Charles Hawley

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