Germany's victorious Greens A greener future?明天会更绿？
Two state elections have upturned German politics两个州的选举反转德国政局
THE Greens are the “against party”. They are against a flashy rail project in Stuttgart, against nuclear power and, say their critics, against progress and growth. Yet on March 27th the party’s defiance paid off in stunning fashion. German angst over the nuclear disaster in Japan crested just as two south-western states held elections. In Rhineland-Palatinate the Green vote tripled, vaulting the party into government as junior partner of the Social Democratic Party (SPD), which had previously ruled alone. In Baden-Württemberg 58 years of government by the Christian Democratic Union (CDU) came to an end. The Greens will now take control of a state government for the first time.
This almost-unthinkable result is a big blow to Angela Merkel, the chancellor and CDU leader, who has lost the party’s crown jewel. Her pre-election decision to shut down seven nuclear-power plants looked panicky rather than principled, and may have made matters worse for the CDU. The elections were an even bigger setback for her coalition partner, the Free Democrats (FDP).But the SPD also has little to cheer about: its share of the vote was the lowest in half a century in Rhineland-Palatinate and the lowest ever in Baden-Württemberg, where it will become the junior coalition partner. Only the Greens have reason to celebrate.
The party’s offices in Stuttgart, Baden-Württemberg’s capital, look readier for protests and demonstrations than for the assumption of government responsibility. Yellow drums done up to look like nuclear-waste containers are stacked by the door. Bamboo poles for hoisting banners rest against them. Yet the ready-to-rally impression is somewhat misleading. Baden-Württemberg’s Greens are on the party’s “extreme realist” wing, says Dieter Fuchs of the University of Stuttgart.The incoming premier, Winfried Kretschmann, belongs to the Central Committee of German Catholics and to a traditional shooting club. His down-to-earth Swabian manner matches the state’s spirit better than did the conservative pugnacity of Stefan Mappus, the premier he defeated. The export-oriented Mittelstand has nothing to fear, he suggests. “You can be in the black with green ideas,” he said in an interview shortly before the election.
That is what he must now prove if the Greens are to be more than a one-term wonder. Voters rewarded them for their stance on nuclear power. But on issues that usually matter more, like jobs, economic policy and education, they rate the Greens below the CDU and even the SPD.
Mr Kretschmann cannot do much on nuclear power, because it is a federal domain.Two of Baden-Württemberg’s four nuclear reactors were turned off after the Japanese disaster, which is both a curse and a blessing for the new government. Mr Mappus recently paid 5 billion ($7 billion) for a 45% stake in their operator. The Greens’ contribution is a planned “energy transformation”, to be achieved partly by speeding up approvals for wind turbines. The state CDU had resisted wind farms, which it derided for producing the Verspargelung (“asparagusing”) of the countryside, the sort of gibe that one hears more often from Green protesters. Now the Greens must promote progress that others recognise as such.
The problem, Mr Kretschmann and his party think, is that the government is too bossy. He proposes a “citizen society” that would recruit ordinary people to collaborate on big projects. He wants to lower hurdles for initiating referendums, to bring people into the early stages of project planning and to strengthen the legislature, which under the CDU was subservient to the executive. The big test is Stuttgart 21, a rail project that provoked months of mass protests that the Greens joined but the SPD did not. After a “stress test” to see if Stuttgart 21 can do what it promises, both parties want a referendum. Any outcome may discomfit Mr Kretschmann. If the project is stopped, Baden-Württemberg will be forced to pay contractors hundreds of millions in fees that it can ill afford. If not, the new premier may find himself boring tunnels while his former comrades march in protest overhead.
In government the Greens will inevitably suffer wear and tear. Relations with the SPD, happy to be in power but shocked not to be in charge, may be tricky. Some of the Greens’ goals, like scrapping university-tuition fees, clash with others, such as narrowing the budget deficit. But the opportunity is great. The party has been trying to escape from its environmental ghetto. If Mr Kretschmann manages Germany’s showcase economy well, it will help.
Nuclear panic alone does not explain the Greens’ success. The party appeals most to groups whose share of the electorate is growing: relatively young, middle-class urbanites with a good education. Its leadership is a harmonious quartet, two men and two women who appeal to different groups of voters, notes Oskar Niedermayer of Berlin’s Free University. It has shed its radicalism and, at least in theory, now embraces economic growth. It is now “clearly in double-digit territory,” says Mr Niedermayer. It is far from being a broad-based Volkspartei like the CDU and SPD, but it is happy in its expanding niche.
As for Mrs Merkel, she is bruised but not broken. The CDU remains the largest party in Baden-Württemberg and it almost beat the SPD in Rhineland-Palatinate. “There are not that many countries where a party in government is stable at 35-37% nationwide,” says Peter Altmaier, a CDU leader in the Bundestag. “The chancellor’s rivals within the CDU have either resigned or lost elections. “For the first time she no longer has natural enemies in the party,” says Mr Altmaier. Now she is “free to develop her own project a little bit more clearly than in the past.
It may sound eerily like the Greens’ idea: marrying the market economy to “sustainability”. Mrs Merkel’s hasty abandonment of her government’s first energy policy, which was to squeeze more power out of ageing nuclear plants, hurt her credibility. Its successor, she thinks, may find new supporters. With the FDP likely to become a more awkward partner (see box), Mrs Merkel may need an alternative after the federal election in 2013. The Greens, seasoned by government in Baden-Württemberg, might just fit the bill.