BERLIN, Apr 25 – Germany’s Greens, the country’s third-biggest political force, will hold a party congress this weekend, five months ahead of elections in which Chancellor Angela Merkel will seek a third term and the environmentalists could potentially play kingmaker.
The Greens party, with its roots in the 1970s anti-nuclear and peace movements, are now mainstream and the preferred choice of well-off urbanites who shop organic and cycle to work.
Polling 14 percent in a survey this week, they have won a string of elections in cities and states including Baden-Wuerttemberg, home to industrial leaders such as Daimler and Porsche.
The Greens’ decades-long demand to shut down Germany’s atomic power plants, became government policy under Merkel following Japan’s 2011 Fukushima nuclear disaster.
For now, the Greens are allied with the centre-left Social Democrats (SPD), with whom they governed from 1998 to 2005, in a joint battle to dethrone Merkel’s Christian Democrats and their struggling junior partner, the pro-business Free Democrats.
SPD party chief Sigmar Gabriel will speak at the three-day Greens meeting kicking off Friday in Berlin.
Last week, the Greens’ veteran Claudia Roth — combining party colours by wearing a red top and green necklace — rallied Social Democrats, her party’s “future coalition government partners.”
But with a long campaign period ahead of the September 22 vote, there has also been much speculation about a once-taboo idea — a conservative-green government.
In the new poll by the independent Forsa institute, 54 percent of Greens supporters said they could imagine joining forces with their traditional arch-rivals, the Christian Democrats — a line-up tested only once, in the city-state of Hamburg between 2008 and 2010.
“I’m not surprised,” said Forsa director Manfred Guellner. “Most Greens supporters are from the middle class, very few from the working class,” which traditionally backs the SPD.
The Greens’ big fear is remaining trapped in opposition because of the weakness of the SPD, whose top candidate Peer Steinbrueck’s early campaign has been hobbled by missteps.
The Greens’ European parliament member Daniel Cohn-Bendit urged his party to actively consider an alliance with the Christian Democrats, in comments in Thursday’s edition of Bild daily.
He said one condition was that the conservatives, labelled the “black” party in Germany’s colour-coded politics, make key concessions such as agreeing to Greens-run finance and energy ministries, a minimum wage and more rights for same-sex couples.
“I want red-green, no question,” he said. “But the weakness of Steinbrueck’s SPD is dampening my optimism. That’s why we can’t deny that black-green is a real option, given certain conditions.”
For now the latest poll, published by the Forsa institute for Stern news weekly, is good news for popular Merkel.
It gives her coalition a lead of 47 percent against a combined 44 percent for the Social Democrats, Greens and far-left Linke party.
But Merkel’s big worry are the Free Democrats, the party of her foreign and economy ministers, whose support has nose-dived to five percent, the minimum for re-entry into the Bundestag.
Should the small party crash out, Merkel would have to cast around for a new partner — possibly the Social Democrats with whom she ruled in a 2005-09 “grand coalition.”
But just as pragmatic Merkel has upset the conservative heartland with centrist policies, for example scrapping military conscription, the Greens’ baby-boomers are also seen as warming to a compromise.
Greens and Christian Democrats have long cultivated an informal dialogue. Key figures often met up for Italian food in the 1990s in what was dubbed the “pizza connection.”
One question the Greens hope to settle this weekend is whether to stick with their commitment to swim or sink with the Social Democrats — a pledge that some members want to amend.
Many conservatives would welcome the idea. In the Forsa poll, 65 percent of Christian Democrats said the Greens should be open to the idea of a coalition with them.