The story of Germany’s Greens is a series of once-per-decade eruptions. Forty years ago an eccentric band of environmentalists, peaceniks and anti-nuclear activists gathered in Karlsruhe to set up a political party. In the early 1990s, after the party stumbled by failing to back German reunification, it merged with civil-society groups in the former east, yielding a clunky name that survives today: Alliance 90/The Greens. In 1998 the party joined Germany’s federal government serving for seven years as junior partner to Gerhard Schröder’s Social Democrats (spd). In 2011, surging in polls after the Fukushima nuclear disaster, they took control of their first German state: Baden-Württemberg, in the rich south-west, where Winfried Kretschmann, a communist-turned-centrist, remains the Green premier today. Now a fifth eruption is looming.
As the Greens prepare to mark their 40th birthday on January 13th, they are squarely ensconced as Germany’s second most popular party (behind Angela Merkel’s conservative Christian Democratic Union, the cdu), and have a hunger for power that would have scandalised their hippie forebears. Germany’s next election is due in autumn 2021, if the ailing “grand coalition” of the cdu (and its Bavarian sister party, the csu) and the spd survives that long. Whenever it comes, it will almost certainly restore the Greens to government, probably alongside the cdu/csu. It is even conceivable that Germany will provide the world with its first Green leader (bar a short-lived Latvian premiership in 2004)