After seven, sometimes turbulent, years in government, what's next for the world's most successful Green Party? The selection of new parliamentary leaders on Tuesday may have given some indication.
As expected, Germany's Greens elected the left-leaning consumer affairs minister and one of the party's chief strategists to lead the parliamentary faction of the party as it prepares to enter the opposition after seven years in government.
"They represent the entire spectrum that they need to reach out to," said party researcher Oskar Niedermayer. "It's a man and woman combination, and they represent the left and the middle."
Step in the opposition
At a time when the Greens are casting about for solid ground, the selection of the two suggests a continuance of the power politics foisted on the party by Fischer, who announced last week that he would not lead the party in the parliamentary opposition.
After seven years helping Chancellor Gerhard Schröder's Social Democrats rule the country, the Greens face a different future after Germans voted out the coalition government on Sept. 18. The party didn't help its own cause, dropping three seats in the Bundestag, pushing them behind the free-market liberal Free Democratic Party (FDP) and the Left Party as the parliament's fifth-strongest party.
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Though some factions of the party continue to flirt with the conservative Christian Democratic Union and the FDP in hopes of forming a three-party ruling coalition, most of the Greens have begun to steel themselves for a return to the opposition role they held for decades.
"It is time for us Greens to take a new step, one into the opposition," said Künast, after her election.
Fischer's paint bomb attack
Born out of a mix of anti-war and ecological movements in the late 1970s and early 1980s, the Greens gave voice to a swath of Germans who felt unrepresented by the unionist Social Democrats and the conservative Christian Democratic Union in the 1980s.
But after entering the government coalition in 1998, they were almost immediately forced to make compromises considered by many to be impossible. Over the complaints of many party veterans, Fischer, who had emerged as the Green's strong man after becoming the first Green minister, (taking over the environmental post in Hesse in 1984), wrangled the party leadership and pacifist base into approving the deployment of Bundeswehr soldiers in Kosovo and Macedonia in 1999 and 2000.
He didn't come away untouched. A disgruntled party member pelted Fischer with a red paint bomb at a party event, damaging his ear drum, but not his resolve to keep his Greens in power.
Father figure gone
The Greens survived the members that chose to leave the party at that point, and proved capable in the new power player role. They pushed German utilities into agreeing to a gradual phase-out of nuclear energy in the next 20 years, in favor of alternative energy sources. It was the Greens' resolve that got a same-sex marriage bill made into law.
But the Greens also lost regional and state elections, and, when they were voted out along with the SPD in this May's elections in North Rhine-Westphalia, it left Germany without an SPD-Green coalition in any of its 16 states. Last Wednesday, Fischer placed a further burden on the party when he chose to fade into the back rows of parliament.
"It's … difficult for the outward appearance of the party, because Fischer dominated that," said Niedermayer, a professor at the Freie University in Berlin. "They need to now replace this father figure, with a collective of parents, and that will be difficult."
Focus on the economy
The burden rests on Künast and Kuhn's shoulders. The pair have already identified the first priority: figuring out where the Greens stand on reforming Germany. In brief remarks after his election, Kuhn, the party's economic and tax expert, said the Greens would work for more economic efficiency, jobs and social justice in the reforms.
Niedermayer added that the party should also think about shoring up its power base as Germany ages by tweaking the party platform to attract older voters.
"The Greens won't have a problem as long as they slowly start to think about reaching out not to the younger, but the older generations," said Niedermayer.
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