A state in southwest Germany, Baden-Württemberg, held historic elections last week. This was the first time in Germany that the Greens came in first in a state election. They won over 30%, and the popular Green Prime Minister has been re-elected.
Just two elections previous, in 2006, the Greens were on 11%, the third party behind the centre-left Social Democrats (SPD) and the centre-right Christian Democrats (CDU). Sound familiar?
But in just two terms, they have become the most popular party in the state. Following concerns about the nuclear disaster in Fukushima in 2011, the Greens saw a surge in votes from 11 to 24%, and led a coalition with the centre-left SPD, who won just over 23%. The Greens were already well established in the cities like Freiburg and Stuttgart, where thanks to MMP at the local government level, there had been popular Green mayors for a while.
So what is Baden-Württemberg like, with the Greens in charge? Is the economy collapsing? Are people living in hovels? Have roads been ripped up, and all cars banned? Are they all a bunch of pot smoking hippies?
Far from it. The state is home to over 10 million people, roughly 2 ½ times the population of New Zealand. It is an industrial powerhouse, with close to 3% unemployment – the second lowest unemployment rate of any state in Germany. Nearly 35% of the economy is industrial manufacturing. This is the centre of manufacturing for many luxury automobiles, including Porsche, Audi and Daimler. Yet their employees mostly cycle to work in Stuttgart, and voted for a Green mayor. They are right on board with a transition to fully sustainable industry, and have a network of small, medium and large manufacturing firms with high levels of public and private investment in research and development, and innovation. The city of Freiburg (which I will write about in more detail on a separate post) has had a focus of renewables for well over decade, and has built up a successful industry exporting renewable and clean technology IP.
The region is also known for agriculture and sustainable cultivation of wine. When the Greens first got into government in 2011, they took the portfolios of agriculture and transport and industry, which has been very successful in demonstrating the success of a green strategy and growing the Greens electoral support at this election.
Ironically, the state has a conservative history. The centre-right Christian Democrats were the dominant party in the state for most of the second half of the 20th century. In 2011, for the first time, the Greens and the Social Democrats were neck and neck so could govern together with over 50% of the seats. However, the SPD’s vote collapsed down to 12% last week, so unfortunately the Greens will have to look elsewhere for coalition partners this time. The new anti-immigrant party gained 15% of the vote due to the backlash against Merkel’s very generous and progressive refugee policy, but all the other parties have refused to work with them, and the Greens and CDU both won with strongly progressive positions on refugees. This is likely to be the new coalition, but the negotiations will be challenging, according to a highly active Green I know in the state.
In Germany both the traditionally large parties have understood the value of protecting people and the environment, so the Greens in Baden-Württemberg are implementing policy that is, if anything, more radically green and progressive than the Greens in New Zealand.