Is Joschka's German Green Party finished?
6 September 2005, HAMBURG - With a change of government seen as all but certain when Germany votes this month, the Greens look destined to lose their role as junior partner in government and could face years in the political wilderness.
6 September 2005
HAMBURG - With a change of government seen as all but certain when Germany votes this month, the Greens look destined to lose their role as junior partner in government and could face years in the political wilderness.
Greens figurehead Joschka Fischer will probably give up the Foreign Ministry, exactly 20 years after he became Germany's first ever Greens minister in a regional government.
At the start of that era, he swore his oath as environment minister of Hesse state in jeans and white tennis shoes. The 57-year- old Fischer, now expected to become Greens opposition leader in the Berlin parliament, today prefers Italian three-piece suits.
This likely end of the first age of the Greens is crushingly complete.
Over the past decades the Greens been tossed out of power in all nine of Germany's federal states where they have held cabinet seats under Social Democratic state premiers. They are now in opposition or have vanished from all 16 German state assemblies.
In part, the Greens are victim of their own success. Their pro-environment and civil liberties policies have been broadly adopted by mainstream parties.
Working against the party is the fact that Green policies on joblessness, economic growth or tax reform - the key issues this year in German public debate - are unfamiliar to most voters.
Political scientist Juergen Falter of the University of Mainz says the Greens do not fit in with the zeitgeist or mood of the times.
"Green issues such as homosexual marriage or anti-discrimination laws do not attract wide attention," he says.
Polls suggest support for the Greens will drop by a percentage point or two from the 8.6 per cent of they won in 2002. The party may also lose its number-three status in the German political system to the new Left Party or the pro-business Free Democrat Party in the September 18 election.
Werner Patzelt, political science professor at the Technical University of Dresden, says the Greens are not a spent force however.
"The only thing that is finished is their role in government. They are a stable part of the political system," he said. The Greens were anchored in that part of Germany's "enlightened middle class" that rejects the Christian Democrats as its natural party.
Patzelt and Falter both see a remaking ahead for the party.
"Once in opposition, they'll bloom," forecasts Falter. The party could be doctrinaire on environmental issues again without having to worry about putting its ideas into practice.
Out of power, the Greens are likely to have to scrutinize what they stand for, now that most German parties have adopted ecological policies that only differ from Green ones by degree, Patzelt adds.
"They will have to ask themselves ... whether they are a leftist party, perhaps to the left of the Social Democrats, or whether they are a bourgeois liberal party that is competing with the Free Democrats," he says.
In the Greens' peculiar hierarchy, Fischer is not party leader, but he far outshines the other party figures, barnstorming the country and humiliating hecklers with his heavy sarcasm.
Describing himself as a "fighting boar", Fischer has reserved some of the fiercest attacks in his 14,000-kilometre campaign bus tour for the Left Party. This union of former East German communists and western labour militants could drain away some Green votes, many in the party fear.
In opposition, Fischer is likely to be "a rhetorically brilliant opponent of the government", Falter says, but the Greens are already grooming new talent for the post-Fischer era. Patzelt notes: "In Green politics, everyone is replaceable."
Subject: German news