Friday, October 15, 2010

Germany: Two party system unraveling

Coasting on the back of environmental protests and a hemorrhaging two-party system, the German Greens have sent shock waves through German politics, surging into the position of main opposition party for the first time.

The Greens, who were part of a coalition government with the Social Democratic Party (SPD) from 1998-2005 at the expense of many of the party’s principles, are benefiting from the unraveling of Germany’s tradition two-party system.

Nevertheless, the two major parties - the centre-right Christian Democratic Union/Christian Social Union coalition (CDU/ CSU) and the centre-left SPD - retain a monopoly over government in Europe’s biggest economy.

But the facade appears to be truly falling apart at last. Opinion polls in early October put the Greens on 24%, one point ahead of the SPD.

At the 2009 federal elections, the Greens scored 10% of the vote. The far-left Die Linke won 11.9%.

In recent polls, the governing CDU were at 32%, while their neoliberal fundamentalist Free Democratic Party (FDP) allies only reached 6%. Die Linke remained steady on 11%.

The Greens’ poll surge comes amid a rise in environmental and community protests.

Stuttgart 21 Protests

In Stuttgart, the wealthy capital of the state of Baden-Württemburg, the Greens have led community protests against a 4.5 billion euro rail project called “Stuttgart 21”.

The Stuttgart 21 project would see a huge new underground rail-hub and ultra-modernist suburb built in Stuttgart, connecting super-fast trains from Paris to Budapest and throughout Germany. 

However, it would also lead to the destruction of a heritage railway station and iconic parkland.

A wide range of social groups are involved in the protests. In addition to a huge blow-out in costs, they are protesting the lack of consultation and the heavy-handed way the government has sought to silence dissent. Many are pointing out that the money could be allocated to much-needed social spending and local infrastructure.
On October 1, up to 100,000 people took to the streets in outrage. The day before, police had violently suppressed a peaceful demonstration, using batons, capsicum spray and water cannons.

A 66 year-old pensioner, Dietrich Wagner, was almost certainly permanently blinded when police hit him in the face with a water cannon at point-blank range.

Support for the Greens has surged in Baden-Württemburg as a result, polling 32% five months out from the March 27 state election.
The CDU - which has ruled the state since 1952 - seem set to lose the election. Its 34% support would not be enough to stop a Greens-SPD coalition.

The SPD is trailing well behind with only 19%, while the FDP and Die Linke are polling 6% and 5%, respectively.

No-Nuke Bavaria
In Germany’s largest state of Bavaria, about 50,000 people from community and environmental groups, and opposition parties including the SPD, the Green and Die Linke, staged an anti-nuclear protest on October 9.

They formed a 10-kilometre human chain through the centre of the capital, Munich, in protest against the decision by German Chancellor Angela Merkel to increase the life-span of Germany’s 17 nuclear power reactors - five of which are in Bavaria.

Merkel’s government claims the nuclear power stations will serve as a “bridging technology” - extending reactor life spans for an average of 12 years beyond the previous 2022 moratorium until renewable energy can meet Germany's energy demands.

The protest follows on from a similar outpouring of opposition to the announcement in Berlin, where 100,000 people took to the streets in September in anger and outrage at the decision to keep the reactors open.

Like in Stuttgart, the Greens have received support as a result of these protests, and their popularity - like the protests - keeps growing.

The Greens are unlikely to overtake the SPD in the next federal elections in 2013, but if these numbers continue, they could get close.

"Pragmatic" or opportunistic?
However, the Greens are politically vulnerable because of their “pragmatic” desire for power.

This "pragmatism" which led the party to support German participation in the wars on Serbia and Afghanistan, and to preside over vicious cuts to social security and workers' rights when they were part of the "red-green" coalition government with the SPD.

Underscoring this political opportunism, the Greens have already entered into coalition governments with the CDU in some German states, and they have not ruled out entering into a federal coalition with the CDU in 2013.

The Greens currently appear to be benefiting largely from the widespread dissatisfaction with the SPD, but their greater success brings with it the temptation for even greater compromises that could erode what left-wing positions the party still holds.

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