On or Off? German Nuclear Policy and the Greens

Akira Kita
Professor of German Literature and Modern Lyric Poetry centered on Paul Celan
Faculty of Law, Chuo University

On May 5, all 50 nuclear power plants in Japan had ground to a halt. The government is making arrangements with an aim to restart them. On the other hand, following the Fukushima nuclear accident, Germany has decided upon a basic policy to eliminate reliance on nuclear power by the end of 2022, and has started working towards that aim.

Germany had actually agreed to extend the period of its nuclear power plants immediately before the accident and overturned that policy.

On one hand, a final target has been set as a country, and on the other, without showing any concrete final aim, only a temporary policy proposal has been made. There is a huge difference.

How did such differences come about? When thinking of that reason, one that springs to mind is the existence of the Greens political party in Germany.

Who are the Greens?

About 30 years ago in 1983, when 28 members of the Greens entered the German Parliament for the first time, they went against conventional protocol by not donning suits, and appeared wearing casual clothes and carrying bouquets and dead trees. The dead trees represented the acid rain issue, and the bouquets represented the new paradigm of environment = green in political and ideological history.

Epoch-making party in world history

What comes to mind from the party platform is the beautiful shape of our earth spinning on the background of the infiniteness of the dark and cold universe. In other words, the Greens have proclaimed from the start that they are not only targeting the narrow domain of Germany. Not stopping at internal politics of one country, they study aspects from natural history to the history of the earth and humans, and, furthermore, consider what needs to be done to continue the existence of our earth. There is one clear line passing through the fruit called ecology.

In the history of humankind since the world’s population began to rapidly expand exponentially after the Industrial Revolution, they have assessed that we are now in an era of paradigm shift. They criticize the current continuing development of global modernization, and are hoping to change this to ecological modernization. Of course, abandoning nuclear power is also one of their policies.

Global poverty and hunger, and struggles for resources

Alongside environmental problems, a major issue they have taken up as their party platform is the huge gap between developed and developing nations. Globalization of the world economy can not be avoided. However, the inequality of globalization towards developing nations is seen as problematic. Since the formation of the party, they have been pushing for the setting of new economic laws on a worldwide scale from the viewpoint of equality.

Even here, the Greens’ party platform makes it clear that in the modern era, domestic problems, in the same form, have already become issues on a global scale.

So how did the Greens come about?

One of the roots of the Greens is a student movement called the movement of 1968. This student movement continued in the form of various civilian movements. It started in the areas that the establishment didn’t see as issues. For example, childcare, suburban traffic network improvement, and foreign labourer issues.

One other root of the party was the anti-pollution movement which trumpeted prominent environmental issues such as dying forests due to acid rain and pollution of the Rhine River.

Other than those, there were all kinds of civilian movements such as the anti-nuclear movement, natural food and organic farming, drug-induced sufferings, noise pollution and housing issues, animal protection, women’s liberation, recycling, and the fair trade movement. So the Greens weren’t just a party that cried out for anti-pollution and protection of greenery, an image that can be conjured up immediately from the name, but a gathering of civilian movements and their national centre.

The party’s name in German is Die Grünen, and means green people. When compared with other parties that use the titles Partei (Party) and Union (Union), that uniqueness stands out.

Actually, that movement, like it showed when it first entered parliament, was unconventional and ran against long-held beliefs. Also, under a slogan of non-violence, and by staging sit-ins instead of violent confrontations to stop trains carrying nuclear waste, they would take non-violent action to press their case. That is why some people frowned upon the Greens.

Fresh organizational principles and simple wishes of actual human beings

Later to be revised, the first members of parliament were to be replaced after two years, half way through their four year term. In other words, with this rotation system, the principle was that party members would be treated as equal as possible without making strongmen. Also, in selecting representatives such as members of parliament, there is a set rule to have an equal number of male and female members in relation to the actual male / female ratio. Wages are also set at the same level as those paid to skilled workers, and amounts earned by members of parliament exceeding that is donated to the party.

The Greens’ motto of basisdemokratisch (democracy from the bottom / grassroots democracy) was also an attempt, without relying on the existing parties, to once again deliberately return to the basics of democracy, and start from there.

And also, it can be said that the demands that can be seen in the party platform are simple wishes that are in the hearts of the average person on the street.

Toward making an impact on real politics

Since they first appeared in the national parliament in 1983, events such as the Chernobyl nuclear accident in 1986 have occurred and support for the Greens has increased. In 1993, they merged with Bündnis 90 (Alliance 90), the umbrella group for civilian movements from the former East Germany and, ultimately, from 1998 to 2005, were in the coalition government with the Social Democratic Party of Germany. During this term in power, along with deciding on the introduction of an environmental tax, they created a basic policy of denuclearization through talks with major power companies, namely forming an agreement to a term of 32 years for nuclear power plant operations. If the Greens weren’t in existence, these policies would never have been realized.

When the original Greens started to point out environmental issues, the other existing parties showed almost no interest in the problems. However, now all political parties deal with environmental issues in their party platform. Also, the Greens’ insistence including denuclearization was continually dismissed as “unrealistic and a fantasy tale, childish.” That denuclearization has also finally been adopted as national policy.

The Greens, a minority party, have had an impact on the administration, and have actually gained enough strength to change politics.

How did the Greens become to have such a large existence in Germany?

The reason for that can be found in the history and society of postwar Germany. The German people basically love forests and have always enjoyed nature, and their strong tendency to think logically and conceptually can be given as reasons.

Also, it can be said that they are blessed with a more developed social foundation to support civilian activities than Japan. For example, in Germany, a society that sets a greater value on qualifications rather than academic career, the individual is protected by their qualifications. Union power is strong. Basic wage structures are decided between the labour unions and employer’s associations. Democracy is also more deeply rooted than in Japan. Political education for youths and political training for citizens is also more widespread and deeper than in Japan.

While being an economic power of about the same level, Germany differs from Japan in that there is a three week summer holiday. Shops are also closed on Sunday. The country as a whole takes a break. It can be said that the people have enough time to turn their attention to things other than work. Many universities also offer free tuition, and those who want to study can study. These are all unheard of in Japan.

Germany the mirror and German Week at Chuo University

Why are Germany and Japan so different? To think about Germany is to think about Japan. At Chuo University from June 11 to June 23, as the 3rd International Week, preparations are under way with Germany as the theme.

Details will be published on our website. In order to learn about German, which acts as a mirror for Japan, I hope you will attend the events during German Week. There will be an intensive screening of five films related to nuclear power.



Akira Kita
Professor of German Literature and Modern Lyric Poetry centered on Paul Celan, Faculty of Law, Chuo University

Born in Ibaraki in 1948. Graduated from the Faculty of Letters, University of Tokyo in 1973.Completed his Master’s degree at the Graduate School of Humanities, University of Tokyo in 1976. After working as a full-time lecturer at Kanagawa Institute of Technology, became a full-time lecturer at the Faculty of Law, Chuo University in 1979. Started current position in 1991 after working as an assistant professor. Reads modern lyric poetry centered on Paul Celan. Major translated works include, The Greens Comic (Alternative Publishing, 1984), and Paul Celan…Biography of His Youth (Miraisha, 1996). Major publications (all co-authored) include, Yoki na Mokushiroku [Cheerful Apocalypse] (Chuo University Press, 1994), Tsueran Kenkyu no Genzai [Celan Research Today] (Chuo University Press, 1998), Tsuaroto no Michi [Zealot Road] (Chuo University Press, 2002), and Tsueran wo Yomu to Iu Koto [Reading Celan] (Chuo University Press, 2006).




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