West German Green Party Gains Seats in Parliament Summary

  • Last updated on November 10, 2022

The Green Party, an alternative political party spawned in large part by ecological and disarmament concerns of the 1970’s, achieved unprecedented success when it gained a place alongside establishment parties in the West German parliament.

Summary of Event

The path of political activism that led Die Grünen, or the Green Party, to its first electoral entry into the West German parliament in 1983 was a stormy one. On the most general level, the roots of what became the Green Party can be traced as far back as the mid-1960’s, when the radical Extraparliamentary Opposition began to try to unite diverse student and other organizations to oppose, among other things, Germany’s tacit support for U.S. involvement in the Vietnam War. Green Party (West Germany) Political parties;Green Party (West Germany) Environmental organizations [kw]West German Green Party Gains Seats in Parliament (Mar., 1983) [kw]German Green Party Gains Seats in Parliament, West (Mar., 1983) [kw]Green Party Gains Seats in Parliament, West German (Mar., 1983) [kw]Parliament, West German Green Party Gains Seats in (Mar., 1983) Green Party (West Germany) Political parties;Green Party (West Germany) Environmental organizations [g]Europe;Mar., 1983: West German Green Party Gains Seats in Parliament[05130] [g]Germany;Mar., 1983: West German Green Party Gains Seats in Parliament[05130] [c]Government and politics;Mar., 1983: West German Green Party Gains Seats in Parliament[05130] [c]Environmental issues;Mar., 1983: West German Green Party Gains Seats in Parliament[05130] Gruhl, Herbert Bahro, Rudolf Kelly, Petra Wiesenthal, Helmut

By the end of the 1960’s, the most ideologically extreme of these organizations, one of which would eventually spawn the terrorist Baader-Meinhof gang, increasingly shared the New Left spotlight with alternative groups that were skeptical of stereotypical political dogmas offered by the far left. These organizations were extremely diverse, not only in the degree of their involvement in radical ideology, but also in the philosophical content of their cause. Some groups cultivated the concept of “inner migration,” which tried to replace street-level political activism with contemplative discipline, spiritualism, and “close community” relationships.

Concern about the escalating arms race and the environmental dangers of nuclear testing provided some common ground for groups that would pursue different paths of politics in the 1970’s and after. This was the case of the Green Party, which was formally constituted as a political party in 1979. The Greens drew many members from the youthful generation of the 1960’s, and the party took as its main cause the reversal of environmental destruction, whether it occurred as a by-product of nuclear testing or resulted from rampant and unmindful urbanization or industrial negligence.

The core of what would become the Greens can be traced to several key personalities and books published in the mid- to late 1970’s. An early ecology-oriented book often cited by the Greens was the 1972 Club of Rome report titled The Limits to Growth. Limits to Growth, The (Meadows et al.) Even more influential was a book by the Christian Democrat conservative politician Herbert Gruhl titled Ein Planet wird geplündert Planet wird geplündert, Ein (Gruhl) (1975; a planet is being plundered). Almost immediately after Gruhl’s book, a condemnation of acts of ecological irresponsibility around the world, was published, a group calling itself the Action Committee of Independent Germans Action Committee of Independent Germans (AUD) tried to recruit Gruhl to its cause. Although Gruhl decided to form his own group, the Green Action Future, Green Action Future his movement soon became associated with the AUD to campaign for Green electoral representation in at least three state governments: Lower Saxony, North Rhine-Westphalia, and Schleswig-Holstein. The founders failed to gain the 5 percent of the vote needed to send any of their candidates to state government representative posts in 1978, however.

This led to a second, but still not immediately successful, broadening of the Green association. In 1979, the Greens called for joint political association with the Union of German Ecological Citizens’ Groups Union of German Ecological Citizens’ Groups (BBU), a broad umbrella organization uniting groups opposed to nuclear power and others generally dedicated to environmental protection. This association, which was rejected by a number of BBU purists who were leery of involvement in elections, was called the Further Political Association-Greens Further Political Association-Greens (FPA-Greens). In 1979, the FPA-Greens made a strong showing in European Parliament elections in Germany, winning nearly a million votes, but they still fell short of the 5 percent required to enter the European-level assembly.

Signs of possible dissension over how to broaden the appeal of the FPA-Green movement appeared when, in November, 1979, the Offenbach congress of the party allowed two extremist heros of the New Left, Rudi Dutschke Dutschke, Rudi and the East German dissident author Rudolf Bahro, to address its assembly. This incident did not in itself cause the restructuring of the executive committee that led almost immediately to the formal declaration of the Green Party (ending the FPA-Green association). It did, however, point to future difficulties between practical party leadership and more idealist political theoreticians who would compose an internal loyal opposition, the Alternative List, as the 1980’s began.

By January, 1980, when the Greens called their first federal-level convention, the party’s total membership was nearly ten thousand. An extremely democratic delegate/representation ratio meant that slightly more than one thousand delegates convened to elect a party executive one post held by three members and to hammer out the party’s platform for future elections.

Generally, the Greens combined several causes in their approach to the German electorate. Beyond strictly ecological issues, they emphasized nonnuclear sources of energy (a position that complemented their dedication to ecology), peace and disarmament, and, increasingly, feminism.

As the 1980’s progressed, popular imagery made the campaign statements of one Green leader, Petra Kelly, stand out. Before assuming a position in the Health and Social Policy Section of the European Economic Community (EEC) in 1972, Kelly had studied in the United States at the American University School of International Service in Washington, D.C. During those years, she was involved in the American student activist movement, and she transferred some of her student-radical politics into the waiting crucible of West German politics in the 1970’s. Although she was a member of the politically progressive Social Democratic Party, Kelly, like many of her future Green Party colleagues, also joined the BBU.

Combining her EEC post and specialized interest in environmental conservation, Kelly became widely known as an international lecturer. By 1979, she decided to leave the Social Democratic Party to aid in the formation of the Green Party. Kelly’s popular public image often served Green Party needs, but it also caused some division of opinion within the movement. (These internal rivalries would come to an unexpected end in the fall of 1992, when Kelly committed suicide under circumstances that led to considerable controversy in German political and police circles.)

Under the campaign guidance of a joint party chairmanship held by Kelly, Norbert Mann, Mann, Norbert and August Haussleiter, Haussleiter, August the Greens were able to obtain 5.6 percent of the total votes cast in the 1983 elections for the Bundestag, the German parliament. This percentage qualified the party to send twenty-seven elected representatives to the Bundestag.


Once the Green Party achieved a formal electoral mandate to send representatives to the Bundestag, the party faced a series of critical questions. Perhaps most important, given the limited influence that the party’s twenty-seven members could have in any parliamentary voting, was the possibility that the Greens could gain more power by forming an alliance with the Social Democrats. Prior to the party’s electoral success, Green opposition to the “establishment” had been assumed to be total, but now the party had a role, although a minor one, to play within the most important political institution of the German establishment. Could the Greens combine their electoral mandate to participate in the German parliament with clear expectations that party members’ radical extraparliamentary activism should continue?

The latter cause was represented within the party by the Green Alternative List Green Alternative List (GAL), the supporters of which essentially rejected the idea that the movement’s most essential radical aims could ever be realized through acceptance of what amounted to a reformist role in the Bundestag. Highly vocal rejectionist views were expressed by supporters of Bahro, who contended that the “true” Green position was not political at all but rather involved encouragement for stage-by-stage socioeconomic “self-removal” by experimental groups from conventional politics and mainstream economic activities. Bahro assumed that, as minority self-sufficient communities proved the superiority of their alternative lifestyles, more and more elements of mainstream society would abandon establishment politics and economic forms in order to adopt similar lifestyles.

Although further divisions of philosophical orientation existed within the Green movement, the essential differences created two camps: that of the Fundis, or fundamentalists, and that of the Realos, or realists. Two years after the Greens’ successful entry into the Bundestag, Rudolf Bahro, a prominent spokesman for the fundamentalist branch, withdrew from the party because of what he considered to be its tendency to compromise in order to gain more influence in establishment politics. An example of such compromise occurred in October, 1985, when Joschka Fischer Fischer, Joschka became the first Green official to be appointed minister of environment at the level of state government. Fischer’s appointment was possible, many claimed, only because the Greens had adopted a coalition cause with the Social Democrats.

The question of Green parliamentary representation involved more than the sending of Green politicians to fulfill terms of office between elections. In procedural terms, the democratic nature of the party called for the principle of rotation in office. Thus, in March, 1985, most of the twenty-seven Green parliamentarians who had entered the Bundestag in 1983 stepped aside to allow selected alternates to take their places. Given the diversity not merely of opinions but also of basic philosophies held by various subgroups within the Green Party, such changeovers could be significant for voting unity on key questions. Several of the original twenty-seven elected representatives chose to stay on for the full terms of their offices. These individual decisions, some observers believed, placed political careers above party unity, making it likely that future party congresses would be less idealistic than those that had paved the way for the Greens to enter the Bundestag as a front based on wide agreement over a number of issues.

From the outset, Green representatives stressed the importance of preparing ecological questions they wished to have addressed by the German parliament as a whole. This was mainly to be in preparation for the development of a German position on environmental issues that were matters of European concern. The most important such issue was the reduction of acid rain the falling onto German lands of destructive chemicals emitted into the atmosphere by industries in East and West Germany, Belgium, the Netherlands, Poland, and Czechoslovakia. In May, 1983, Green parliamentarian Wolfgang Ehmke tried unsuccessfully to sponsor a four-stage law that would call for drastic reduction of permitted levels of sulfur dioxide emissions in Germany by the year 2000.

Other Green positions introduced in the Bundestag included Antje Vollmer’s Vollmer, Antje arguments against the growing trend toward giant agro-industries, not only in Germany but also throughout Western Europe. Greens supported any legislation that would favor small over large agriculturalists, and the party particularly supported farmers who wished to experiment with organic methods of cultivation. The overall argument of the Greens rested on the assumption not only that “big” should not be equated with “good,” but also that “big” can often hide negative and even dangerous environmental implications. In the food-producing sector, for example, Vollmer argued that the nutritional quality of certain German products was declining as methods of automated treatment, in both the growing and the processing stages, were expanding.

Although federal-level parliamentary action often seemed beyond the Greens’ effective reach as a result of the controversial nature of their cause and because of the opposition of business interests that stood to be affected by pro-Green legislation party militants outside the parliamentary delegation used a number of alternative means to make an impact on German public opinion in the 1980’s. An example of this occurred in the city of Nuremberg, where Green initiative in the city council helped pass the first municipal-level decision to cut back chemical emissions originating in the city’s electrical power plant.

Another area where Green influence could be seen at local levels involved the party’s support of various local environmental agencies belonging to the German Association of Ecological Research Institutes German Association of Ecological Research Institutes (GAERI). One of the GAERI’s main goals was to provide information to various entrepreneurs, particularly those in the home-building industry, to encourage ecological considerations in construction operations. An example of Green Party collaboration with the privately funded GAERI is the party’s sponsorship for maintaining and operating ecologically researched model residential houses in local communities all over Germany.

Throughout the 1980’s, the Green Party continued to emphasize the importance of disarmament. Green representatives consistently opposed Germany’s involvement in the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) and called for resistance to the deployment of Pershing II and cruise missiles anywhere in Europe. This position included a call for unilateral disarmament of the German side, with the expectation that such a demonstration of nonhostility toward the Eastern Bloc could lead to similar actions by the Warsaw Pact countries.

With the collapse of the Communist threat in the early 1990’s, this aspect of Green politics seemed to be resolved. The Green political response to what many hailed as the “New World Order” was to call for a conversion of financial and technological efforts formerly dedicated to Cold War military rivalries into a conscious campaign to deal with looming environmental problems. New political and economic problems, however, most connected with the challenge of integrating the former East Germany into the reunified German state, claimed priority status in German politics of the 1990’s. Indeed, this very fact gave the Greens a revived watchdog role to play in the arena of all-German politics. Every issue of economic and technological planning affecting the modernization of rudimentary East German industries and agriculture contained implications for environmental planning. The Greens were among the first groups to insist that everything possible should be done to prevent a mindless, profit-motivated rush to transform the eastern half of a reunited Germany without regard for ecological consequences.

During the last decade of the twentieth century, the Green movement expanded throughout Western Europe, leading to a pan-European scope and even formal representation in the European Union’s parliament. Green Party (West Germany) Political parties;Green Party (West Germany) Environmental organizations

Further Reading
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Bahro, Rudolf. Building the Green Movement. Translated by Mary Tyler. Philadelphia: New Society, 1986. Collection of essays authored by the most influential spokesperson for the Fundis, or the fundamentalist current in Green politics. Concluding essay explains Bahro’s reasons for resigning from the party over the growing split between idealists and realists.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Dittmers, Manuel. The Green Party in West Germany: Who Are They? And What Do They Really Want? 2d ed. New York: Oxford University Press, 1988. Useful as a reference source. Organized by subtopics, including the positions of the Greens on the politics of energy, feminism, and world peace.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Mayer, Margit, and John Ely, eds. The German Greens: Paradox Between Movement and Party. Translated by Michael Schatzschneider. Philadelphia: Temple University Press, 1998. Collection of critical essays (all but one originally written in German) and primary documents provides substantial information on the German Green Party. Includes bibliography and index.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Müller-Rommel, Ferdinand, ed. New Politics in Western Europe: The Rise and Success of Green Parties and Alternative Lists. Boulder, Colo.: Westview Press, 1989. Collection of essays includes chapters on political movements in various European countries that have modeled their platforms on the Green Party of Germany.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Spretnak, Charlene, and Fritjof Capra. Green Politics. Rev. ed. Santa Fe, N.Mex.: Bear, 1986. Presents an extremely readable survey of the various stages of Green Party development. Includes a number of references to the party’s influence in spawning parallel political and cultural movements in different international settings.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Talshir, Gayil. The Political Ideology of Green Parties: From the Politics of Nature to Redefining the Nature of Politics. New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2002. Examines the evolution of green parties in Great Britain and Germany. Includes bibliography and index.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Wiesenthal, Helmut. Realism in Green Politics: Social Movements and Ecological Reform in Germany. New York: Manchester University Press, 1993. Focuses on the practical problem of convincing German voters to switch loyalties from “standard” political parties to the Green alternative. Green Party leader Wiesenthal represents the opposition to the party’s idealist current headed by Rudolf Bahro.

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