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.
'I Admit We Have a Deficiency in the Green Party'
SPIEGEL: But as a Berlin resident, surely you could tell us how you would imagine the city if it were run by the Greens.
Künast: Let's leave the details of the platforms to the local state branch of the Green Party. Berlin is an exciting city and could become a model green metropolis, if we were to use the potential of various initiatives, scientific research, businesses and the many foreign citizens that live here to the full.
SPIEGEL: So instead of being "Berlin, poor but sexy," the slogan would become "poor, but multicultural"?
Künast: Spare me the clichés. We Greens were the first to demand that immigrants integrate themselves into our democratic society and send their children to kindergarten. Even in a green metropolis people have to be able to speak German.
SPIEGEL: We have our doubts that the Greens have the personnel and the platforms to rule a state as the leading partner in a coalition government. For that you also need ministers for finance and the interior, and not just the environment and education.
Künast: Your concern is touching, but it's unfounded. There have already been Green ministers for foreign affairs, health and agriculture on a national level, and Greens have held ministries for transport, justice and finance in the state parliaments. We won't shy away from appointing a Green interior minister. The fact that police operations (in Germany) are conducted differently now than they were 20 or 30 years ago, when demonstrators were regularly beaten up, is largely thanks to the de-escalation strategy, which the Greens played a defining role in developing. The police force has become greener, even if they now wear blue uniforms. But what you said about personnel, I admit we have a deficiency in the Green Party.
SPIEGEL: Self-criticism? We're curious.
Künast: We need to be more concerned with how we broaden our members to find more potential leaders. I suggest that we reflect on an old virtue from our founding period and aggressively recruit people again from outside the party. We need people with practical experience in their careers and management, from social workers to entrepreneurs.
SPIEGEL: Are you saying that the Greens have too many career politicians?
Künast: Those who are starting new with us today have an entirely different set of conditions than the original generation. We protested on the streets, we offered opposition in parliament, we ruled in individual sectors of politics. Now we are preparing ourselves to also become the ruling party. We are moving closer to new responsibilities, for which we need a comprehensive model of society, and good people who cover the whole spectrum of questions that one needs for professional governance.
SPIEGEL: Your younger party members already complain about too much professionalism: The Greens decided against radicalism, so as not to make waves within bourgeois circles. How do you avoid that accusation?
Künast: I talk to them. To their great delight, I quote Karl Marx, and his sentence at the main entrance of the Humboldt University in Berlin: "Philosophers have only interpreted the world in various ways. The point, however, is to change it." A politician is not radical, only because he puts forward a radical demand, but rather through practice, when he unemotionally and strictly restructures finances, reforms schools, builds preschools, breaks up energy monopolies -- such things.
SPIEGEL: The Greens are surfing the wave of the current trend in the middle and upper classes towards environmentalism. Are there any areas in politics where the party is still uncomfortable?
Künast: We don't protect vested interests. Our goal is to live differently, to produce, to transport. We are committed to creating, for example, interconnected mobility, not just with electric cars. When you don't need your own car anymore for a weekend getaway, and instead can go with train, bus or a rented electric car, with your ticket and route on your mobile phone, then that is radical in a pleasant way. Before, we demanded car-free inner cities, and that, alone, is not considered provocative by anyone anymore.
SPIEGEL: Maybe it would be different if you specifically called for it.
Künast: With strident demands you don't achieve anything today. Radicalism is different today. The transformation that actually is happening is more radical. We are backing the intelligent connection of rules and incentives. We want, for example, to scale the motor vehicle tax to a car's CO2 emissions. Someone who drives a gas guzzler would then pay €3,000 (around $4,000) instead of €1,000 per year. For large company cars, we would gradually lower the amounts one could deduct from their taxes. For electric cars, however, we need an incentive program to drive the market.
SPIEGEL: Before, you wanted to abolish the company car privilege that supported the private use of cars meant for business.
Künast: What we wanted to abolish then, like today, is environmental destruction supported with tax monies. We would prevent that with the cap on the company car privileges, and still secure jobs in the auto industry.
SPIEGEL: With each example, you are proving the criticism of the young Greens to be true. Why don't you still demand the general increase to Germany's so-called "eco tax," a series of taxes aimed at environmental protection?
Künast: We don't reject that at all. But how should we impose a higher eco-tax on the normal consumer, when so many companies are free of them without a clear reason? We want to be the first ones to access those dormant billions. We are talking about a reconstruction of our industrial society, including the key branches of automobiles, chemicals and heavy equipment production. We want to reconstruct these core areas, not destroy them. That's why we need to proceed systematically. We change the rules, we provide the offers, we come at it from all sides, but we don't want to crash into the wall.
SPIEGEL: The governing coalition will be acting quite radically if they do as they say and massively expand renewable energy sources by 2050. Is the Green Party even still needed in Germany?
Künast: That's what I call bogus-radicalism. With her nuclear policy, Ms. Merkel is doing exactly the opposite of what she says. We want to make the complete switch to renewable energies by 2030. That won't happen without the Greens as the driving force.
SPIEGEL: You do agree with the current government, though, that a different infrastructure is needed for new energy sources. Will you be demonstrating in favor of the construction of the new power autobahns, the smart grid needed to connect Europe's far-flung renewable energy sources -- be it that coming from massive offshore wind parks in Northern Europe or solar farms hugging the Mediterranean?
Künast: We desperately need to upgrade the national electric grid, but as long as Ms. Merkel continues to do business with the nuclear lobby, we won't be demonstrating in her support.
SPIEGEL: Ms. Künast, we thank you for this interview.