German election

Germany's Green party: How it evolved

Germany's Greens have been trailblazers for ecological movements around the world. But since the 1980s they have become increasingly conservative — making a coalition with Angela Merkel's CDU a real possibility.

Deutschland Offenburg Bundesversammlung der Grünen 1985 (picture-alliance/dpa/C. Pfund)

The anti-establishment Green party started out as radicals: Hundreds of thousands of West Germans took to the streets to protest against the stationing of US intermediate-range, nuclear-warhead missiles on West German soil. They saw the missiles as part of the next phase in the global nuclear arms race.

Read more: Greens challenge Merkel with jobs and welfare package

bearded green parliamentarians

The first Green members of the Bundestag in 1983 refused to don suits and ties

1980s

The Green party was founded in 1980, unifying a whole array of regional movements made up of people frustrated by mainstream politics. It brought together environmental, peace and human rights activists. They viewed themselves as a peaceful, ecological, feminist, grassroots democratic movement, more than an actual political party.

Many felt that those in power were ignoring environmental issues, as well as the dangers of nuclear power. The alternative agenda and informal style quickly attracted leftist veterans from the 1968 European protest movement. Adopting a phrase coined by one of its founding leaders, Petra Kelly, the Greens described themselves as the "anti-party party."

Joschka Fischer Turnschuhe Vereidigung als Umweltminister 1985 (picture-alliance/dpa/H. Wieseler)

Joschka Fischer was sworn in as environmental minister in the State of Hesse in 1985, wearing his sneakers

Joschka Fischer, a former left-wing activist, became Germany's first Green member of parliament, when he took office as environment minister in the State of Hesse in 1985, after forming a coalition with the SPD. The picture of him taking his oath wearing a pair of shiny white sports shoes became the symbol of a new political era, where the Greens made a less conventional lifestyle acceptable in West German society.

1990s

With German reunification, the West German Greens merged with the East German protest movement "Bündnis 90". But the party never garnered much support in the former GDR.

In 1998, the Greens entered into a federal coalition with the Social Democrats; Joschka Fischer became the country's high-profile foreign minister and deputy chancellor. A key moment for the Greens came in a 1999 vote on the German participation in military missions in Kosovo, in which Joschka Fischer convinced the delegates at a party conference to give up on their pacifist agenda.

2000s

The coalition of the Greens and Social Democrats was defeated in the 2005 parliamentary elections, sending the Green party back to the opposition benches. Since Fischer, whom many regarded as the driving force within the party, left the political stage, less charismatic leaders have emerged.

Deutschland Kleiner Parteitag der Grünen (Reuters/F. Bensch)

Karin Göring-Eckardt and Cem Özdemir are the Greens' top candidates for the 2017 election

The Greens deliberately chose to select two co-leaders of the party: one male, one female. Moreover, already in 1979, the party introduced a quota system regulating the gender proportions in leading positions, thereby requiring a minimum of 50 percent of all elected posts to be held by women.

Read more:

German political parties and where they stand

Germany's Greens: Victims of their own success

Re-orientation as environmentalism goes mainstream

While environmental topics were once the exclusive prerogative of the Green party, those issues have become key issues across the political spectrum. Chancellor Angela Merkel was environment minister in her early political career. After the 2011 Fukushima nuclear disaster, she even became an outspoken opponent of nuclear energy. 

The internal make-up of the Greens has evolved as the first generation has grown older. Many have changed their priorities, morphing from former hippies to urban professionals. Green supporters are generally well-educated, high-earning urbanites with a strong belief in the benefits of a multicultural society. No other party fields more candidates with an immigrant background than the Greens.

Today, the party is not only focused on environmental issues and climate change, but a much broader spectrum of topics including education, social justice and consumer policies.

Winfried Kretschmann celebrates

Winfried Kretschmann was a biology and chemistry teacher before he became a politician

In 2011, after the Fukushima nuclear disaster, voters in the traditionally conservative state of Baden-Württemberg gave the Greens a majority. 63-year-old Winfried Kretschmann became the Green party's first-ever state premier, governing in a coalition with the conservative CDU.

The immensely popular and staunchly conservative Kretschmann has since been re-elected — and this year openly backed CDU leader Angela Merkel for a fourth term in office.

Watch video 26:00

GermanyDecides: Meet the Candidate Cem Özdemir

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