Politics

The 24th September 2013, 10:00

Broadly, the “omerta on Europe” of many German parties left a wide-open space for a so called “monetary, economic anti-euro/pro EU” discourse to appear to be reasonable, feasible, and realistic.

What happened?

CDU: 41,5% – SPD: 25,7% – Die Linke: 8,6% – B90/die Grünen: 8,4% – FDP: 4,8% – Die AfD: 4,7%

  • The CDU had one message! One program! One symbol! “Angie”!
  • The SPD had the wrong candidate! The wrong campaign! No alternative!
  • The Liberals became redundant! They are irrelevant! They got pulverised!
  • We got away with a slap on the wrist! Our electorate is forgiving and generous! We should not abuse their goodwill!
  • What went wrong?
  • What was self-induced?

First, it is difficult to fight for political change when three-quarters of the electorate are satisfied with their economic situation. Nor does it help when our core message is “we will govern better than the present coalition, we will address social injustice” by increasing the tax burden on a few – and, by the way, we will also promote “sustainability”.

Second, it is also difficult to win when communication emphasises Green all-round political competencies and specifically chooses not to highlight the issues that the electorate regards as our strengths and consequently trusts our know-how – such as the environment, women’s rights, and human rights. This fatal misstep resulted in a campaign that failed to spotlight the Energiewende. Indeed, for most of the campaign our top candidate Jürgen Trittin, former Minister of the Environment and father of the original Energiewende, gave the impression that he wanted to avoid the topic. Yet who better than him could have pointed with more savvy and credibility to all the shortcomings and outright failures of the energy transformation strategy of the CDU/FDP government.

Third, the Berlin political establishment and its journalists, opinion makers, pundits and pollsters (among whom we must include ourselves) have decreed an omertà on Europe, the Euro zone, the financial and the banking crisis.  For us this apparently meant whitewashing our long-standing posture as the pro-Europe party.  This left a wide-open space for a so-called “monetary, economic anti euro/pro EU” discourse to appear to be reasonable, feasible, and realistic.

By choosing the strategy of the ostrich, Berlin has potentially become the hostage of the lowest nationalist motives of European Union politics. In any event, the Euro zone will shoulder the consequences of the absence of a genuine debate about the EU in the election campaign. The success of the Afd (die Alternative fur Deutschland), which almost made it into the Bundestag, has the potential to make them a key player in the deliberations over the handling of the European Union at a time when the politics in Berlin are flexible but not very generous.

On top of this we were caught off guard by a scandal revealing that in the late seventies and well into the beginning of the eighties the party was at least tolerant of, complacent about, proposals decriminalising “consensual sexual activities between children and adults”. The management of this crisis – which during the last days of the campaign implicated Jürgen Trittin as editor of a municipal election pamphlet dating back to 1981 – was at best not very professional.

Having experienced an incredible success with the election of the first Green Minister-President in Baden-Württemberg following the Fukushima incident, die Grünen then witnessed, from April 2011, a continuing flat-lining of their poll numbers. Nevertheless, until mid-August 2013 their numbers stayed above the 2009 federal elections results. Consequently, the Party leadership and the election campaign team, including its advertising agency, remained confident of their strategy and messaging, which focused on social justice in Germany and how to finance it. Indeed, this apparently quintessential social-democratic agenda was seen as leading us to electoral victory and ensuring our role as the indispensable coalition partner for the SPD.

Implicit here was the assumption that we would be rewarded with voter support reaching well beyond our core electorate. We believed that social justice was going to carry us back into government. Too bad the results are in! Even if they don’t tell the whole story, the numbers don’t lie.

Over the last thirty years, my party has provided the civic space where Germany’s critical debates could be conducted. This was not always easy, and at times was downright virulent, uncomfortable, and sometimes even dangerous. However fiery, those conflicts were authentic and helped to fuel the modernisation of our society. Yet this time around harmony was to be our trademark. All differences and contradictions were to be confined to the back office, and except for one or two snipers, pretty much everyone in the party kept in line. Still, the majority of the German Green MEPs did try to show their difference of opinion on the importance of addressing our political differences in the German European debate. Yet the Green national leadership and parliamentarians rejected their colleagues’ proposals, and that was that.

Twenty-four hours after the election, the Party leadership stepped down, as was to be expected after such results – with the exception of Katrin Göring-Eckardt. It is time the next generation will seize the occasion and bring about the needed changing of the guard.

What is now obvious is that we should build our electoral campaigns on our strengths and stop wasting our energy where our credibility and electoral potential are not evident. The wake-up call has been rough and reminds us that we must not mistake our dreams for reality – but that we must keep working to make our dreams the desired reality of the sovereign people.

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