Bundestag Vice President: Why are the Greens so hated, Ms. Göring-Eckardt?


Bundestag Vice President: Why are the Greens so hated, Ms. Göring-Eckardt?

Ms. Göring-Eckardt, three years ago no party embodied the zeitgeist as strongly as the Greens. Today the Greens have become an object of hate and an expression of everything that the traffic lights do wrong. How could this happen? The pressure for change is enormous: nationally the serious investment backlog, globally the climate crisis, wars like the Russian one. Refugees resulting from the crises are becoming increasingly difficult. Democracy itself is coming under pressure from those who at least question it. Unfortunately, the Union had nothing worse to do than declare the Green Party the main opponent. But the conservatives are slowly realizing that we are not the main enemy. But the AfD.

In Biberach, violent protests led to the Green Party leadership having to cancel its Ash Wednesday event shortly beforehand. What consequences do you expect? Democratic discourse, even if it is conducted harshly, is what defines us. And not preventing conversations, calling names or crossing boundaries. I would like to see more prudence again: stop making a fuss! We need to cultivate real, honest political discourse with each other again.

Her party colleague Jürgen Trittin has criticized the local police for not being able to protect an appearance with their own prime minister. Do you see it that way too? I can't tell from a distance. I was not there. The question is a much more fundamental one: If the situation increases so that political events can only take place under increased police protection, then that is a serious problem for our democracy.

You said at the beginning that the Union was largely to blame for the Greens' poor image? Don't you think that's a bit simplistic? Of course not. The real problem is different.

Which one?My party stands for change like no other. And that's always difficult, especially when it becomes concrete and it's about you. In East Germany, fatigue with change probably tends to be greater than in West Germany. Changes that lasted almost 35 years – the time after reunification was nothing different for many people. That does something to a society. Given the need for change - in climate policy, for example, we see almost every day how great the need for action is - this then leads to the defensive reactions that we experience. But there is a turning point right now.

And that would be?The demonstrations against right-wing extremism. All in all, not since the Peaceful Revolution have there been so many people on the streets for democracy. And this happens everywhere in the country, in the east as well as in the west, and even in small towns. Because they don't want the AfD to destroy our democracy. People realize that they are not alone in their resistance. And many are rediscovering my party. We have a lot of new entries right now. And people dare to say again at the family coffee table that they want to vote green.

This is not reflected in the surveys. According to this, the Greens must expect heavy losses in both the European elections and the three East German state elections in the fall. How do you prepare for this? We don't prepare for severe losses at all.

That sounds brave. We are fighting to do better than many people believe we can at the moment. And I currently feel a tailwind.

Tailwind? In Thuringia, the Greens are threatening to be thrown out of parliament. Is your party currently losing the East – or has it never won it? This situation is not entirely new. This is also due to the fact that potential Green voters have tended to leave East Germany. And that those who stayed don't want any more change. In Thuringia, I am more worried that the AfD will achieve a government majority. If only four parties instead of six entered the state parliament, 40 percent would be enough for her. So it makes a difference whether the Alliance Greens enter the state parliament or not. It is all the more important that we succeed in mobilizing our voters.

Don't the Greens also have the problem that they are a city party and have little idea about life in the country? I think we have sometimes given this impression with our communication in the federal government. However, a similar proportion of our members come from rural areas and from the city. This should also be reflected in our politics: we should think about it much more in terms of the country.

Katrin Göring-Eckardt, 57, comes from Thuringia. She stands for the "Alliance '90" in the name of her party, the part that has its roots in the GDR citizens' movement. Twice, in 2013 and 2017, she led the Greens as the top candidate in the federal election. She has been Vice President of the Bundestag again since 2021.

Many more people own their own homes in rural areas than in cities. That's why the heating law caused a lot of anger and incomprehension there. Has the Green Economics Minister Robert Habeck lost touch with these people? No, the first version of the heating law stated that there should be funding that is staggered according to income. This was deleted again in the cabinet. It is often not taken into account enough that many people in East Germany have inherited their own home but still have a very low income. That's around a million households who own their own home and have an income of less than 40,000 euros per year. They cannot finance a heat pump from their own resources.

It is not the first time that the impression arises that the traffic lights are bypassing people in the countryside. The 49 euro ticket is also a case like this. Great for all city dwellers, but it's of no use to rural commuters. The 49 euro ticket is a wonderful thing and one of our greatest successes. And it also helps regional train commuters in rural areas. For them, the transfer from one transport network to the other was the point that made the monthly ticket so expensive. That's gone now. But what is true is that that is still not enough. Measures are also needed that specifically bring something to people in rural areas.

What does that mean specifically? In parallel to the 49-euro ticket, we need a reliable cycle for public transport in the countryside with well-coordinated connections at junctions. So-called on-call buses are also an option. They drive on demand when they are needed. In addition to mobility, what is particularly important for people in rural areas is comprehensive basic medical care, close to where they live. For example with health kiosks, which we should expand to a much greater extent.

You mean low-threshold offers for health advice in the municipalities. People need to know that they have a point of contact if they have a medical problem. Close to home, barrier-free and best accessible without a car. There doesn't have to be a specialist on site everywhere, but there does have to be medical staff who can organize a transport service to the nearest specialist if necessary. Ideally you can combine this with other offers. So, for example, in a building together with the corner shop and the energy consultancy that advises on solar panels. Or in the train station building or in an empty community center.

But at the moment this is all more utopia than reality. How do the Greens in the East have to present themselves so that they can be successful in the elections in a few months? It is also reality. For example in my hometown of Thuringia. Above all, we have to be a party that understands what concerns people.

Aren't those the Greens? Yes, but at the same time we have to say: Let's make the changes we need together - at a pace that we can manage well and that at the same time meets the needs. This is of course not easy. We should say: Let's develop the best solutions together.

So you have to become more of a caretaker party? In the best case, yes. But it cannot be about solving every problem for every individual. But what we need to do is step out of our own comfortable bubble. To where people don't think green at all, don't act green, but still do essential things for society, the community and the economy.

Does that perhaps also mean talking more about skilled workers than about gender and about more rights for trans people? It remains right to guarantee the rights of trans* people. However, the issue of skilled workers can really get to us in East Germany.

What do you mean? If you get the impression that you shouldn't come here because you have a different skin color or a different native language, we will have a huge problem economically. We have to talk about this. Also about how the refugees who are there can get into work as quickly as possible. When people have been here for ten years and are always just tolerated and not allowed to work, that's nonsense for both sides and causes difficulties. We're changing that right now.

Dealing with refugees is a top topic for many people when asked about their biggest concerns. Would the Greens have to move towards a stricter policy - for example, support controls at internal borders? Or will it then tear your party apart? It is not honest to convince people that no more refugees will come if we just close the borders enough. We know what the world situation is like: wars, lack of resources, climate crisis. We in the industrialized countries are always partly to blame for all of this. That's why there will always be people on the run. Of course, those who have no prospects of staying must then be repatriated as quickly as possible.

However, this has not been particularly successful in practice so far. Isn't that dangerous because it reduces acceptance of more immigrants? I do not believe that. It depends on whether we bring order to the system: accommodation, school, daycare must be prepared. In doubt, skilled workers and refugees are the same people. And workers are wanted everywhere. Just a few days ago I was in a glass factory in Thuringia, where people from 22 nations work - including many who came as refugees.

Do you assume that your party can actually win back AfD sympathizers in this way? Or are these voters lost to the Greens anyway - and is that more of a task for the Union and the SPD? It is true that someone who has voted for the AfD twice rarely becomes a Green Party voter. By the way, it is primarily voters, i.e. men, who vote for the AfD. But there is an effective lever: we have to create encounters with people and be on site. I think that can change a lot.

An accusation that the Greens are repeatedly made is that they are not proud of this country. Are you actually proud to be East Germans? We East Germans had to do a lot of things that others didn't have to do. That makes me a little proud. By the way, I really enjoy being a Thuringian German and a German European. And Protestant. All of this is home for me.