After weeks of negotiations following the historic election in March, the Green Party and the center-left Social Democrats (SPD) in the southwestern state of Baden-Württemberg announced a new government on Wednesday. "The people voted for change a month ago," said Winfried Kretschmann, the leader of the party in the state who will now be the first-ever Green state governor in Germany. "The aim is to have five years of good government in a partnership of equals."
The March election overturned a Christian Democratic Union (CDU) government in what had been one of the conservative party's traditional strongholds. The CDU -- Chancellor Angela Merkel's party -- had ruled in Baden-Württemberg for 58 years. That alone would have made the election remarkable. But the Green victory puts Kretschmann at the crest of the party's most significant comeback since Joschka Fischer's departure in 2005.
Fischer served as foreign minister and vice-chancellor under former Chancellor Gerhard Schröder. He belonged to a much higher-profile coalition between Greens and Social Democrats -- at the federal level, in Berlin -- but the ranking was reversed. Schröder's Social Democrats were on top, while the Greens served as junior partner. Kretschmann on Wednesday took pains not to dominate his SPD junior partner, Nils Schmid, and in fact the Social Democrats will control a majority of state ministries.
Experts give two main reasons for the Greens' victory in March. The Fukushima nuclear disaster in Japan swayed voters away from nuclear power and toward greener energy efforts; and an expensive and controversial overhaul of the train station in Stuttgart, the state capital, had the Green base mobilized. Both issues dented the popularity of the incumbent CDU governor, who had supported nuclear power and the Stuttgart 21 urban renewal project. But even with their clear mandate, the Greens may not manage to prevent Stuttgart 21 from going ahead.
German papers on Thursday try to read the tea leaves.
The center-left Süddeutsche Zeitung writes:
"It's one of the most interesting political experiments in the history of postwar Germany. Red-Green coalitions are old hat by now, but a coalition under a Green leadership has never existed. Baden-Württemberg has cobbled together something new. In the most unexpected German state, the state where for almost 60 years conservatives have governed, a Green leader has risen."
"The start of this coalition has the same significance as the start of (Schröder's) red-green federal government in 1998. Back then, the Christian Democrat Helmut Kohl had to step down after 16 years as chancellor, and the first Green politician rose to a leadership role in Berlin. In those days Chancellor Schröder and his Social Democrats viewed themselves as 'the chef,' while the Greens under Vice Chancellor Joschka Fischer were considered 'the waiter.' No one uses this chef-and-waiter caricature anymore, but in the current case, of course, the Greens would be the chef. Nevertheless they're giving the SPD the impression of being in charge: The distribution of ministries in Baden-Württemberg has been extremely advantageous to the SPD. The clever man always yields."
The left-leaning Berliner Zeitung writes:
"For the first time -- more than 30 years after the Greens were founded -- the party has a state governor. Not in a small state, not in a city-state like Berlin, Bremen or Hamburg. That the victory came in the heartland of the conservatives, in the nation's model state for economic success, makes the breakthrough greater and more important."
"(The Greens) will control the ministries of environment, transportation, science, rural space, consumer protection, and a ministry for civil society. All the classic portfolios have gone to the SPD -- economy, finance, justice, labour, schools, welfare, and the interior ministry. The Greens have asserted power only in those areas dealing with their original concerns. Thirty years after their foundation, and near the pinnacle of their power (all they need now is a federal chancellor), the party has returned to its roots, pulled back to its original niche."
The center-right Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung argues:
"A majority of citizens in the affluent and very liveable state (of Baden-Württemberg) will not want revolutionary politics. They don't have much need for a 'true cultural awakening' of the sort announced by the future governor on Wednesday. For some time now, though, the Greens have not been a revolutionary party, and in fact in this region they've always had (value-)conservative roots. The word 'conservation' -- which has even been worked into the coalition agreement -- is not foreign to politicians like Kretschmann."
"Above all, the Green victors here, who have called for 'change' with their geriatric (SPD) partners, will find themselves powerfully changed by governing. This too would be a sign of some future role for the Greens again on a federal level -- and not a bad one."
The conservative daily Die Welt writes:
"(Baden-Württemberg) can handle a little bit of revolution, and in fact the new green-red coalition has introduced a whole new ministry for integration. It will belong to the Social Democrats, and it will serve as a de facto refutation of Thilo Sarrazin (the prominent Social Democrat who wrote a book against Muslim integration last year). It would be healthy if the topics of integration and Islam could be disentangled, though, because Muslims in the region are better integrated than in any other part of Germany. They don't need the gesture suggested by the new ministry -- that they are a special group in need of special help."
"One can also demolish a rich state quickly by ruining trust. The radical wing of the Green Party has begun this process in the debate over Stuttgart 21. Subordinating already-signed business contracts (for the renovation) to 'the yearnings of the people' is dangerous in an internationally-networked industrial nation like Germany."