Germany’s Shifting Political Landscape – A Green Party Perspective
The 2017 parliamentary elections demonstrated significant shifts in the German political landscape. One of Germany’s two largest parties, the Social Democrats (SPD), received a historically low share of the vote, while the Liberals (FDP) re-entered parliament after failing to garner enough votes in 2013. Most shocking was the success of the far-right Alternative for Germany (AfD), which became the third largest party in Parliament.
Since, political volatility has remained a constant. Chancellor Merkel struggled to form a German government after the election, ultimately leading another grand coalition. Most recently, anti-immigrant protests in places like Chemnitz, some of which have included bouts of violence, have further highlighted the disconnect between main stream politics and anti-immigrant groups. With this as a backdrop, I recently sat down with German Green Party Chairwoman Annalena Baerbock to discuss the Green Party’s approach to developments in Germany, and her views on the future of the transatlantic relationship.
Germany's Green Party had a disappointing result in the 2017 Parliamentary elections. However, polls since continue to demonstrate the Green Party’s upward trend. What has been the reason behind the Green Party's newfound energy among the German population?
Annalena Baerbock: The world is changing rapidly, through globalization, the digital transformation, affecting people’s lives — but German politics stood still. People have the feeling nothing has happened on major domestic political issues as well like social security, the pension system, or affordable housing in cities. And then in 2015 the refugee issue started to dominate the political and media discourse, and almost nothing else was discussed for the next one and a half years. As important as that issue is, other policy questions that were very much on people’s mind were largely ignored. As the new party leadership, we made clear that we have to finally deal with those other big questions, globalization, the digital transformation, and what it means for people's life, tackling climate change, and providing solutions for a progressive society with a strong social safety net.
Do you think the current shifts in the German political landscape are temporary or is the increased presence particularly of the far right in the political mainstream a more permanent fixture? And how do you suggest that the Green Party or other political parties in Germany deal with the presence of the far right against this backdrop?
Annalena Baerbock: The most important thing for democracy and the rule of law is to see the alarm signals when something is shifting in society. And unfortunately, here in the United States as well as in Europe, these alarm signals have not been recognized by the democratic center over the past few years. Instead we have seen — like in Austria — that the strategy of just following the right-wing populist arguments in migration questions leads to strengthening the extreme right and not to defeating it. Therefore, our most important job in Germany as a center-left party right now is providing clear guidance in a situation where the discourse and parts of society are becoming radicalized. This is not a question between left and right, it is a question between extreme right-wing, anti-democratic, authoritarian forces and democrats on the other side. So our job as a progressive party is to mobilize all democratic forces within the society — not only within parties — to fight for our democracy and the rule of law. And in addition to that, give real solutions for people’s daily challenges, such as being able to find an affordable flat for your family, even in downtown Munich.
Given that the United States under the current administration is perceived by some in Germany to be a less reliable ally, there has been a resurgence in conversations encouraging strategic autonomy in Europe, others are pushing for more German equidistance between Moscow and Washington. Do you believe these discussions are warranted?
Annalena Baerbock: In a situation where multilateralism is under increasing pressure, I believe that it is very important for Europe to take on more responsibility to strengthen global international institutions and multilateralism more broadly. We are in a new situation because for a long time we as Europeans trusted in the United States to be the guarantor of the liberal international order, but now the U.S. administration is withdrawing from international agreements and questioning the liberal international order. So it is up to Europe to play a stronger role within international politics, and this is what we have to work on. At the same time, it is important that we make really clear as Europeans that our foreign policy is grounded in values — meaning that our relations to other countries such as Russia are based on the primacy of democracy, rule of law, and human rights.
With regards to the United States, transatlantic relations are still highly important for the European Union, and especially for Germany. That is why I am here in the United States right now, to foster transatlantic relations, especially at a time when the Trump administration is challenging the values of democracy, the rule of law, and human rights our relationship is based upon. Our relationship is one not only between governments, but also between regional and local actors, and especially between our societies more broadly. I think we should emphasize that more, as German partners to our American friends, and tighten our relationship with a multitude of actors across the United States as the basis for a strong values-based transatlantic relationship going forward.
The views expressed in GMF publications and commentary are the views of the author alone.