A Greener Germany. (Comment)

By Hockenos, Paul | The Nation, October 14, 2002 | Go to article overview

A Greener Germany. (Comment)


Hockenos, Paul, The Nation


In the future, German Chancellor Gerhard Schroder and his Social Democrats will have reason to treat their junior coalition partner, the Greens, with more respect. In the September 22 nationwide elections, the Greens did better than anyone had expected--by just a percentage point or two, but enough to give the center-left a paper-thin majority and thus a second chance at running the country.

It is a chance many Germans felt they didn't deserve, and voters let the Social Democrats know it. Four years ago, Schroder told Germans he wouldn't expect their votes a second time if he didn't slash the nation's jobless rolls to 3.5 million. He didn't; the unemployed number more than 4 million, just as when he took office. Schroder's bungling of the economy cost the Social Democrats several dozen seats in the Bundestag and undermined its position as the country's most popular party.

To a large extent, the Greens owe the shift in their fortunes (after nineteen consecutive losses) to the political savvy and appeal of their leader, Joschka Fischer, Germany's respected Foreign Minister and the country's most popular politician. The Greens leaned heavily on his celebrity status to win new voters, a contradiction that the traditionally antiauthoritarian, grassroots party has learned to live with.

The squeaker was a black eye for the red-green government, and it could easily have been much worse. All year, the left-center coalition partners trailed the conservatives in the polls, sometimes by double digits. So hollow were their campaigns that it looked like the Christian Democrats' prickly challenger, the archconservative Bavarian Edmund Stoiber, would walk away with victory. But when the left injected some politics back into its platforms--the ecological issues around the catastrophic August floods and the government's defiant stand against a US-led war on Iraq--the contest turned into a race again.

The red-green stand on war against Iraq--no German participation, UN mandate or not--tapped a deep resentment at the way America wields power. The Bush Administration's stands on global warming and the Kyoto Protocol, arms control treaties, the International Criminal Court, UN dues, Israel policy and other issues rankle ordinary Germans--irritation that runs across the political spectrum. …

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