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Strengthening social security, fighting populism, and getting the ecological reform in transport and energy finally done

Although parliamentary elections in Germany are still one year away, you can feel a unique political dynamic in Germany catching speed. Political parties are very busy, delineating the issues that are going to be placed in the center of 2017’s campaigning. For the German Greens, “Gerechtigkeit” – Social Justice – is one of the themes that they are currently focusing their preparations on. That means equal and fair chances for everyone in society, strengthening social security, and closing the gap between the rich and the poor. For this year’s congress, that meant intensive discussions and a difficult decision on which tax reforms and investment priorities should be some of the key demands for next year’s campaign. After heated debates, the 850 delegates agreed on a resolution which decided to tax the super-wealthy and one that would reform the unique – and heavily-disputed – German system of a common tax-base for married couples; a system which was originally meant to support families but in effect often resulted in women ending up out of work and consequently losing social benefits and social security over the years.

Of course, there were other resolutions as well. Friday evening was dominated by a discussion on Europe and the reasons and possible consequences of the recent presidential vote in the United States. Bastian Hermisson, head of the Heinrich Boell Stiftung Foundation’s office in Washington, gripped participants with a thorough analysis of the division in American society. He identified one as mainly driven by cultural issues: a lack of acknowledgement of working-class culture by the political elites and urban class, depicting those that finally turned out to be Trump-voters as hillbillies, rednecks; their homes as fly-over-country. He appealed to delegates to reflect on the true meaning of openness and dignity. For Europe, that also means working against a possibly spreading transatlantic divide: “Now we need more exchange between Germany, Europe and the US, not less”.

Others were underlining that in today’s uncertain – and to some extent, even frightening – times, it is more important than ever to work to strengthen European values of democracy, openness, and tolerance. The congress speakers, from party leaders such as Cem Özdemir, to invited guest speakers such as the Member of the European Parliament for the Scottish National Party Alyn Smith, were highlighting their belief in Europe. “Going back to the nation-state is no solution,” said Özdemir, who appealed to delegates to build hope and to fight for these values instead of falling into despair. “Civil liberties and democracy are under attack, even in our European neighborhood.” In a resolution that took up this spirit and outlined a Green reform agenda, delegates voted for extending the powers of the European Parliament to initiate legislation, to lower the hurdles for the European Citizen Initiative, create a binding lobby register, transparency for European Council meetings, and extended cooling-off periods for high-ranking officials. "Europe is so important for us that we would be committing treason if we did not criticize what is wrong in Europe, what goes in the wrong direction, and what we want to change for the better. At the same time, it is absolutely clear that we, as Greens, will continue to stand with the European project of unity and cohesion," said EGP co-chair Reinhard Bütikofer in a speech to the plenary.

Transforming mobility and the transport sector was at the center of discussions on Sunday and emotions boiled up in the plenary when the debate opened with a guest speech from Dietmar Zetsche – CEO of German car-giant Daimler. Greens heavily discussed whether the company can be a constructive partner in the transformation towards sustainability. At least rhetorically, Daimler committed to a future emissions-free economy and electric mobility, but on the other hand, was criticized by some delegates for not being serious enough in his transformative agenda and for controversial sales of military trucks to authoritarian Saudi-Arabia. Greens, however, underlined that a successful transformation would need businesses that provide jobs and technology as partners. In a panel debate with WWF and Green experts on Human Rights, which followed the speech of Zetsche, they further elaborated where differences prevail and where commonalities in a transformation could emerge.

The congress ended with discussing and voting on a resolution on the energy sector, and a position that aimed at phasing out all coal power by 2025 at the latest.

We wish our German friends good and productive work in their preparation for next year’s elections.

Photo: The German Greens gathered for their party congress in Münster between 11 - 13 November via Facebook

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