The Germans Greens turn 30 years-old today. At a conference in Karlsruhe on January 13, 1980 (above), a heterogenous group of left-wing and right-wing environmental activists who had already co-operated in electoral lists for several years, finally took the plunge and created a party (or rather an “anti-party”, as Petra Kelly called it). It wasn’t the first Green party in Europe (Britain’s Ecology Party, for example, had existed since 1973) but it soon emerged as the most powerful. It has had an enormous impact in Germany over the last thirty years, above all in forcing other parties across the political spectrum to take environmental issues more seriously and in particular in phasing out nuclear power. And yet it has in a sense been a victim of its own success. At a time when the environment is higher on the political agenda than ever before, the Greens paradoxically slipped into fifth place in last September’s general election, even though they won a record 10.7% of the vote.
Back in 1985, the Social Democrats and Greens in the state of Hesse formed the first ever “red-green” government in German politics. When it collapsed less than two years later, it seemed destined to be a footnote in German political history. In fact, it turned out to be the prototype for a string of other “red-green” governments and ultimately for the national government under Gerhard Schröder in 1998. In the city-state of Hamburg the Christian Democrats and Greens are currently negotiating an agreement to form a “black-green” coalition under Ole von Beust that may eventually re-draw Germany’s political map in a similar way to that first “red-green” experiment. It also parallels other recent attempts elsewhere – for example by David Cameron in the UK and by former Bush speechwriter David Frum in the US – to formulate Green conservatism.