German Greens hope regional victory will strengthen national power claim

The German Greens made history five years ago when they defeated all other parties in a regional election for the first time. Now they are hoping that a second victory in the same state will solidify their reputation as a future force in German politics.

Voters in affluent southwest Baden-Württemberg will elect a new local parliament next Sunday, and the Greens are set to triumph again. According to a recent poll they will win 35% of the vote – well ahead of any other party and better than their solid result in 2016.

The vote marks the start of one of the busiest election years in recent German history. Polls taking place in six states as Bundestag elections in September will decide who succeeds Angela Merkel, the veteran chancellor.

The Greens hope that a victory in Baden-Württemberg will give momentum to a strong performance in September and their return to the national government after 16 years in opposition.

“This is the only state where we have a prime minister, so strategically we have to defend this position,” said Franziska Brantner, member of the Greens in the Bundestag, herself from Baden-Württemberg. “It shows that we can be the ruling party”

Still, anyone who hopes that a green victory in the state will be replicated nationally may be disappointed. Much of the party’s unique success in Baden-Württemberg rests on the popularity of one man – Winfried Kretschmann, the veteran Green politician who has led the regional government for the past 10 years.

The 72-year-old with silver hair and a slow voice, he was a leading figure in the “realo” or moderate wing of the Greens who finally triumphed over the “fundis” or radicals in the 1980s. warriors and conservatives, it benefits 70% approval ratings, and has come to symbolize a party that no longer speaks of marginalized ideals but speaks directly to the German middle class.

“People consider Kretschmann to be serious, honest and sympathetic,” said a green official from the state capital, Stuttgart. “He has become extremely popular here, especially over the past five years.”

Home of Daimler, Bosch and Porsche, Baden-Württemberg is Germany’s “autoland” and for decades was a stronghold of Merkel’s center-right Christian Democrats. But power shifted to the Greens in 2011 as the Fukushima disaster in Japan fueled a massive backlash against nuclear power. Local anger over Stuttgart 21, a controversial € 8 billion rail project, also helped the party, whose Baden-Württemberg branch also had a reputation for being more pragmatic – and therefore more eligible – than the Greens elsewhere.

This image was reinforced when in 2016 the Greens joined forces with the CDU to form a government in the state. The idea had initially seemed far-fetched. “We had built few bridges then, and suddenly we had to come together and form a coalition,” said Minister of State Theresa Schopper. Ultimately, however, she said they managed to compromise much easier than expected.

Franziska Brantner © Imago Images / Reuters

The CDU was also pleased with the coalition. “It was very calm, stable. It is governed with great discernment and common sense, ”said Manuel Hagel, general secretary of the CDU in Baden-Württemberg. “The Greens are a reliable partner for the CDU. I can see that it works well at the federal level as well. “

The Greens say the coalition is proof that you can succeed in marrying environmental policies with economic prosperity. “The economy has not gone bankrupt [under Green leadership]Said Sandra Detzer, co-chair of the Baden-Württemberg Greens. “We don’t all just wear our eco-shoes. Baden-Württemberg is still a strong industrial site, a place of innovation – and perhaps a model for combining economy and ecology. “

This message turned out to be convincing. The number of party members in Baden-Württemberg has increased by 60% over the past five years, said Detzer. It is also growing throughout Germany.

However, Peter Matuschek, chief political analyst at Forsa pollsters, said the Greens’ success in the southwest was not necessarily transferable to the rest of Germany. Elsewhere, he said, many voters suspect the Greens are more left-wing and militant on climate goals.

“Kretschmann managed to win a good game [of Christian Democrats] in Baden-Württemberg, but they would not automatically turn to the Greens at national level, ”he said.

However, for Frank Brettschneider, communications analyst at the University of Hohenheim, Baden-Württemberg is sending a signal to the general public in Germany about the seriousness of the Greens. “By winning the elections there, the Greens can make it clear that they can also win when it is not just about environmental issues or climate protection,” he said.

The national leadership of the Greens has also tried to broaden the appeal of the party by projecting a more dominant image. They relaxed their rhetoric on climate policy slightly, for example, saying that Germany should try to “get on track” of limiting global warming to 1.5 degrees, as recommended by the Paris agreement on climate change. climate, but without insisting on it.

These measures angered some young green supporters and activists, who set up an alternative “climate list” for national elections, including those in Baden-Württemberg. This move is unlikely to take a large part of the green voters, but it is enough to warn the party leadership. Some observers expect tensions between the grassroots activist Greens and its more pragmatic leaders to persist well beyond Sunday’s elections.

But despite these tensions, the Greens are aiming high – from Baden-Württemberg to Berlin. “We want to sit behind the wheel, make sure this car is moving in the right direction,” Schopper said.

Additional reporting by Guy Chazan

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