Green leader: Bavaria state elections were another step towards new national elections

The rise of the AfD worries Jürgen Trittin, who wants to prevent “Austrian conditions” in the German government. [Bernd Settnick/ epa]

Green politician Jürgen Trittin discusses the consequences of the Bavarian state election on German national politics and his party’s new role in the shifting political landscape. An interview by EURACTIV Germany’s media partner Der Tagesspiegel.

Jürgen Trittin, a member of Bundestag, was formerly Lower Saxony’s minister for federal and European affairs and Federal Minister for the Environment, Nature Conservation and Nuclear Safety between 1998 and 2005. Together with Renate Künast, he was the chair of the Greens’ parliamentary group in the Bundestag.

In Bavaria, the Greens have become the second largest force with 17.5% of the vote. Is the party on the way to becoming a Volkspartei (mass party)?

We are experiencing the end of Volksparteien – it’s an outdated model. The CSU lost 600,000 votes in Bavaria, the SPD plummeted. After the Second World War, our party system was long characterised by the fact that there were two large parties who were able to retain voters across backgrounds and lines of division. Those days are over. I think that, at the end of the day, we will have three or four medium-sized parties in Germany. In Bavaria, we have laid the foundation for being one of those parties. It was a fantastic election campaign.

Green Party ends conservative CSU’s 61-year political dominance in Bavaria

In a vote it called “historic”, the Green Party ended the absolute majority of conservative Christian Social Union (CSU) in Bavaria on Sunday (14 October) and became the second strongest political force in a state election whose result will resonate in Berlin and beyond and further dent Chancellor Angela Merkel’s position.

The Greens not only took away voters from the SPD but also from the CSU. Is the centre-course paying off?

The Greens have aggressively fought against a police law, against hatred, exclusion and racism. And they took a radically pro-ecological course. That’s quite a left-wing centre.

But your party clearly succeeded in addressing the centre of society.

The Greens have become society’s new progressive pole. That’s great. But our satisfaction is subdued because the situation in Bavaria is difficult and, paradoxically, options for the Greens to gain power have worsened.

How?

In the 2013 Bavarian state elections, the CSU, the “Free Voters” and the FDP had a two-thirds majority. In 2018, the right-of-centre majority, including the AfD increased to 70%. While we are delighted by the Greens’ good performance, this puts me in a reflective mood. If there’s a shift to the right, it’s a real problem for the progressive part of society.

Do you regret that the Greens won’t take part in the new government in Bavaria – or are you relieved?

Of course, I would have liked the Greens to govern in Bavaria. Whether that would have worked out with the CSU in the end is another question. The voters have placed the hope in us, the Greens, that there would be a change in policy in Bavaria. That won’t be the case with the CSU and the “Free Voters”. We haven’t achieved our election goal of being essential to forming a coalition.

Bavarian elections stability test for Merkel's grand coalition

The Christian Social Union (CSU), German Chancellor Angela Merkel’s sister party, has lost its absolute majority in Sunday’s (14 October) state elections, in another defeat for the fragile German “grand coalition”.

“Of course today is not an easy day for the …

What can the Greens at the national level learn from this election?

We need to seriously discuss how we can prevent “Austrian conditions”. Democracy lives off change, including changes in direction. However, if the non-democrats become so strong that there are only “Grand Coalitions”, then we have a problem. It also won’t help if the Greens act as a substitute for the SPD in “Grand Coalitions”.

In two weeks, the state elections in Hesse will take place. According to polls, the Greens are on 18%. Would you have expected your party to make gains from being in a coalition with the CDU?

The Greens have delivered really good policies with the CDU. At the same time, the coalition has plunged the conservative Hesse-CDU into a crisis. So, the outcome of the election is open. We may make gains and continue to govern, possibly in the same or another configuration. But we may also win and still end up in opposition.

What impact do state elections have on national politics?

Should the CDU lose in Hesse, the discussion will come up about how long the Chancellor and CDU chair will be able to hold on. Even Wolfgang Schäuble is now publicly speculating about this. If the SPD fares poorly, of course, the voices of those who want to leave the “Grand Coalition” and to desperately jump into new elections will get louder. I’m sure that we’ll see a further destabilisation of the Grand Coalition. The Bavarian state elections were already another step towards new national elections. It remains to be seen when this legislative period will end.

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