Parl. Staatssekretär a.D.

The Atlantic Times
The following article is from our June 2006 issue.

A Natural Transatlantic Bond? The Greens are the most ‘American’ of the German parties says Rezzo Schlauch

For a long time, Rezzo Schlauch was one of the most prominent Green Party politicians in Germany. For The Atlantic Times, Schlauch describes the proximity that he sees between the German Greens and the U.S.

With a bit of surprise, the German public has noticed President Bush’s recent gestures toward the Germans. All of a sudden, the American president appeared on German TV and in the largest national newspaper, explaining that he had learned to understand Germany’s reservations about the war in Iraq. Some were rubbing their eyes in disbelief.
What had happened? Did Chancellor Merkel miraculously succeed in explaining the German national character to the president, something which the former Red-Green government had been unable to do? Probably not.

We all know that in the current diplomatic struggle over Iran’s nuclear program, the U.S. needs a strong German partner and that the positions of Germany and the U.S. are much closer on Iran than in the case of Iraq.

In fact, Chancellor Merkel is not so much “repairing” a relationship that was “broken” by the Red-Green government but rather reaping the benefits of the previous government’s foreign policy. Through the Red-Green government, Germany has gained a lot of status internationally through its opposition to the unjustified and counterproductive war in Iraq. That makes it a credible diplomatic player in the current conflict and as such quite valuable to American interests.
Therefore, if some American observers are tempted to hail the new Merkel government as a relief and to look back on the Red-Green era as an age of transatlantic discontent, they might want to think again. In particular, they might want to reconsider the role of the Green partner in that government.

Some American observers might ask themselves where the Green Party has gone. With a so-called Grand Coalition in government absorbing most of the attention, and a fragmented opposition constituted by three small parties that have little in common, the Greens are still in the process of reinventing themselves.

At the same time, the party is generating a new opposition profile and reformulating its political agenda with a strategic eye on future possibilities for government participation. The Greens are opening themselves up to the entire political spectrum as they enter more and more coalitions with the conservatives on the local level, recently in the city of Frankfurt.

The party is still doing well in elections, stabilizing its electoral basis with very strong recent results in the state of Baden-Württemberg and good expectations for the fall elections in the city of Berlin. While the party is not playing center stage right now, it is certainly here to stay. Green issues have remained center stage anyway. Independence from oil has been a cornerstone of the Green agenda for decades now, and for a long time we have addressed this issue as both an ecological- and security-related topic.
Several years ago, when President Bush visited Germany, I had the occasion to briefly ask him about renewable energies. His response was disinterested and disappointing. Back then, his administration had little more to offer on energy politics than emphasizing nuclear energy and drilling for new oil. This has changed dramatically.
The White House now considers reducing the demands for gasoline and investing in oil alternatives as one of its major energy policy goals. Solar and wind energy are now recognized worldwide as the energy resources of the future and have become superstars on the stock market. Nobody represents this project in the political realm more credibly than the German Green Party.

Another policy area of major concern to the Greens is immigration and integration. Frequently, American observers criticize the difficulties European societies have with integrating their immigrants and making them feel at home. They have stressed this with an eye to the fact that excluded and alienated European Muslims are being driven into the arms of Islamic fundamentalists. They are right about that.

Literally all other parties in Germany, left and right, are sending hostile signals to immigrants, even to second and third generation immigrants, basically portraying them as a burden for a preferably homogeneous German society. Only the Green Party has a more balanced understanding of contemporary pluralist societies, an understanding more oriented toward the U.S. model, which has always affirmed its country as a nation of immigrants with a rich history of both the problems and the opportunities of immigration and integration.

This brings us to the main reason why the American political class and the Green Party should continue their dialogue. On some levels, the Green Party is the most “American” of the German parties.

The party grew out of the new social movements in the years after 1968; these movements have frequently – and rightly – been criticized for their ideological confusion and political rigidity. But over the years they have also been recognized as contributing to an inner democratization of Germany, which at the time had not been achieved by the postwar society.

While some in the protest movements had a deeply ambivalent perspective on America – especially regarding the Vietnam War – the majority of us knew what we owed to the U.S. It was not just the liberation from fascism, the economic assistance of the Marshall Plan or the reeducation program for the German elite. It was our very cultural and political fiber that was profoundly shaped by American influences and became almost constitutive for our identity.

One might call that a success of America’s “soft power,” the persuasive power of ideas like liberty, individualism, civil rights, checks and balances in government, Wilsonian internationalism, democratic self-organization of citizens and a certain libertarian mistrust of the state in both governmental and economic affairs. These were American ideas and values which guided us in penetrating and reshaping German society on many levels, until we were finally able to say, in the words of historian Heinrich August Winkler: On our “Long Way to the West” we have arrived.

It was a sad irony that by the time we had arrived, the teacher appeared to have left. Elvis had left the building. We looked around our Western home and we heard a mocking voice from outside: “That’s Old Europe!” We simply refused to believe that the German criticism of the current American foreign policy errors had anything to do with “anti-Americanism.” And even at the peak of our disagreements, observers will have noticed that the Green Foreign Minister Joschka Fischer’s rhetoric never became as confrontational and alienating as the voices of some Social Democrats.

At any rate, while on a superficial level, the German conservatives seem to be a somewhat easier partner for U.S. administrations, the transatlantic cultural bond that exists between the U.S. and the German liberal left represented by the Green Party is much deeper. We should keep cultivating this connection.

- From 1998 to 2002, Rezzo Schlauch was the leader of the Green Party caucus in the Bundestag. From 2002 to 2005, he was the parliamentary state secretary for the Minister of Economics and Labor. Since 2005, he has been working as a lawyer in a large international firm.