After Germany’s recent election, coalition talks are now underway to determine the composition of the next government and who will succeed Angela Merkel as chancellor. In this episode of The Conversation Weekly podcast, we explore what the results tell us about German voters’ priorities – and we dig into the history of the Greens, now one of the kingmakers in coalition negotiations.
We also hear from a researcher looking at the health benefits of saunas and hot baths, particularly after exercise.
Germany has entered a frenzied period of coalition negotiations. Olaf Scholz and his Social Democratic Party (SPD) emerged from the September 26 election with the largest number of seats in the German parliament, the Bundestag. However, Scholz will need to work with at least two other parties to form a majority. The kingmakers are the Greens, who came third, and the liberal Free Democratic Party (FDP) who came fourth. While not natural allies, their leaders have already begun talks.
Angela Merkel, whose Christian Democratic Union party haemorrhaged votes to the SPD and ended up in second place, will remain as caretaker chancellor until a coalition agreement is reached. It could take months.
“I think Merkel will hold the so-called Neujahrsansprachen, the new year’s address, at the end of December,” says Jasmin Riedl, professor of political science at Bundeswehr University Munich in Germany.
The Greens’ 14.8% share of the vote wasn’t as much as their candidate for chancellor, Annalena Baerbock had hoped for. At one stage earlier this year they led the polls with 25%. But Riedl says the Greens are still one of the big winners from this election, doubling their vote share from the previous 2017 elections. “The climate question is definitely very much in people’s minds,” she says, adding that both the Greens and the FDP did particularly well with voters under 25.
In this episode we track the history of the Greens, from their early days as an “anti-party” party in West Germany in the 1980s before they merged with the East German Alliance 90 party, to today, the first time the party fielded a candidate for chancellor.
Niko Switek, visiting professor for German studies at the University of Washington in the US, says it began as a “very colourful group” of people with a diverse range of viewpoints, from feminism to pacifism and even some more conservative elements. “Over time, the party became distinctly more left,” he explains, before shedding some of its former radicalism and becoming more pragmatic as it got closer to power. He explains how the Greens entered into coalitions at state level in recent years with a variety of other parties, including conservatives and liberals, which opened them up to criticism for being too close to big business.
Chantal Sullivan-Thomsett, a PhD candidate in German and politics at the University of Leeds in the UK, explains how membership of the Greens has changed over the past few decades, and the concerns of party members she’s talked to for her research. Some worry about how to sell the kind of changes needed to address the climate crisis to the general public: “That if you go in really radically, you’re very unlikely to win over hearts and minds.” Others really wanted the Greens to talk more about system change, she said: “For them it’s about how do we stop people consuming.”
In our second story, we talk to a researcher investigating just how good saunas and hot baths are for your health. Charles James Steward, PhD candidate at the Centre for Sport, Exercise and Life Sciences at Coventry University, studies the health benefits of long, regular soakings and how they can improve – and even mimic – the effects of exercise. He explains what the evidence tells us so far and the experiments he’s doing to investigate further.
Plus, Lucía Caballero, environment and energy editor at The Conversation in Madrid, gives us some of her recommended reading.
This episode of The Conversation Weekly was produced by Mend Mariwany and Gemma Ware, with sound design by Eloise Stevens. Our theme music is by Neeta Sarl. You can find us on Twitter @TC_Audio, on Instagram at theconversationdotcom or via email on firstname.lastname@example.org. You can also sign up to The Conversation’s free daily email here.