Throughout Europe Green parties in government become avid supporters of authoritarian liberalism. More in Germany than elsewhere.
Hauke Benner is a former journalist and decade long activist against climate change.
Translated and edited by BRAVE NEW EUROPE
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Gaza: Is war now peace for Germany’s Greens?
Next week, the party conference of the German Greens will take place in Karlsruhe. After almost two years as part off the traffic light coalition, it is time to take stock of the Greens’ policies in this constellation. From the point of view of the emancipatory left, it can only be described as catastrophic.
In autumn 2021, the so-called “progressive coalition” consisting of theGreens, Social Democrats (SPD), and Liberals (FDP) set a high bar for itself. Green Economy Minister Robert Habeck promised to “renew prosperity in a climate-neutral process”. But this promise has turned into the opposite policy. The Greens have not been able to realise even the smallest climate goal. The speed limit on the motorway failed due to opposition from the FDP, and the climate protection law passed by the Merkel government was watered down in such a way that the transport sector in particular was spared a reduction in CO2 emissions. The example of the Building Energy Act, which stipulates that only climate-neutral heating systems such as heat pumps are to be installed in new heating systems from 2025, shows that the Greens have no regard for the poorer half of the population and for small homeowners. Many cannot afford investments of over €20,000 and in apartment buildings the modernisation costs are largely passed on to tenants. Above all, climate justice also means financial security for the less well of in the core nations, but also in the countries of the South. But this is a foreign concept to the traffic light coalition. No wonder that this central legislative proposal of the Energy Minister has met with widespread rejection.
However, the latest judgement of the Federal Constitutional Court of 15 November places the financing of the coalition’s entire climate policy in jeopardy. By means of a simple sleight of hand, the coalition had simply reclassified the remaining €60 billion from the coronavirus emergency fund into the climate fund, thus circumventing the budget. This was a highly controversial transfer in terms of budgetary policy and in legal terms, because the financial “debt brake”, which Finance Minister Lindner (FDP) is determined to adhere to, was evaded. Now there is a double-digit billion gap in the large climate investment fund, some of which has already been promised. This also includes the financing of the so-called “climate money” from the surpluses of the CO2 tax for the poorer citizenry. This means that the centrepiece of the Green Party, massive and rapid investment in climate protection for the period after 2024, is jeopardised. If Lindner remains firm and and refuses to take on new debt to finance the investments, a break-up of the coalition can no longer be ruled out.
With regard to energy and industrial policy, Habeck is pursuing business as usual. His top priority is to strengthen the competitiveness of German industry and its large corporations, including the major CO2 emitters in the chemical, steel, and cement industries. Habeck wants to protect large electricity consumers against foreign competition by means of a tax-subsidised “industrial electricity price” and has almost completely dispensed with energy-saving targets in these sectors. Instead, four new LNG terminals, the necessity of which are questionable, are being built against the opposition of local groups, while the village of Lützerath in the Rhineland lignite region is being demolished to expand open pit mining protected by a massive police force dispatched by a Green minister, contrary to the Greens’ election promise.
In the medium term, the fossil fuel industry is to survive by switching to green hydrogen. To this end, Habeck and other German ministers travelled to Morocco, Namibia, Colombia and Chile, together with major German energy companies such as RWE, enabling contracts with governments there to produce hydrogen on a large scale using solar and wind power and then exporting it to Germany. The fact that this deprives the local population of water, the basis of their livelihood, is of little interest to the Green friends of German corporations. This policy is rightly criticised as green extractivism and neo-colonialism.
The 2021 coalition agreement of the current coalition had explicitly called for the ban on glyphosate. Recently the responsible minster from the Green party, Cem Özdemir, abstained from voting on the question of whether the EU should adopt a ban on glyphosate, which has been suspected of being carcinogenic for years by many scientists (in the USA, Bayer has recently stopped using glyphosate in the pesticide “Round-up” sold on the retail market as tens of thousands are suing them for causing their cancer). The FDP and lobbyists from the agricultural industry, in particular Bayer-Monsanto and the farmers’ organisation had exerted much pressure. The EU Commission has now extended the authorisation for the pesticide by 10 years.
In terms of social policy, the basic child protection programme included in the coalition agreement was just a waste of paper. The Green Minister Lisa Paus has completely caved in to the opposition of the SPD and FDP. Finance Minister Lindner blocked this key Green programme as “not affordable”. Social and charitable organisations are desperate. A leading charity association, the Paritätische Wohlfahrtsverband commented: “The traffic light coalition’s so-called basic child protection scheme has already failed in its most important objective, the fight against child poverty, even before it was launched”.
In the 1980s the Greens were a pacifist party. But since the war in Yugoslavia in 1998 and its then Foreign Minister Fischer, this party has been in favour of both NATO and war as a “peacemaking tool”. Today, under Green Foreign Minister Annalena Baerbock, this is pure bellicism. A year ago Baerbock warned the German population against war-weariness during the Ukraine war, saying that “we can no longer afford to be pacifists”. Her cabinet colleague, Defence Minister Pistorius of the Social Democrats, wants to make Germany “ready for war” – and no prominent Green dissents.
The Greens as political censors
Since 7 October, protest against Israeli genocide in Gaza has been silenced with the claim that it is anti-Semitic. The Green Party’s Volker Beck, President of the German-Israeli Association, is preventing a joint prayer for peace by Muslims, Jews, and Christians in Munich. Berlin state politician Susanna Kahlefeld called for a ban on an event organised by the Berlin group “Jewish Voice” with the BDS and for an immediate stop to the funding of the socio-cultural and artistic cultural institution “Oyoun” because it provided spaces for marginalised Jewish and Palestinian groups to meet. The federal chairwoman of the Greens, Ricarda Lang, described Greta Thunberg’s speech in Amsterdam with its core statement “there is no climate justice in an occupied country” as “indecent” and “anti-Israel”. Even four weeks after the start of the bombardment of Gaza by the Israeli military, Baerbock has still not called for a ceasefire, as she declared on 13 November after a trip to the Middle East: “I totally understand the impulse in this terrible situation, where innocent children, people, women, mothers, families are not only suffering so terribly, but are dying.” But, she went on, impulses are not enough to help people. Those who demanded such things would also have to answer questions such as how Israel’s security could be guaranteed and what would happen to the Hamas hostages.
When it comes to migration and asylum policy, the Greens have completely capitulated to the agitation against asylum seekers from the the Christian Democrats, FDP, SPD and far right AFD. In the Greens’ parliamentary faction in the Bundestag, there was only mild opposition to the de facto abolition of the right of asylum in order to curb so-called illegal migration. Green Minister President Winfried Kretschmann justified the sealing off of the EU’s external border with the restoration of “order and humanity”.
When it comes to transport policy, Transport Minister Volker Wissing (FDP) doubles up as the car industry’s top lobbyist. The promotion of private transport, now with the electric car, continues. The discounted train ticket for the whole of Germany is being made so expensive that neither the poorer classes can afford it nor are people being encouraged to leave their cars at home. Air travel will continue to be subsidised to the tune of billions (including no ticket tax and no paraffin tax). The new major Berlin-Brandenburg airport is begging for additional long-haul flight slots with the support of Green ministers. All in all, the Greens continue to focus on the most climate-damaging transport infrastructure measures and neglect the development of an effective alternative to the German car craze.
The Greens have only one goal: to remain in power come hell or high water. Always with the justification of “preventing worse things from happening”, so the speaches of Green parlamentarians. But even this minimal goal is not being achieved, because the backward-looking FDP, which is veering ever further to the right, means that the Greens are ultimately just the subservient facilitator for a new authoritarian (neo-)liberalism.
As early as 1934, the social democratic lawyer Hermann Heller was one of the first to coin the term authoritarian liberalism: “As soon as the economy is mentioned, the authoritarian state completely renounces its authority and its supposedly conservative spokesmen only know the slogan: freedom of the economy from the state”, which does not mean “abstinence of the state from subsidising big banks, big industrialists and big agrarians, but authoritarian dismantling of social policy”. This is precisely the policy of the traffic light coalition today, with the active participation of the Greens.
In view of this scenario, the Green party association in Cloppenburg had already called on the party leadership to leave the traffic light coalition in the spring. Too many “red lines” had been crossed. It will be interesting to see whether this will be debated at the party conference in Karlsruhe.