Big Green Gain in German State

Although a state election in Germany is normally not the kind of news story reported and analyzed worldwide, the election of Germany’s first-ever Green state premier this weekend did nothing short of send political shock waves throughout Europe and the world.

The triumph of the radical environmentalist and anti-nuclear Greens in the state of Baden-Württemberg was inarguably a blow to the CDU-CSU (conservative) government of German Chancellor Angela Merkel.  Although federal elections won’t be held until 2014, such a gain by the Left is likely to make Merkel nervous about continuing a right-of-center course in domestic and foreign policy.  Obviously fearing a political defeat Sunday, the chancellor earlier reversed her longstanding pro-nuclear policy by ordering a moratorium on extending the life of nuclear power stations and refused to consider German participation in the Libyan intervention. 

But the big Green Party win in Germany could easily have a big impact on politics in other countries.  With several pundits suggesting the Green campaign plan was “written in Japan,” there is speculation that the continuing saga surrounding the Japanese earthquake and nuclear reactors could invigorate similar anti-nuclear political movements in other countries—say, France (in which the left-wing Socialists won big in local elections Sunday) or the United States.

“Historic” was the word pundits and pols were using most frequently to describe the results from the upper-middle-class state of Baden-Württemberg.  The extreme environmentalist and anti-nuclear Greens doubled their vote in state elections to 24.5% and, coupled with the 23% from the left-of-center Social Democratic Party, the Left will have enough seats in the state parliament to end the unbroken 58-year rule by the CDU (which won 39% of the vote).

What made the results Sunday even more dramatic was that the southwestern state had been economically prosperous and had the lowest youth unemployment (2.7%) in Europe.  The site of major technology companies such as Daimler and SAP, Baden-Württemberg was home to Kurt Georg Kiesinger, who served as chancellor of what was then West Germany from 1966 to 1969.

But, as Green Party leader and now premier-to-be Winfried Kretschmann told the Financial Times days before the voting, “The anti-nuclear movement is very strong in Baden-Württemberg.  It is one of our roots.”  Following the Japan earthquake, support for the Greens surged.  CDU Premier Stefan Mappus—“Atom Mappus” to his political foes for his past pro-nuclear stands—toned down his rhetoric in support for nuclear energy and said he supported Merkel’s moratorium. 

The Greens also gained from their anti-development position because of local opposition to the Mappus government expansion of a train station.

Whether the eruption in Baden-Württemberg sends tremors through the other five German states having elections this year, and later to other countries with nuclear power, will likely be one of the key political developments to watch in 2011.