more than a year after defeating the Christian Democrats (which ruled Germany for more than 16 years) in 1998 and the election of Gerhard Schrder as German chancellor, the German Green party -- popularly called the Alliance 90 or the Greens -- is involved in a fundamental strategic discussion.
The performance of the Greens in the first year was disappointing, not only from the point of view of party activists, but for the overwhelming majority of the public. There was no clear profile and no coherent common strategy of the government. Worse, the government was besieged by internal conflicts and faced opposition from its alliance partners on the main issues of internal reform programme and international politics. Almost all its policies came under fire, the most controversial of them being
l concrete steps for introducing an ecological and social tax reform
l administrative, economic and legislative means to withdraw from nuclear power and the plutonium industry
l reform of the citizenship laws and the migration and refugee politics
l budget strategy for reducing the colossal national debts, and
l the acceptance of the new Nato strategy and decision to take part in the military intervention in Kosovo with the intention of defending human rights.
Yet, in the 1990s, the Greens emerged as a powerful entity in the German political system. On the national and regional level the party has become the third political force in the elections behind the conservative Christian Democrats and the Social Democrats. In seven of the 16 states, the Greens have already been part of a regional government, always together with the Social Democrats.
In the autumn of 1998, the "Red-Green" ruling coalition was formed with ambitious hopes and it was supposed to introduce a number of new ideas: an end to nuclear power, a different approach to economic policy and elimination of the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation's ( nato ) first-strike nuclear option. But reality has proved otherwise.
Despite growing popularity, the Greens had to contend with a lot of criticism from their political ally, the Social Democrats ( spd ). However, the spd was itself besieged by power-play between its two key figures -- finance minister Oskar Lafontaine and chancellor Schrder. Finally in a dramatic move in March last year, Lafontaine, a prime advocate of a common "Red-Green" strategy, quit his job as minister of finances and chairperson of the coalition. Lafontaine's resignation further revealed the deep divisions within the coalition. The German weekly Die Zeit commented: "A centre is missing and in its place there is a bazaar."
Later, Lafontaine said that he had quit in protest against the politics of chancellor Schrder, who has been accused of continuously trying to change major agreements of the "Red-Green" coalition treaty. As for the Greens, the party's foreign minister Joschka Fischer was quoted by leading newspapers as admitting that his party has "not yet made the step from election alliance to a political party that can take on core responsibilities." Amid all the controversy, the initial euphoria that marked the birth of the country's first "Red-Green" government eventually vanished in a pall of confusion.
The party has, however, overcome the paralysing internal fights of the 1980s between the wings of the so-called 'Fundamentalists' (who objected to being part of a reform oriented government) and 'Real-Politicians' (who wanted to be part of a reform oriented government).
Even now there are different left and right wing approaches to the strategic and political issues of the party, but the effort in recent years has been to discuss these differences in a productive way and to put emphasis on common goals. Towards this end, a common political task was accepted by the whole party: to develop a coherent strategy to bridge the political aspirations of the founding generation -- including prominent activists like Petra Kelly -- with the present perspective of a "concept party" as part of the coalition government.
A guiding principle in the early years was "Think globally and act locally," advocating a redefinition of the relationship between humans and nature. The emphasis in those days was to attain ecological balance and human solidarity by implementing new regulations of resource use and environmental impact, democratisation of the global economy, protection of human rights and a non-violent peace policy. The problem, which emerged over the years, was to translate this ideology into a viable policy framework of a national government which would have to function under the conditions of the globalisation process. A concrete reform programme framed in a four-year-manifesto was adopted nearly unanimously for the federal elections 1998 (see box: The Green agenda ).
According to the Greens, nato 's nuclear strategy should be changed. Nuclear weapons should not, as the 1991 Strategic Concept demands, remain the "supreme guarantee" of the Alliance's security. The remaining us nuclear weapons are irrelevant to Europe's security and should be withdrawn. The Non-Aligned Movement, at the 1998 Non-Proliferation Treaty ( npt) PrepCom, formally objected to nato 's nuclear sharing arrangements as a violation of the npt -Treaty. The npt and the global non-proliferation regime are threatened by the nuclear powers refusal to implement past commitments. A military counter-proliferation strategy of nato , based on a nuclear "first use" threat is absolutely counterproductive. Any irrational threat is not deterred by nuclear weapons.
Instead, the German Greens want that nato should pursue a comprehensive risk reduction approach, that would include further disarmament steps, a no-first-use policy, preemptive diplomacy aimed at preventing proliferation and technology control regimes. It should be focussed on verification of nuclear materials control and warhead destruction.
The best example is the reform of the German tax system. For nearly 20 years the Greens have been advocating the idea of eco-taxes as an instrument for ecological innovation and change. Initially, eco-taxes were attacked by industrial lobbyists as a nonsense concept which endangers the position of the German economy in the world market. Now, systematic decision has been taken to implement eco-taxes, to change the whole structure of the German tax system. Further, the rationality of this political idea is no longer fundamentally denied by a big majority in the German society.
On the other hand, there is intensive discussion on the steps and figures of the new eco-taxes. So chancellor Schrder decided, in total contradiction with the stance adopted by his own spd and in conflict with the Greens, that the taxes for gasoline should be raised by only 6 pfennig (100 pfennig = us $0.5 approximately) per year -- this is less than 10 per cent of the Green proposal. This move by Schrder sparked off a debate on whether effective reduction of emissions and positive economic effects of the eco-tax -- like reducing the social security contributions by the revenues to make labour cheaper and also support the creation of new jobs -- could be reached with such small amounts or steps. Of course, many Green activists as well as eminent citizens are also wondering if this is not a severe political defeat for the Greens as the party had endangered the success of the eco-social reform concept as a whole.
Reform of the German citizenship laws has also met with a similar controversy. It is accepted in the public, that the abandonment of the old "blood-oriented" German laws is a historical step. And now, everybody who is born on German territory and lived for years in the country can get the citizenship without complicated procedures. But there has been a compromise with the opposition on the question of double/dual citizenship: after a transition period the concerned individuals will have to settle for one. And, of course, there is the persistent question of what is politically more significant: the success of having brought about a change in the significance of the terms "blood or territory" or the defeat faced by the Greens by compromising on the double/dual citizenship.
Meanwhile, the discussion on the strategy to withdraw from nuclear energy and the plutonium industry is still on. There are heated debates inside the government on the conditions of a consensus with the German nuclear industry for an Anti-Nuclear Power Act. It seems to be clear that there will be a minimum period of 25 years or more for phasing out all nuclear power plants. Further, it is not clear if it would be possible to close down more than one or two plants before the next federal elections in 2002.
All in all, the first year of the "Red-Green" government in Germany was not a success story. From the point of view of the Green Party, on one hand some systematic steps in the direction of an eco-social and civil-right reform policy have been made, on the other hand these reforms have been too slow and not gone far enough. But there is a possibility to achieve more in the next three years and get an acceptable balance before the next federal elections. After the crisis of the first year, there is still a chance for a new start.
The author is a former member of the federal executive committee of Alliance 90/the Greens, 1996-1998, and also former secretary of the German Greens in the European Parliament, 1989-1991
We are a voice to you; you have been a support to us. Together we build journalism that is independent, credible and fearless. You can further help us by making a donation. This will mean a lot for our ability to bring you news, perspectives and analysis from the ground so that we can make change together.