The Greens’ Election Program: As “Everything Is Possible”, Anything Might Happen
Just as the Greens in Rhineland-Palatinate and especially in Baden-Wuerttemberg celebrated their success in the local elections and began preparing for coalition negotiations (see our previous election insight), the federal Green party published their program for the coming Federal elections, fittingly titled: “Germany. Everything is possible”. The title is a play on words: Formulated as an invitation to the voters, the program is a severe challenge to other political parties. “Everything is possible” refers to the content of the program itself as the party has managed to incorporate demands and claims that might attract voters from most demographics. At the same time, it is an expression of the Greens’ ambition to lead.
On the one hand, the program clearly focuses on the foundational issue of the Greens, climate protection. On the other hand, economic considerations and the social component play a much more important role compared to previous programs. Quite apparently, the environmental party continues its strategy of becoming a “people’s party” and tries to perform the balancing act between climate policy radicalism and electability for the broad masses. Nevertheless, the program does indeed contain decidedly left-wing and social-democratic demands – such as an unconditional basic income, the re-introduction of a wealth tax, and most controversially the suspension of the continual debt brake. The Green party did clearly not aim to move further in the direction of the Conservatives to compete for their voters. Instead, their proposed policies stand in stark contrast to the CDU/CSU and could become points of contention in the next coalition negotiations.
Yet, with a Green-Conservative coalition still remaining the most likely post-election scenario (see our previous election insight), one key question remains: Could the Greens implement their left-leaning demands if they have to share power with the Conservatives after the vote in September?
Great Plans With the Potential for Great Friction
A likely point of contention in potential coalition negotiations with CDU/CSU could be the Greens’ economic policy proposals. To begin with, the Greens are planning a broad investment spree. According to their plans, an additional 50 billion euros per year are to be spent on climate-neutral infrastructure, on the expansion of the railways, on fast internet and cutting-edge research. To finance these investments, the party envisions a range of state interventions. Firstly, the Greens propose a reform of the “debt brake” enshrined in the Basic Law to allow the state to continue to take on debt in the form of loans. Secondly, revenues from the re-introduction of a wealth tax are also meant to contribute to the much-needed financing of the party’s initiatives. The green wealth tax will apply to assets above 2 million euros per person and contribute to the financing of education expenditures. Thirdly, the distribution of levies and taxes is to be redesigned to shift the financial burden towards high-income demographics. Thus, the Greens plan to increase the marginal top tax rate and attempt to relieve small and medium incomes by increasing the level of the basic exemption.
Support From the Left, Criticism From the Right
The reaction to the proposed program and specifically the Greens’ economic agenda varied widely. The co-chair of the Social Democrats, Saskia Esken, described the piece as remarkable and underlined the similarities of her party with the programmatic lines of the Greens. She also did not fail to remark that such policies would be very difficult to implement within a coalition that includes the CDU/CSU. Indeed, CDU General Secretary Paul Ziemiak sharply criticized the ideas of the Greens and called the draft program a “toadstool” – nicely packaged but poisonous. He complained that the proposals would lead to tax increases, higher public debt, more bureaucracy and would leave behind people in rural areas – all in all, a collection of left-wing economic ideas that could neither be financed nor implemented. Moreover, the Conservatives will hardly welcome the other green socio-economic initiatives, such as raising the minimum wage to 12 euros, replacing the current social security system with a so-called “green guarantee security”, and moving towards a new public insurance system with open arms. As the CDU/CSU has yet to publish their election program, a direct comparison of their proposals is not possible. However, the Conservatives have continuously voiced their support for the “debt brake”, criticized unconditional social support, and fought against a wealth tax as well as an increase of the income tax. Adding the General Secretary’s statements, a coalition of Greens and Conservatives already seems very difficult to achieve and the two parties seem to be moving further away from cooperation and consensus on policies.
To be fair, election season is well underway and, thus, it remains to be seen if the conflict is theatrical thunder or actually results from insurmountable thematic differences. Nevertheless, it is already clear that, at least at the federal level, the Greens have taken a stark turn to the left and would have to commit to difficult compromises in a possible coalition with the Conservatives. Likewise, the Conservatives will have to explain to their electorate prior to the elections in September how far they would go to form a coalition with the Greens and, thereby, set clear boundaries to Green ambitions. Therefore, while the promises the Greens make in their program are confidently ambitious, economically, little of their plans will be implemented if the party cannot form an alternative coalition and, thus, needs to rely on Conservative votes in parliament.
Past the Point of No Return? Greens Headed for Government
Indeed, even the “Everything is possible” program of the Greens acknowledges that, in fact, not everything is possible – all at the same time. They end their election demands with an “epilogue” section directly addressing potential voters to make clear that they cannot promise that climate protection will be cheap, nor that every project envisaged will be realised. Clearly, the party leadership does not tune its audience in for another four years of opposition work. Instead, they manage expectations and try to prepare their base for compromises – compromises the Greens, in the role as parliamentary opposition, did not have to make for years. Furthermore, such communication might also act as a hint towards the Conservatives that the Green party would be willing to negotiate when needed.
In a nutshell, the Green election program, while including decidedly left-wing positions, is another step for the party towards becoming a “people’s party” and major political force, a status that involves taking over new responsibilities. Such responsibilities might include forming a coalition with the conservative party based on the lowest common denominator if the maths of political majorities dictates it.
Thus, finally, what do the current polls look like for the Greens? With the conservative CDU/CSU suffering from their poor management of the pandemic and a series of corruption allegations against multiple of their members of parliament, the party has lost roughly 10 percent in polls during the past two months. The Greens benefit from a currently weakened federal government, the relevance of the climate crisis, as well as the current momentum built with their recent success in state elections. According to current polls, the party would more than double its seats in parliament. Hence, if the Greens managed to continue their momentum into the elections in September, indeed, everything is possible.
The views expressed herein are those of the author(s) and not necessarily the views of FTI Consulting, Inc., its management, its subsidiaries, its affiliates, or its other professionals.