Schleswig-Holstein Northern Lights for the Greens

All over the country the Green Party is polling low, except in the north German state of Schleswig-Holstein. Sunday's election offers hope.
In 2017, it's really not easy to be green.

Across Germany, the Green party has plummeted in the polls to as low as 6 percent, but the environmentalists are not nervous yet.

“First, we’ll focus on Schleswig-Holstein,” party leader and chancellor candidate Cem Özdemir told Handelsblatt in an interview.

The German-Turkish politician is keeping an eye on the small German state election. The Greens hope to counteract the party’s national slump with a double-digit victory in the north, just as they did five years ago. Monika Heinold, the state finance minister and party leader, hopes to remain in a governing coalition with the center-left Social Democratic Party (SPD) and the South-Schleswig Voters Association (SSW).

Prime Minister Torsten Albig is having to fight to continue to lead with a SPD government. His party is polling one point below the local faction of the center-right Christian Democratic Union (CDU). Experts say that if Mr. Albig doesn’t win the incumbency, it could be a sign of trouble for the SPD’s chancellor candidate Martin Schulz. His run against CDU Chancellor Angela Merkel initially caused a surge in popularity for his party, but the CDU has seen its numbers rising in recent weeks.

The environment is no longer an isolated issue – it is increasingly tied in with the economy. Cem Özdemir, Green Party Leader

The Greens are polling a respectable third with 12 percent in Schleswig-Holstein, compared to 8 percent federally, making them still a contending party in the northern state. Michael Lühmann from the Göttinger Institute for Democracy Research attributes that to the “popularity of the two leading politicians.” Ms. Heinold’s colleague Robert Habeck is deputy state premier and minister for energy, agriculture and the environment.

The two politicians, Ms. Heinold claims, balance each other out. “Mr. Habeck embodies the ecological issues and people associate me with a sound fiscal policy.”

These two aspects are ones that the Greens must balance as they start looking beyond state elections, including the one in North Rhine-Westphalia a week after Schleswig-Holstein’s, to the federal vote in September.

“The environment is no longer an isolated issue – it is increasingly tied in with the economy,” Mr. Özedemir said.

The business sense is part of what has made Ms. Heinold so successful in her state. She says her greatest success is that “people have the feeling that I am looking after their money.” Most people associate the Greens with looking after the environment.

The environment is no longer an isolated issue – it is increasingly tied in with the economy. Cem Özdemir, Green Party chancellor candidate

Michael Lühmann from the Göttinger Institute for Democracy Research says the federal party can learn from the popularity of the two leading politicians. He says that Ms. Heinold and Mr. Habeck are able to communicate a clear plan to voters, unlike their federal counterparts. Like Ms. Heinold’s frank talk about crisis bank HSH-Nordbank, which she readily admits is looking for a buyer. “We have to deal with legacy issues.”

Her financial smarts supplement well with Mr. Halbeck’s push to bring the environment to the fore. Mr. Lühmann says his positions on the environment are encouraging instead of dogmatic, but the party needs Ms. Heinold to make Mr. Halbeck’s optimism work.

“You can’t do anything as a social politician if the finance politicians don’t give you any money,” Ms. Heinold told Handelsblatt.

The state party structure is well reflected in the federal party. Mr. Özdemir shares the party leadership with Katrin Göring-Eckardt, but observers say that they are lacking fresh ideas and courage to bring their party forward. Mr. Lühmann says the two leaders don't trust themselves to "clearly say what they're thinking." Problems that don't appear in the Schleswig-Holstein faction of the Green Party.


Silke Kersting reports for Handelsblatt from Berlin, focusing on consumer protection, construction, environmental policy and climate change. To contact the author: [email protected]