The German Green Party is having a torrid time. In an election campaign remarkable for static polls, come what may, the collapse of a third of the Green vote has been the most pronounced swing to be found. If in Sunday’s vote they do as poorly as it now looks like they will, this makes it more likely, not less, that they will end up in government.
As it gradually became clear that Angela Merkel is staying put, and the real question was who she would end up with as coalition partners, the Greens looked like an unlikely option. For months they’ve put a wide gulf between themselves and Merkel’s Christian Democrats by calling for higher taxes and more redistribution. Running with a message of “social justice”, they’ve managed to out-social-democrat the Social Democrats.
That is a break from form. Since its foundation in the early 1980s, the Green Party has represented the values of the liberal left on a clutch of core issues: the energy and the environment – naturally – but also equality between men and women, childcare provision, and a pacifist foreign policy. In this campaign they have branched out beyond these to a much broader centre-left platform.
This was in part a counter-offensive: Merkel’s much-noted tactic of poaching the policies of other parties had taken much of the sting out of the Greens’ traditional attacks. Above all, after the Fukushima catastrophe in 2011, Merkel performed a U-turn and pledged to phase out nuclear power. The Greens’ talisman anti-nuclear policy – a hefty and emotive issue in Germany – was suddenly old news.
But moreover, the Greens had been doing rather well during this electoral cycle. A couple of years ago they were polling in the mid-twenties, and claimed an historic electoral victory in Baden-Württemberg.