By Erik Kirschbaum
BERLIN, Jan 26 (Reuters) – Germany’s Greens, riding an unprecedented wave of popularity, have a solid chance of winning the Berlin mayor’s office this year as voters are fed up with stagnation, a party leader said in an interview on Wednesday.
Renate Kuenast, who could become the first Greens leader of one of Germany’s 16 federal states in September’s election, told Reuters her campaign will focus on economic, education, transport and job creation policies as well as debt reduction.
She said the incumbent in one of Germany’s top political offices, Berlin Mayor Klaus Wowereit of the Social Democrats (SPD), was ripe to be beaten due to growing lethargy after nine years ruling in coalition with the reformed communist Left.
“My chances are good, and we can win the election because people are fed up with the way things are going in Berlin — and want a change,” said Kuenast, a minister in the last SPD-Greens federal government under SPD chancellor Gerhard Schroeder.
A surge in support nationwide for the environmentalist party in the last year has shaken up Germany’s political landscape before seven state elections in 2011.
Opinion polls put the Greens at about 20 percent nationally, double their 2009 election score while in Berlin they have about about 28 percent support and the SPD about 29 percent.
Federal Chancellor Angela Merkel’s Christian Democrats are a distant fourth in Berlin behind the Left party even though they ruled the capital for much of the 1980s and 1990s. They are blamed for Berlin’s high debt.
Opinion polls have shown that leftist opposition parties including the Greens could win majorities in all seven states up for grabs this year. But Merkel’s conservatives have made steady gains recently, although support for their Free Democrat partners in the federal coalition has slumped.
The Greens, with roots in the peace and anti-nuclear movements, have shed their image as a fringe party to become one of the three top political forces in Europe’s leading economy.
So far they have been only junior coalition partners in state and federal governments so far, but polls show they could beat the SPD in Berlin on Sept. 18. They also could win the state premier’s office in Baden-Wuerttemberg, an industrial powerhouse with an economy the size of Poland’s, in March.
“We’re giving an awful lot of thought to the economy of the future,” Kuenast said. “We’re developing plans to cut operating costs with more efficient uses of energy and raw materials, and on how to create jobs in new areas. We want more innovation.”
Kuenast said she would launch a tough savings programme for Berlin, one of Germany’s most indebted states which is dependent on some three billion euros in support each year from wealthier German states. She said Wowereit has been negligent on that.
“He’s ducking his responsibilities by pushing the problems into the next legislative period,” she said. “We’ll take a tough line on spending with only education exempted from savings measures. Everything else will be scrutinised closely.