German Greens are on the rise. But the nation is divided

(The Guardian, 24 Jun 2019) The party has to address the concerns of groups beyond its urban base if it is to ultimately succeed.

The Greens in Germany could hardly believe it. Leading party members were bouncing up and down when the public broadcasters sent the first, still uncertain results on the evening of the European Union elections. The green column rose to 20% and above, close to the black column of Angela Merkel’s Christian Democrats, which ended up with 22.6%. Party manager Michael Kellner was beaming as the numbers came in.

Over the course of the evening it became clear that the Green party had nearly doubled its seats in the European parliament and had overtaken the Social Democrats, the former “people’s party”. A historic victory for us, a historic disaster for them.

All over Europe, the Green parties enjoyed modest gains, but nowhere did they gain so many votes as in Germany. Last week they even came out on top in one national opinion poll, overtaking Merkel’s conservatives for the first time.

The success of the German Greens is surely linked to the weakness of the governing coalition of Christian and Social Democrats. Both parties struggle with image problems, partly connected to their leadership. The head of the Social Democrats, Andrea Nahles, has just stepped down following the party’s disastrous showing in the European elections. She was the party’s 10th leader in 15 years.

But the Green wave cannot be explained away by its rivals’ failings. For decades denounced as eco-nerds and tree-huggers, the Greens have now conquered the progressive middle class and captured the zeitgeist. Green issues such as environmental protection, climate emergency and clean energy are mainstream. Vegetarianism and organic food are popular lifestyle choices. An extremely hot summer and the diesel scandal caused by German carmaker Volkswagen made even more people wonder whether the philosophy of unlimited growth and endless use of natural resources should be questioned.

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The Guardian, 24 Jun 2019: German Greens are on the rise. But the nation is divided