World News

Germany’s Greens Now Targeted by Friend and Foe Alike

The success of Germany’s far-right Alternative für Deutschland and the Greens’ poor showing at the EU polls are closely linked. Far-right campaigns against Green politicians have permeated into the center of politics and society. Greens are exposed to unprecedented verbal abuse and physical threats. Some democratic parties have been complicit – either in action or silence. They must take sides with the Greens, also for Germany’s democracy’s sake.
By
2069

3D illustration, Traffic light red, yellow, green. Symbolic image for a coalition of the SPD, FDP and the Greens. © DesignRage / Shutterstock.com

June 23, 2024 05:53 EDT
Print

The German results of the European parliamentary elections have confirmed the predicted rise of far-right parties across Europe. Despite recent dips in opinion polls, internal espionage and bribery scandals, the far-right party Alternative für Deutschland (AfD) soared to their best-ever nationwide election result with 15.9% of the vote.

In contrast, voters punished the incumbent traffic light (red-yellow-green) coalition, consisting of the Social Democrats (SPD), the Liberals (FDP) and the Greens.

The Greens received a sobering 11.9%. This result falls in line with the Greens’ steady decline of approval among the populace over the last couple of years. It also compounds another bruising election campaign — figuratively and literally. During this EU campaign, politicians and campaign workers across all major parties had to endure an unparalleled amount of verbal and physical attacks. Politicians and members of the Greens were particularly affected.

Greens are under attack

Greens chairwoman Ricarda Lang revealed that, on February 16, 2023, she received death threats in her constituency office. Multiple other female politicians also received similar threats around that time. In January 2024, a mob of angry farmers harassed Robert Habeck, the Vice-Chancellor, Federal Minister for Economic Affairs and Climate Action, and member of the Greens. He was unable to alight from a ferry because of this. On February 14, 2024, in the southwestern city of Biberach, farmers against the government’s agricultural policies held vicious and hostile protests. These led to the cancellation of a Green party convent.

The harassment has not ended in more recent times either. In early April 2024, a 27-year-old far-right extremist was indicted for plotting an attack against Green politicians. On May 1, 2024, during an EU election campaign event, protesters cornered Green politician and the Vice President of the German Bundestag, Katrin Göring-Eckardt, and prevented her from leaving the venue. A few days later, a group of passers-by physically assaulted two Green politicians in Essen after a party event. A 66-year-old man punched a Green member of the Lower Saxony state while canvassing on May 24, 2024.

Green party members refuse to run for local elections due to safety fears. Online hate speech directed against Green politicians and supporters is rampant and fueled by conservative media, most notably Germany’s highest-circulating newspaper Bild.

Increased threats against politicians, journalists, academics and activists are a sad reality in a politically polarized Germany. Greens are disproportionately affected. Of the 2,790 politically motivated crimes reported in 2023, 1,219 were aimed at Green politicians. Why are the hostilities of many voters dissatisfied with the traffic light coalition targeted at the Greens in particular?

Reactivating the Greens’ old stigma

In the fall of 2021, the Greens achieved their best-ever federal election result with 14.7% of the vote. Even a year into the legislative period as part of the governing traffic light coalition, the party rode a wave of popularity, polling up to 25%.

These highs invited political rivals to target the Greens. In doing so, they picked up on the tried-and-tested stigma of the so-called “prohibition party” that has tainted the Greens since their foundation in the 1980s. An ostensible example is the Greens’ call for a “Veggie Day” in public canteens in 2013. Despite the Greens being in opposition back then, this minor proposal dominated the national headlines. Politicians from the conservative Christian Democrats (CDU) scandalized it as “a building block for the federal Green ban republic” and branded the Greens as a “Bevormundungspartei” (patronizing party).

Today’s campaigns against the Greens strike the same tone. A prominent example is the controversial Buildings Energy Act pushed by the Greens and passed last year. According to the law, oil and gas heating systems must be gradually replaced with heat pumps powered by at least 65% renewable energy. A crisis-weary population and quarrels within the traffic light coalition provided the conservative and far-right opposition with a breeding ground to use the Buildings Energy Act as a lever to reactivate the Greens’ old stigma: Once again, the Green Party allegedly patronized the hard-working population by imposing new and costly heat pumps and ignoring already persisting financial hardship due to stubbornly high energy costs and inflation.

Jumping on the far-right anti-Green bandwagon

The Buildings Energy Act is a new expression of a long-standing culture war unleashed on the Greens. The far-right AfD pinpointed the Greens in particular as their prime target in a strategy paper published before the 2017 federal election: “The AfD does not win votes from the Greens but against them … The AfD should starkly differentiate itself from the Greens and tackle them head-on even more than before. The more it does this, the more support it will find … in all … target groups — and the more it will provoke a backlash from the Greens, which will then benefit the AfD again.”

According to the paper, the Greens embody “everything the AfD rejects: genderism, self-serving environmental lobbies, political correctness and … ‘multiculturalism’.”

This enmity flourished during the 2021 Bundestag election campaign, when Annalena Baerbock, then the Greens’ lead candidate and now Foreign Secretary, was the prime target of misinformation from the far-right.

Seven years later, the AfD garnered up to 23% in nationwide polls in December 2023 and more than 30% in its East German state strongholds. These highs arise from declining trust in democratic institutions, including the parties of the traffic light coalition.

To win back voters from the AfD, the conservative CDU adopted the AfD’s scapegoating of the Greens despite governing with them in five states. Party chairman Friedrich Merz singled the Greens out as the CDU’s “main opponent” (instead of the AfD), accusing them of “educating the people” and blaming them for the “polarization around energy (and) environmental policy in Germany.” The party chairman of the CDU’s Bavarian sister party CSU, Markus Söder, jumped on the anti-Green bandwagon: “The Greens’ worldview doesn’t suit Bavaria,” further adding, “The Greens rely on ideology and ever new bans.”

Even parts of the political left hope to benefit from applying an anti-Green stance. Sarah Wagenknecht, leader of the new and upcoming left-wing conservative party “Bündnis Sarah Wagenknecht” (BSW), vilifies the Greens as the “most incompetent, most hypocritical, most mendacious and … most dangerous party” in the Bundestag and attested to its “infinite arrogance … towards people’s social problems.”

The Greens have become vulnerable on two flanks. Some denounce them as a radical eco-socialist party. Others see them as a bourgeois party that has traded its ecological DNA for the pursuit of power.

Contentious Green policies

Accordingly, criticism of the Greens can be justified twofold. On the one hand, little remains of their ecological-pacifist founding ethos in the 1980s. Arms deliveries to Ukraine, lacking policy support for Palestinians in Gaza, a hasty phasing out of nuclear power while remaining dependent on coal energy and liquid gas, and tightening of migration and asylum policies are evidence of this.

On the other hand, the Greens have lacked modesty in communicating their ambitious climate policy proposals to a working class that fears the costly consequences.

Latest nationwide polls show that support for the Greens has halved from the mid-twenties to only 12% within almost two years. According to another recent survey, 6% of self-proclaimed centrist voters and 26% of voters on the left of the political spectrum intend to vote Green.

Indeed, social cleavages are widening at the expense of the Greens due to perceived impositions in climate and migration policy. Traditional Green voters remain steadfast in their support. They are mostly young, female, educated and reside in affluent constituencies of West German states. Yet, centrist voters unsettled by a perceived overbearing “ecological zeitgeist” are turning their backs on the Greens.

Inordinate criticism of the Greens

One can make the case that the Greens receive disproportionate criticism. Rising verbal abuse and physical threats undergird this case. In 2021, the Greens regained power for the first time in 16 years as part of the traffic light coalition — once again as a junior partner in a coalition led by the Social Democrats. During the same 16-year period, the CDU/CSU and SPD governed for 16 and 12 years respectively. The level of hatred towards the Greens compared to the Christian and Social Democrats is astonishing given the Greens’ comparatively short time in government as a minor coalition party.

This illustrates how conservative and far-right campaigns against the Greens have infiltrated political and social discourse. These campaigns have successfully pitted democratic parties against each other. The hatred of the Greens has manipulated Germany’s main democratic parties into believing that fighting the Greens equates to fighting the roots of discontent and the far-right’s success. The opposite materializes. Far-right narratives spread, democratic consensus erodes and hostilities shift into the democratic center and become entrenched.

The traffic light government and especially the Greens are trying to strike a fine balance between crisis management and structural change. After coming to power in 2021 at the height of the COVID-19 pandemic, major world-changing events, such as the Ukraine war, new migration movements, an energy crisis and the Gaza war, have occurred. These are duly unfavorable times to initiate a structural change in climate policy. Overdue change from which Merkel shied away from even in economically more propitious times and circumstances.

Who are the real enemies?

With pivotal East German state elections looming this year, the traffic light coalition is standing with its back against the wall. During the 2021 federal elections, the coalition parties gathered 52% of the vote. This figure has now plummeted to 31% in the latest EU election and to 32% in federal election polls. Nationwide protests in January 2024 against the AfD impressively demonstrated the strength of united democratic action against democracy’s adversaries. Prior to the AfD’s strong EU election results, these protests contributed to the AfD’s first significant dent in the polls for a long time, expedited by investigations into Chinese and Russian links of two EU candidates, Maximilian Krah and Peter Bystron.

However, this solidarity on the street must also translate into the political arena. The Greens’ coalition partners, the Social Democrats and the Liberals, are complicit in either buying into anti-Green narratives or in silence. After all, weakened Greens are weakened political competitors. Disproportionate violent hatred against any party, especially a democratic party like the Greens, should stir up fellow democratic parties. The real enemies lurk at the anti-democratic fringes and should be confronted in unity.

[Will Sherriff edited this piece.]

The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect Fair Observer’s editorial policy.

Comment

Only Fair Observer members can comment. Please login to comment.

Leave a comment

Support Fair Observer

We rely on your support for our independence, diversity and quality.

For more than 10 years, Fair Observer has been free, fair and independent. No billionaire owns us, no advertisers control us. We are a reader-supported nonprofit. Unlike many other publications, we keep our content free for readers regardless of where they live or whether they can afford to pay. We have no paywalls and no ads.

In the post-truth era of fake news, echo chambers and filter bubbles, we publish a plurality of perspectives from around the world. Anyone can publish with us, but everyone goes through a rigorous editorial process. So, you get fact-checked, well-reasoned content instead of noise.

We publish 2,500+ voices from 90+ countries. We also conduct education and training programs on subjects ranging from digital media and journalism to writing and critical thinking. This doesn’t come cheap. Servers, editors, trainers and web developers cost money.
Please consider supporting us on a regular basis as a recurring donor or a sustaining member.

Will you support FO’s journalism?

We rely on your support for our independence, diversity and quality.

Donation Cycle

Donation Amount

The IRS recognizes Fair Observer as a section 501(c)(3) registered public charity (EIN: 46-4070943), enabling you to claim a tax deduction.

Make Sense of the World

Unique Insights from 2,500+ Contributors in 90+ Countries

Support Fair Observer

Support Fair Observer by becoming a sustaining member

Become a Member