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2005-08-19

Strategic parallels for the Greens in Germany and Austria 

Nobody in Germany believes any longer that SPD and Greens together will have an absolute majority in the next Bundestag that will allow them to reestablish their current coalition. Such an absolute majority seems impossible not least due to the sizeable presence that the Left Party will have in the next German parliament. Since a threeway coalition of SPD/Greens plus either the FDP or the Left Party is extremely unlikely, this means that at least the Greens are without a viable coalition option for the short term (the SPD may be hoping for a big coalition with the CDU). This in turn means that siding with one of the two big parties in a left-against-right match has little tactical value for the Greens. The German Greens need to go this campaign alone.

In Austria, the dominant scenario after the elections in 2006 is that only three parties will be serious contenders for a government role - ÖVP, SPÖ, and Greens - with FPÖ/BZÖ too small to guarantee any majority. Apart from a big coalition ÖVP/SPÖ, it is not clear which of the two small coalitions including the Greens will be arithmetically possible. Therefore, the Austrian Greens must hedge their bets and prepare for the 2006 campaign without declaring a coalition preference.

Thus the German and the Austrian Greens are in parallel situations: they both need to learn to stand alone, and prepare against the threat of erosion in a bipolar left-right contest.

For the German Greens, Joachim Raschke analysed the options and pitfalls of this situation in an interesting article [DE] for German daily taz in June (via wahltagebuch.de [DE]).
So the alternatives of campaigning based on coalitions or political camps are unavailable. A campaign on programmatics in the narrow sense, which mainly talks about instruments, is not to be recommended: the Greens are just coming out of government - performance counts before programme. The doubts over the competence of any party lead also to general skepticism towards programmes; generally, voters are more interested in values than in instruments: that is to say, values at the hand of issues, with an eye to solutions.

We live in a society that has a red-green value profile, which rejects Red-Green as a government. The main reason for this is the failure of this coalition in economics. The Greens can win only in a debate over values, which defines across the whole spectrum of values the direction in which society should move. The Greens are well-sorted in the value question (party programme and electoral programme), and they are coherent party-internally. In the field of ecological-libertarian questions, they confront the CDU/CSU and FDP as representatives of a halved modernity. The SPD is without value leadership in any field, and its electorate is torn in almost all value questions. The advantage of demanding a debate on values would consist among others in the avoidance of the coalition topic. Greens define themselves by values. Where the SPD wishes to do so, it can join up.

There will be a lot of virtual polarization in this campaign. In reality, a big alternative is missing, and what will be decisive will be to form connections.
Most of this analysis applies to the Austrian Greens as well as to the German ones, inspite of the fact that the Austrian party is in opposition. What could it mean to campaign for the general elections on values? Obviously such a strategy should not degenerate into mere waffling.

In the case of the Austrian Greens, the party programme lists the six basic values:In my view, the Greens should run the next nationwide campaign by using these values as illustrations of both their distinctness and commonality with the two big parties. The Green versions of the values of solidarity, which could maybe be paraphrased as justice, and of autonomy seem the most powerful in this respect. What exactly is the Green concept of justice, and in what ways does it suggest other priorities in tax law, or in migration policy, than either conservative or socialdemocratic models? In what ways is the Green concept of solidarity different from the traditional socialdemocratic one, and from the caritas professed by christian-democrats? What is autonomy within a modern state, and how does it apply to minorities and fringe groups? It is my believe that these Green values can be spelled out in ways that are visibly more up-to-date than either their conservative and socialdemocrat counterparts.

A clear communication of these values will provide solid foundations for 'instruments' developed in party-internal negotiations that can then either be 'connected' into the government programme of a coalition, or developed in isolation as the oppositional alternative to another round of big ÖVP/SPÖ coalitions.

The German Greens need to define and communicate this strategy - "values at the hand of issues, with an eye to solutions" - in a snap two-months campaign (watch their leaders as bloggers at blog.gruene.de); the Austrian Greens will likely have the chance to learn from the German experiences and prepare for a whole year.


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