Doris Vollmer is clearly new to politics. She fumbles her power points and empties the name of another candidate. But the German physicist also captures the attention of her audience as she pricks a glass of water balanced on the podium. Imagine, she said, that global temperatures were rising.
” It’s rising ! It’s going up, ”she shouts. Water splashes onto the stage as the glass falls. “You can’t put the water back in the glass. You cannot reverse a tipping point. . . Politicians want to follow the old strategy: negotiate, negotiate. But you cannot negotiate with nature.
It was an unusual stump speech from one of Germany’s newest national parties – the Klimalist, or “climate list”. Party chairwoman Vollmer and her peers, scientists and activists wearing jeans and Birkenstocks, can seem easy to write off.
But they represent the double-edged sword that Germany’s growing climate activism could become for the ascending Green Party in the September federal election.
Even though Green Party leader Annalena Baerbock makes a credible offer to replace Angela Merkel as chancellor, the party once ridiculed as a chaotic cohort of hippies and idealists is under attack from the opposite flank: for being too established.
“We need a new kind of party. A celebration that listens to science. It involves people. This recognizes the global challenge, ”says Alicia Sophia Hinon, Berlin candidate for the Klimalist.
This is not a criticism usually leveled against the Greens. But under the leadership of Baerbock and his co-leader, Robert Habeck, a party long stuck between its leftist “fundis” and centrist “realos” has grown into a streamlined political force determined to attract the conservative German center wary of change. .
Most of the grassroots followed reluctantly. But some rebelled, fearing the Greens would soften their climate goals and, if they formed the next coalition government – most likely with Merkel’s Christian Democrats (CDUs) – they could compromise more.
“The Greens think in terms of power politics,” said Alexander Grevel, a Klimalist activist in Stuttgart. “We are here to put pressure on the Greens to do more for the climate again.”
The Klimalist’s goals are less a divergence from green policies than an intensification. While the Greens are looking for carbon neutrality within 20 years, the Klimalists want it “as quickly as possible”, at most in 10 years. The Greens want a carbon tax of 60 euros per tonne; the Klimalists say it should be 195 euros.
Political analysts such as Andrea Römmele of the Hertie School in Berlin say the Green Party is still on track to join the government, but warns that too much compromise would strengthen Klimaliste and other activists, creating a challenge long-term policy for the party.
“If they give in a lot, especially in business,” she said, “then there is more room on the left side of the party spectrum.”
The voters the Klimalist claims to represent may not be a great electoral force, but they are influential. The student-led protests from Fridays for Future and Extinction Rebellion have put climate policy at the top of the national agenda, forcing politicians to respond.
They helped the German Greens achieve their best results in the European Parliament of 2019 and even won a recent case to toughen climate law in the Constitutional Court. In March, Klimalist candidates in regional elections in Baden-Württemberg, the only state led by the Greens, pushed the party to re-commit to limiting global warming to 1.5 degrees.
Both parties agree that such pressure is useful.
“I’m happy to have people keeping us sharp,” says Reinhard Bütikofer, Member of the European Parliament for the German Greens. “It helps to highlight the big problems. “
The Klimalist, which has only existed for about a year, will present only 70 candidates on the German direct voting list. If they win at least three seats, they can create a parliamentary group to join the investigative and legislative committees.
Baden-Württemberg’s elections, however, suggest that even a small presence can politically harm green causes. The Greens were one seat away from winning a coalition with the center-left Social Democrats and pushing their way towards stronger climate policies, but instead had to form a government with the CDU. Some Greens blamed the Klimalist.
“Some of us were crying,” a Green politician admitted privately. “In three counties we lost votes against them. . . Strategically it’s really stupid [of them] to do it now.
Grevel does not apologize. Since the Greens won this regional leadership ten years ago, he argued, they have not only compromised their renewable energy targets, but they are also lagging behind some regions led by the CDU.
The Greens counter that Baden-Württemberg, the heart of the German auto industry, was a bigger challenge and a more conservative state to reform.
“A program that never brings you closer to governance can be as radical as you want it to be, but it will get nowhere, ”said Bütikofer.
None of this worried the Greens a few months ago, as they rose to the top of the polls after Baerbock’s appointment. Now they have fallen 10 points behind the CDU – affected by reports of errors in its CV, allegations of book plagiarism and smear campaigns.
At a Friday for the Future demonstration in Berlin – a weekly event until the election – few openly support the Greens. “We’re not here as a support vehicle for the Greens,” shouts a college student, wrapped in a dirt flag during a “Dance Demo,” where socially distant dancers twist to techno beats. “We are talking about climate justice. “
Hinon wants to take advantage of this momentum to shake up all German leaders, green or not: “We want to bring the streets into parliament.