A party founded in 1993 to unite environmentalists from East and West Germany 

Bündnis 90/Die Grüne is an environmentalist party founded in Germany in 1993. This political grouping unites the West German party ‘Die Grünen’ (founded in 1980, originating from the environmental and peace movement of the 1970s) and the East German party ‘Bündnis 90’ (an opposition group with alternative tendencies, founded in 1991).  

In 1998, for the first time, the Bündnis 90 / Die Grüne party entered the federal government in a red-green coalition with the Social Democratic Party of Germany (SPD). It remained in government until 2005 before achieving a historic 10.7% in the 2009 federal elections and joined forces with the SPD in 2010 to take over North Rhine-Westphalia from the centre-right. In 2011, Winfried Kretschmann, a member of the party, was elected Minister-President of Baden-Württemberg, thus becoming the first ‘Green’ to lead a Land in Germany. In 2012, another Green candidate, Fritz Kuhn, became mayor of Stuttgart. 

But in 2013, in the middle of the campaign for the legislative elections, the party found itself at the centre of a controversy on the decriminalization of sexual relations between adults and children. With 15% of voting intentions a year earlier, Bündnis 90 / Die Grüne only obtained 8.4% of the vote. The party’s leaders, Jürgen Trittin and Katrin Göring-Eckardt, were forced to resign. 2016 was marked by contrasting performances in the Länder: the party held on to power in Baden-Württemberg but fell back in Rhineland-Palatinate and Saxony-Anhalt. The party was no longer represented in all German parliamentary assemblies. 

From niche party to governing party: the rise of the Greens marks a turning point in German politics

A charismatic and united duo attracting young Germans since 2018 

In January 2018, Robert Habeck and Annalena Baerbock were jointly elected co-presidents of Alliance 90 / The Greens. Both favoured the idea of a coalition with the CDU, they embody the ‘realo’ (pragmatic) wing of the party against the ‘fundi’ (idealists).  

This political duo at the head of the Green Party, composed of a charismatic and experienced man and woman, but little known at the federal level, is characterised, at first, by an operation that upsets the organisation of the party. Thus, Robert Habeck and Annalena Baerbock show a remarkable unity and discipline, functioning ‘as a unit’, as the Green MP Omid Nouripour explains. They agree on most issues, share a common office and the same team, unlike their predecessors.   

Moreover, the two co-presidents quickly developed a very ambitious common project, that of ‘claiming the centre of German politics and society for the Greens’ and governing at the federal level. In terms of programme, they claim to be neither right nor left wing and clearly state their support for the European Union and the market economy. They therefore position the party as a centrist, progressive and environmentalist force. This plan to speak to the whole of German society (and not only to hard-line environmentalists) is illustrated by the language they use – for example, they use the word ‘heimat’, a term meaning ‘homeland’ or ‘roots’, traditionally associated with the German right, but which they wish to appropriate for progressive policies. In general, Robert Habeck and Annalena Baerbock have a rather pragmatic governing culture and represent a force for compromise. 

These characteristics and this way of operating quickly enable the Green Party to: 

  • Overcome the brutal struggles of the past between the ‘pragmatic’ wing and the ‘idealists’. 
  • Grow from 65,000 members in 2017 to 100,000 in 2021. 
  • Become the second largest political force in Germany behind the CDU, rising from 11% in the polls in 2018 to 20-23% in 2021. 
  • Be a big hit with young voters. 
  • Be considered a serious possibility for forming a majority coalition in the Bundestag and taking the Chancellery following the federal elections in September 2021. 

Today, the Greens, who previously governed with Gerhard Schröder between 1998 and 2005, participate in the governments of eleven of the sixteen German Länder and are represented in 14 of the 16 regional parliaments. These experiences of government at the regional level, both with the left and the CDU, help to prove that the Greens have mastered the system of coalitions and are now able to get along with their political opponents. In 2019, the Greens were also extremely successful in the European elections: one in five voters voted for the Greens, and the 21 German Green MEPs now form one of the largest national delegations of a political movement in the European Parliament. 

The success of Bündnis 90 / Die Grüne is, of course, also linked to the fragmentation of the German political landscape, the succession crises faced by competing parties, and the fact that environmental and climate issues are now seen as the priority by most citizens. Never-the-less, the strength of the leadership duo in Robert Habeck and Annalena Baerbock is also a major factor. 

The choice of Annalena Baerbock as head of the list for the federal elections of 26th September 2021 

In the run-up to the federal elections of 26 September 2021, all the polls place Bündnis 90 / Die Grüne in second place in terms of voting intentions (20-23%), just behind the CDU credited with 27 to 29% of the vote. It is therefore clear that the party is likely to be a key player in the composition of the next governing coalition, either as a partner of the CDU or as a driving force of another coalition with, for example the Social Democrats (SPD) or the Liberals (FDP).  

In this context, on 19 April 2021, Annalena Barebock, co-president of the party, was chosen by the executive committee of Alliance 90/Greens as leader of the Greens for the election of the Federal Chancellor of Germany. She thus perfectly embodies the refocusing of the German Greens, pragmatic on the economic level and liberal on the rights level. Preferred to Robert Habeck, her very charismatic co-leader who was the favourite, she is the only woman candidate for the chancellorship and the youngest candidate among the three main political formations.   

Annalena Baerbock has been a member of Bündnis 90 / Die Grüne since 2005. She has no ministerial experience, even at the regional level, which leads some people to say that she does not have enough experience to lead a possible government coalition. At the same time, she presents herself as ‘the candidate of renewal’. At a press conference in Berlin, she said:

‘I would like to make an offer to the whole of society. Today is the beginning of a new chapter for our party and, if we do it well, for our country’.

Annalena Baerbock

She also said that, in addition to climate protection, which is ‘the task of our time’, it is necessary to invest more in the education system and to build a cosmopolitan German society ‘at the heart of Europe’. 

The choice of the party’s executive committee to appoint Annalena Baerbock as leader for the September 2021 election seems to have been motivated by several elements.

Her role in the party: 

  • ‘Coming out of nowhere’, Annalena Baerbock managed to emerge from the shadow of her very charismatic partner Robert Habeck, achieving in her re-election as party leader in 2019 more support than the latter (97.1% against 90.4%) and the best result ever recorded by a Green leader. 
  • She has played a fundamental role in the recent rise of the Greens, transforming, together with Robert Habeck, this once marginal party into a ‘radical and statesmanlike’ force capable of transforming the German political centre.  
  • She became the parliamentary spokesperson for the Greens on a high-profile issue (climate policy) and did not hesitate to strongly criticize the government for its reluctance to close coal-fired power plants. 
  • Unlike Robert Habeck, she has a personal, political and parliamentary network of support in Berlin, and is said by some to be more familiar with federal politics. 

Personal qualities:

  • Annalena Baerbock is considered ‘a good organiser, moderator and chairperson’, and is also fluent in English. Very conscientious and meticulous, she has a very robust understanding of the issues and reminds some people of Angela Merkel. 
  • She emphasizes her profile as an international lawyer, far from the clichés of radical environmentalists, capable of confronting difficult political issues. 
  • She has an ‘open’ approach, not hesitating to announce, during a meeting with the CEO of Lufhtansa, that she wants to govern with German industry and not against it.  
  • Nor did she hesitate, particularly during the Covid-19 crisis, to highlight her status as a young parent having to juggle, like everyone else, between teleworking and home schooling. 

Robert Habeck, despite his undeniable charisma and solid management experience, is perceived as less precise and disciplined. ‘He is often a blunderer and sometimes accused of a certain dilettantism. He does not control his media image as well, as shown for example, by the mockery of the publication on Instagram of a photo of him lounging in a field with horses. 

Finally, in the current political configuration, the Greens are counting on Annalena Baerbock to win over women voters who in recent years voted for the CDU-CSU because Angela Merkel was leader. These women could now vote for a Green candidate with a more centrist stance. 

A party historically positioned on the left that is evolving towards more centrist positions. 

Historically positioned on the left and a natural ally of the SPD, the Bündnis 90 / Die Grüne party has been evolving since the beginning of the 2000s towards more centrist positions and is seeking to appeal to progressive, centre-left, centre-right and moderate conservative circles.  

Considering themselves pragmatic, the Greens present themselves as ‘independent’. As Green MEP Reinhard Bütikofer states, ‘we do not define ourselves by our alliances, but by the results they allow us to achieve’. 

A young electorate 

The Green electorate is fairly young and female, and above all has a strong cultural and financial capital. More than 45% of its members work in the civil service, and half of its members have a university education. 

Very present and strong in western Germany, Alliance 90/Greens has more difficulties in the poorer Länders, especially in eastern Germany. 

In its development strategy, the party also tries to ‘court’ new social groups: left-wing voters, but also people who used to vote for the CDU. The aim is not to become a ‘Green Party’ from the West – the aim is to become an ‘acceptable party to the average citizen’. 

An ecological, social and positive programme 

The party’s issues are ecology, but also women’s and minority rights, technological challenges and so on. On the subject of ecology, the German Greens understood that they had to carry a clear but optimistic programme to win over as many people as possible. Thus, rather than ‘banning uses’, the Greens propose ‘virtuous alternative solutions’ that are socially and economically acceptable. As Michael Kellner, Secretary General of the Greens, summarises, ‘we want to show our ability to bring everyone around the table’. 

The Greens have also understood that it is better to pursue a policy that rises above divisions and overcomes differences. They try to reconcile seemingly opposite notions: diversity and homeland, security and freedom, economy and ecology. For example, they have set up an economic advisory council including company CEOs to consider how to reconcile economic and environmental interests. This approach is described as ‘radical realism’ by Annalena Baerbock and Robert Habeck. 

An image of a serious and responsible party 

The 2017 federal elections, in which Alliance 90 / The Greens took part in the negotiations to form the new government, showed that the party had now adopted a truly pragmatic approach. Long seen as an anti-establishment political force, it is now considered a serious and responsible party, ready to make concessions to carry out its programme and govern. 

This momentum started in 2017 and continued in 2018 with the election of Robert Habeck and Annalena Baerbock, who initiated an overhaul of the party’s internal structure. This included ending the duplication of structures to make better use of their resources and hiring new experts to strengthen the party’s capacity to think about content and strategy. This has enabled the party’s leaders to be better equipped to put forward their proposals and influence the public debate. 

Lessons from Bündnis 90 / Die Grüne 

The success of the Bündnis 90 / Die Grüne party demonstrates that: 

  • There is nothing that voters hate more than factionalism, which is always perceived as a power struggle, even when it is motivated by legitimate ideological differences. The mere fact that they were able to put the infighting, that had characterized the recent history of the German Greens, on hold was of considerable weight in their electoral results. 
  • Even though they originate from the radical left, the German Greens do not only represent ‘progressive’ values but have instead shown themselves capable of appealing to more traditional and conservative values in German society, which has allowed them to broaden their consensus to include groups of voters who do not identify with the left. 
  • In order to convince the most reluctant voters to change, the Greens have gradually trivialized the notion of climate transition: ‘Don’t be afraid,’ said Annalena Baerbock at the last party congress, ‘this climate revolution is as crazy as a mortgage or a savings book’.  
  • The pragmatism of recent years has enabled the Greens to build alliances in all areas, with the only exception of the far right. This strategy has a double advantage: on the one hand, it places the Greens at the centre of the political spectrum, and on the other hand, it maintains a clear identification of the ‘Enemy’, against which the Greens position themselves as the most energetic bulwark, the only one capable of mobilizing young people and generating a real ‘counter-movement’.