The Green Party won’t save Germany

The Greens have excited the commentariat but they are not trusted by voters.

Sabine Beppler-Spahl
Germany Correspondent

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Topics Politics World

Forty years ago this week, the German Green Party was founded. This year’s anniversary celebrations coincide with a much-hyped ‘green wave’. ‘The stars have aligned for Germany’s Greens. The next election may put them in government’, says The Economist. Deutsche Welle claims that a Green chancellor is no longer inconceivable.

It is true that the Green Party has come a long way since its founding days. Founder member Petra Kelly described it as an ‘anti-party party’ which would sweep away the old mainstream. Many members of the German establishment at the time viewed it as nothing more than a collection of dreamers or dangerous freaks. ‘Do we want to continue down the path of rationality, reason and bourgeois values, or are we heading for a colourful fools’ ship named Utopia?’, asked the CSU (Christian Social Union) minister-president of Bavaria, Franz Josef Strauss, in 1986.

Back then, few would have believed how much the Greens would go on to shape political debate. ‘Ecology and sustainability have become new benchmarks for politics – far beyond the party’, said German president Frank-Walter Steinmeier (of the SPD) in his enthusiastic speech at the anniversary celebration. He’s right. The late Franz Josef Strauss would be very surprised to see his own successors in today’s CSU advocating for policies such as bans on plastic bags, the phasing out of coal before 2030, and the enshrining of climate protection in Germany’s constitution.

Yet, some things have also remained surprisingly consistent. From the beginning, the Greens have been a thoroughly middle-class party whose supporters come, almost entirely, from the well-to-do sections of society. ‘Green ideas do not flourish in the workers’ quarters. They thrive in the luxury villas of the rich and beautiful’, was another phrase coined by the populist Strauss.

In 2012, a year before the AfD arrived, Manfred Güllner, one of Germany’s leading pollsters, wrote: ‘The Greens were and are a party for the minority of the well-educated, and, increasingly also the upper-income groups… The adoption of numerous green ideas by the other parties means that large sections of the population no longer see themselves represented in politics.’

This is why the party’s much-lauded ‘green wave’ must be put into perspective. The Greens’ ideological influence is strong, but their electoral success has, at best, been mediocre. Only once since 1980 has the party managed to win more than 10 per cent of the vote in a General Election. In 2009 it received 10.7 per cent; its second best result was in 2017, when it got 8.9 per cent. It was during last year’s EU elections, in May, that talk of a green wave gained momentum — the party came third in those elections, winning 20.5 per cent of the vote. But EU elections with their low voter turnout (61 per cent in 2019) are untypical.

Less than five months later, the party did unexpectedly badly in the three important regional elections in the eastern states of Brandenburg, Saxony and Thuringia – coming only in fourth and fifth place. (In Thuringia and Saxony, the party gained less than a third of the number of votes won by the AfD.) ‘Even the Greens can’t do magic. Their high-flying seems to have come to a halt for the time being’, wrote a disappointed commentator in Der Spiegel.

In the past few months, the Green leadership has been given near celebrity status by some in the press. Leader Robert Habeck embodies the ‘perfect mixture of future optimism, devotion and nonchalance that could tear the country out of years of Merkel lethargy’, says the green-leaning taz. He can speak to practically everyone, raves Jana Hensel in Die Zeit.

Hyping up the Greens has become part of a political strategy for those who hope that this once anti-mainstream party can channel today’s widespread voter dissatisfaction. But in truth, the Greens have more problems connecting with normal people than ever. Green Party politicians generally come across as authoritarian and arrogant, especially since Greens have been at the forefront of calls for all sorts of bans and restrictions on everyday life. In 2013, the Greens infamously demanded a compulsory weekly ‘veggie day’ in all public canteens. They have been crusading against junk food, cheap meat, public smoking, low-cost flights, and most recently against private firework displays on New Year’s Eve.

Before last year’s election in Thuringia, Habeck tweeted that he was trying to do everything to make the region become ‘open, free, liberal, democratic and ecological’. The tweet helped to cement the image of the Greens as condescending – Thuringia is already liberal and deocratic, many critics rightly countered.

Since it was founded, the Green Party has had a deeply conservative, elitist and anti-growth core. Today, the party’s claims to be anti-establishment and socially liberal no longer ring true.

Anyone who doubts the true nature of the party should look back at its 2019 programme. It promised to make Germany a pioneer in climate protection, calling for ‘environmental costs’ to be ‘added to the prices of goods and services’. Poorer Germans are already shouldering the burden of the huge hike in electricity costs since the Energiewende (the transition to renewable energy sources). Electricity prices have risen by 118 per cent since 2000. The average price per kw/h in 2019 was nearly 33 cents – a record high. Increasing the cost of living even further is unlikely to be a vote winner.

After more than 40 years in politics, and despite the deep crisis of the other mainstream parties, the Greens are further away than ever from winning ordinary people’s hearts and minds.

In February, there will be elections in Hamburg. Some are predicting that the party will win. In this relatively wealthy city there is indeed a fairly strong Green voter base. But even if the polls are right this time, and the party manages to get 29 per cent, this is hardly indicative of a new green wave. Winning a true majority is not the same as flooding politics with green ideas.

Sabine Beppler-Spahl’s Brexit – Demokratischer Aufbruch in Großbritannien is out now.

Picture by: Getty.

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Comments

Helen MDugan

17th January 2020 at 4:33 pm

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Mark Bretherton

17th January 2020 at 4:28 pm

“Green Party politicians generally come across as authoritarian and arrogant,”. In germany? That must take some doing..

Gerard Barry

18th January 2020 at 1:03 pm

So true! Their voters don’t seem too bothered by it though unfortunately, perhaps because the media here keeps telling everyone that it’s the AfD are the authoritarian ones.

Filbert Flange

17th January 2020 at 4:17 pm

How well would this “grass roots” party fare without the total support of their fellow travelers in media? They would likely drop off the radar entirely without such complete genuflection by corporate presstitutes.

Over here on the lefternmost edge of the earth, our greens do even worse at the polls — a combination of both having 4 other parties desperate to carve out their place even further to the left of the greens, but also because universal pain and suffering is a piss-poor election strategy, thankfully…

Genghis Kant

17th January 2020 at 2:05 pm

Ironically, it is the ‘green’ policies that end up causing more environmental problems than they solve.

The current panic about plastic waste, for example, is a result of greens insisting that plastic be recycled, resulting in a glut of plastic waste when that recycling became uneconomic.

Gerard Barry

17th January 2020 at 1:53 pm

I live in Germany and am deeply disturbed by the Greens’ recent election successes. I’m not as sure as the author of this piece is that they won’t get any stronger. The Germans have a shocking tendency towards group think (as their history shows) and are at present totally on board with the whole climate change hysteria, not to mention the holier-than-thou false morality of open borders and multiculturalism that is also espoused by the Greens.

jan mozelewski

17th January 2020 at 9:53 am

What i got from this : That Franz Josef Strauss bloke speaks a lot of common sense. Which is why he is referred to as ‘popularist’. Yet another word which the ‘progressives’ (that is one too!) have taken and subverted. Along with ‘radical’ ‘diverse’ and ‘sustainable’ etc….
Some stuff I knew from my own experience….confirmed to be also happening in Germany: The ‘commentariat’ need to be called something else. They don’t comment on what is happening, they constantly try to turn the rudder. At best they are ‘influencers’ but given how they always over-estimate their influence and how often they are totally wrong, they are barely that either. The ‘commentariat’ keep burbling this stuff, end up very wide of the mark, then never hold their hands up and say they were wrong…nope the voters were wrong for not complying. (And the voters insist on voting for people who are ‘popularist’….as if, in a democracy, anyone every got elected for being UNpopular.)
The same themes keep occurring all over the civilized world. A biased and out of touch media; middle-class well off people preaching austerity in the name of ‘climate change’; a broadcast media that is no longer unbiased and which is now distrusted…..we all know the symptoms so we can probably fill in some other German blanks.
What is hitting home to people is that in many ways (quite apart from trade and commerce)’Globalism’ has already happened. We are not fighting to stop it, we are fighting a revolution against it.

Ven Oods

17th January 2020 at 8:59 am

These sound like the sort of people who would ki11 you for your own good.
That they’re gaining traction is more worrying. I wonder if Germany would remain as predominant in the EU if they gained control.

steven brook

17th January 2020 at 8:52 am

‘Do we want to continue down the path of rationality, reason and bourgeois values, or are we heading for a colourful fools’ ship named Climate Hysteria?’ Nope! Development, progress and rising living standards for everyone please. If greenies want to return to the Middle Ages they are free to buy an island somewhere and toil in the fields. Personally I don’t want to be reduced to serfdom because they worship mother Earth (Who is a bit ch by the way and will bump you off you at the first opportunity). I also don’t want to work in their coffee shops, look after their snotty brats or have to clean their loos.

Dominic Straiton

17th January 2020 at 8:35 am

The Germans could create an economic block that makes them rich but keeps millions in the south poor. They could then close much of industry and convert vast areas into a post industrial ,green, agrarian society. A kind of living space as it were.

K Tojo

17th January 2020 at 8:24 am

“The environment”. That’s an interesting concept. Everybody knows what and where the environment is – don’t they? Everybody knows that the environment is precious, fragile and under constant threat. The eco-activists have told us so (and you can’t argue with an eco-activist without revealing yourself to be a complacent ignoramus at best and or a brutal rapist of the planet at worst).

Extinction Rebellion, along with their fellow travellers and useful idiots, steadily gain approval while the long term negative consequences of their demands go unexamined by the MSM. “The environment” looks increasingly like an idyllic world where the wealthy elite live. They don’t want it spoiled by the vulgar lifestyles of the common herd.

If you are familiar with D H Lawrence’ poem The Mountain Lion (a fine poem by the way) the last verse expresses an elitist’ cold contempt for humanity and idealisation of the untamed wild and its noble creatures. Environmentalism is ultimately a Romantic movement.

jan mozelewski

17th January 2020 at 10:01 am

Brilliant comment. I suppose exhibit A to support it would be that avuncular ‘national treasure’ David Attenborough. Who preaches about the damage us nasty humans have done to ‘the environment’…while having spent a long illustrious career traipsing over countless fragile eco-systems making tele-progs for people to watch on things made using fossil fuel and with plastics etc Last time I saw him bewailing damage to the environment my hubby speculated how many air-miles he and his team had racked up during the last 5 decades.

cliff resnick

17th January 2020 at 9:43 pm

Spike Milligan – Life On Earth, a satire on David Attenborough travelling around the world most exotic destination luxuriating in 5 star accommodation, It was hilarious p**s take then and is even funnier now. Guess what it seems to be the only Spike Milligan sketch or interview not online, banned by BBC as https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cTQtlaofjoI&list=PL3E414E6CBD03B584&index=3&t=0s
The voice-over king of the natural history is a TV presenter not a climate scientist and probably has a carbon foot print bigger than any one.

Philip Humphrey

17th January 2020 at 7:50 am

I remember after the tidal wave damaged the Fukushima reactor in Japan, Germany decided to prematurely close all its nuclear reactors. Although the decision was wrapped in greenwash the simple truth was that shutting down a low carbon technology in preference to a high carbon ones (coal etc.) inevitably lead to higher CO2 emissions than would have been the case otherwise. That to me is yet another case of the political green movement and governments virtue signaling and getting it wrong as they have done repeatedly. Their campaigns against nuclear power have undoubtedly added greatly to CO2 emissions over the past few decades and they are scarcely in a position to lecture others.

jan mozelewski

17th January 2020 at 10:11 am

I am a metal detectorist and see up-close the effects of pandering to green meddling. I refer to ‘green waste’…..sounds so good in theory. In practice it is anything but green. So much rubbish is amongst the green bits it is hardly green at all….the bolts from composted mdf furniture, the metal tubes that hold cheap garden items like cold-frames together, countless bits of aluminium (detectorists call the ubiquitous nuisance ‘canslaw’) and of course lots and lots of plastic (I stumbled across a big portion of a senseo coffee maker in the middle of what had been a pristine field) …..Every time someone puts something inappropriate (either accidentally or by design) into a ‘green waste’ bin it ends up littering the countryside. I know some fields, habitually spread with it, which are now little more than low-density land-fill. But…it salves the conscience of the metro-elite consumers who never actually see the consequences. And don’t want to.
That is Green parties in a nutshell….their focus is to soothe the consciences of people like themselves.

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H McLean

17th January 2020 at 1:22 am

Well, who doesn’t want to protect the environment, right? The problem with Green parties all across the world is behind their environmental facade they have embraced cultural Marxism in a big way. They are misanthropic in nature, backed up the the kind of self-righteousness self-aggrandisement only found in the ranks of snooty middle classes.

Gerard Barry

17th January 2020 at 1:56 pm

You’re right. Apart from The Environment, one of the Greens’ main issues is arguing for a more “humane” asylum policy (i.e. open borders and the destruction of German and European culture, which they seem to despise). Indeed, Franz Josef Strauss once said of them that they are green on the outside but red on the inside. They are truly ideologically possessed people.

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