Merkel Rival Trittin Heads to U.S. as German Greens Surge
German Green Party co-leader Juergen Trittin is traveling to New York and Washington next week to meet with Obama administration officials as he burnishes his profile ahead of a possible run for the Chancellery in 2013.
Trittin, a former environment minister in Gerhard Schroeder’s Social Democrat-led coalition with the Greens from 1998 to 2005, said he plans to meet with members of the United Nations Security Council and officials from the Pentagon, State Department, the Senate and the White House. Talks with U.S. Ambassador to the UN Susan Rice have been confirmed during his five-day trip beginning July 11, a party official said.
“The U.S. is our most relevant ally in the world,” Trittin, who co-chairs the Greens caucus in the lower house of parliament, or Bundestag, said in an interview in his Berlin office yesterday. “Contacts between the Congress and the Bundestag, between the German Bundestag and the administration, are a normal necessity.”
Trittin’s visit underscores the Green surge in the past 18 months as the former environmental protest party has capitalized on Chancellor Angela Merkel’s weakness. After party in-fighting and flip-flops on Greece and nuclear power, Merkel’s coalition trails the Greens and Social Democrats in polls by as many as 12 percentage points. Spiegel magazine described Trittin, 56, as the “key figure” in German politics in this week’s edition.
“The rise of the Greens is very serious, it’s here to stay,” said Jan Techau, director of the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace in Brussels and a former analyst at the German Council on Foreign Relations. “The Greens’ program is in line with center-left German mainstream thinking. They’re open, liberal but don’t want to change the system. They wash their yogurt containers and recycle everything but they’re not afraid of being affluent.”
Support for the Greens fell 1 percentage point to 23 percent in a weekly Forsa poll today. That’s still more than double the 10.6 percent it won at the last federal election in September 2009. With the Social Democrats also at 23 percent, the allies are 1 point short of the necessary support to form a coalition if elections were held now, according to Forsa.
While Merkel’s Christian Democrats are still the most popular party, with 33 percent backing after 33.8 percent in 2009, they are dragged down by a collapse in support for their Free Democratic allies to 5 percent, the threshold to win parliamentary seats, from 14.6 percent in 2009.
Trittin, the architect of the Schroeder government’s policy to exit nuclear power, said voters were switching to the Greens long before Merkel’s decision to close Germany’s 17 reactors by 2022 as a result of the Fukushima meltdown in Japan in March. Green support soared to as high as 28 percent after Fukushima.
The Greens are winning support for their education and economic policies as well as on energy, tackling “bread-and- butter issues that were long the domain of regional politics,” he said. That approach helped them enter four state parliaments at regional elections this year, including Baden-Wuerttemberg, home to Porsche SE and SAP AG, which became the first state to be ruled by a Green prime minister after the party ended 58 years of uninterrupted rule by Merkel’s CDU in a March vote.
The Greens are the only mainstream German party that is retaining its core support while picking up younger voters, women voters and those disaffected with Merkel’s CDU, as well as traditional SPD backers, he said. The Greens, whose 2009 election result was their best ever, aim to “completely remove this government” at the next federal ballot in 2013, he said.
“The main problem is and remains the chancellor’s lack of orientation,” Trittin said in his office overlooking the Tiergarten. “Leadership doesn’t always have to mean beating your fist on the table; leadership is primarily offering a direction for the country. I can’t see any of that.”
As a university student in the mid-1970s in Goettingen, a western city with cobblestone streets, Trittin was a member of the Kommunistische Bund, a non-violent Communist group that rallied against fascism and nuclear power. A Greens member since 1980, he has outlasted all his party rivals, including Joschka Fischer, the former foreign minister and vice chancellor in Schroeder’s government.
Described by Spiegel as a potential foreign minister “at least,” Trittin will focus on foreign and security policy during his U.S. trip. He said that he wants to discuss the “common problem” shared by Germany and the U.S. of withdrawing from Afghanistan as well as a mandate for international troops to keep the peace between Sudan and the former South Sudan. On Libya, he is critical of the German government’s abstention in the UN vote authorizing military action to protect civilians.
Germany should have “tried to hold the family of NATO together,” he said. “It would be easier for Germany to influence the real development in Libya and around if they had said yes, and said they’re not willing and not able -- both would be true -- to deploy troops at the moment.”
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