The German Green Party’s victory in Baden-Württemberg’s March 14 regional elections would appear to be a decisive step in its rise to power in Germany. In winning over 32.5% of the vote in one of the richest and most industrialized Länder in the country, the Greens, who have governed Baden-Württemberg since 2011, showed that they can put forward a pragmatic economic policy combining environmental advocacy with defense of industry. At the dawn of a "super election year" in Germany, it is up to the German Greens to build a coherent economic narrative that highlights the compatibility between economic development and environmental protection.
The Greens’ conversion to realism
Founded in West Germany in 1980, the Greens (Die Grünen) were originally conceived as an anti-establishment party, an amalgam of pacifist, pro-environment and anti-nuclear movements, with an economic philosophy still very much inspired by Marxist ideology. Presenting the Grünen as an alternative to the established political parties, the program the Greens adopted in 1980 proclaimed that "industrial development and consumerist society condemn the human being to intellectual and moral decline".
The German Greens made their début in electoral politics in 1983, when they first entered into regional parliaments and into the Bundestag. But they gradually renounced their anti-establishment position, an evolution that created a division between the "Realos", who sought cooperation with other parties in order to advance reformist ideas, and the "Fundis", who rejected the idea of assuming governmental responsibilities and instead advocated for a radical transformation of politics. A subsequent alliance with the Bündnis-90 party, founded in the former GDR after the fall of the wall, did nothing to smooth the fault lines of the internal conflict which came to a head in 1998, the year when the Greens became part the German Federal government lead by Chancellor Gerhard Schröder.
Today, there is no questioning about the Greens’ participation in government. In 2020, the Greens were part of 11 of the 16 regional governments, in coalitions with the CDU and the SPD as well as with the extreme left party Die Linke - in Thuringia, Bremen and Berlin - and with the Liberals of the FDP in Schleswig-Holstein and Rhineland-Palatinate. The Greens have been in power in Baden-Württemberg since 2011, and their approach to the 2017 negotiations for the formation of the federal government coalition further strengthened their credibility in the eyes of the public.
There are varying nuances to the party’s positions as expressed in the different Länder, ranging from the eco-socialism of the Berlin Greens to green conservatism as theorized by Winfried Kretschmann, and the more activist base still maintains positions that are further to the left than those of its leaders. Nonetheless the 2018 election of Annalena Baerbock and Robert Habeck, the charismatic duo now heading the party, put a definitive end to old schisms. As Amanda Sloat explained in a Brookings study titled: Germany’s new centrists? The evolution, political prospects, and foreign policy of Germany’s Green Party, today the Greens are united behind a center-left line, seemingly giving credence to the slogan "Radikal ist das neue Realistisch" (Radicalism is the new realism).
An ecological and social reconstruction of the market economy
In a break with the Marxist overtones of their beginnings, the German Greens are now strengthening their ties to economic circles. As a case in point: in 2018 former Green MP Thomas Gambke founded "the Grüner Wirtschaft Dialog", an exchange platform meant to create links between the Greens and the German economic world. Also created in 2018, and chaired by young deputy Daniel Bayaz, the Economic Council of the Greens (Wirtschaftsbeirat der Grünen) brings together politicians and business representatives such as Martin Brudermüller, CEO of chemicals giant BASF, and Hagen Pfundner of the powerful Federation of German Industry (BDI), to discuss prospects for the ecological and social transformation of society.