Germany’s Great Green Hope

Source Alvaro Tapia

Why you should care

Because he personifies a new generation of European politics.

“It’s the third time I’m having a coffee here today,” grins Rasmus Andresen when I meet him at noon in a cafe right across from the European Parliament in Brussels. The German is just 33, but in his first year as a member of EU Parliament he has thrown himself into a flurry of activity. And since politics involves meeting a lot of people, Andresen looks quite well caffeinated.

Elected in May of this year, Andresen has already gotten himself placed on several key committees by the Green Party, including one overseeing the European budget. He worked on the Greens’ questioning of proposed members of the European Commission, essentially the EU government. In one case, it led to the Parliament voting down France’s Sylvie Goulard after a withering crossfire of questions. Andresen’s latest crusades involve attacking the government of Poland for violating LGBTQ rights and the European Union for still investing funds in fossil fuels, while in the meantime joining anti-climate change protests in Flensburg.

State party conference Green Schleswig-Holstein

Rasmus Andresen speaks at the state Green Party conference in Schleswig-Holstein, Germany.

Source Carsten Rehder/picture alliance via Getty

He and other Greens have been putting the screws to the EU Commission’s promises to make Europe the first climate-neutral continent by 2050, trying to increase its ambition to the level of their own proposed Green New Deal. “My politics combine social issues with climate action,” says Andresen. “I fight for social and climate justice. Fighting poverty is important, just as fighting climate change is.”

In this, Andresen personifies a new political wave in Europe. He got into the European Parliament on the back of Germany’s Green Party doubling its vote to 20 percent, becoming Germany’s second-biggest party. It is an outgrowth of the mass protests against climate change led by Swedish teen Greta Thunberg and other youths, which brought hundreds of thousands into streets across the continent.

there’s still a Euro-bubble, and we also need to talk to people outside of it.

Rasmus Andresen

But the ecologically minded Andresen also shows what it is to be European. He’s from the German town of Flensburg, right next to the border with Denmark, in Schleswig-Holstein. And, as his name hints, he’s part of the Danish minority in Germany. “It’s actually how I got my start in politics,” Andresen recalls. “I had some teachers in Danish school who encouraged me for being political. I’m half-German, half-Danish, so from an early age Europe meant more to me than just some weird institutions far away.”

As a politician Andresen represents Schleswig-Holstein, an area hotly contested during the 19th and 20th centuries. Prussia seized it from Denmark in 1867 after a war. And conflict between the Danish and German populations continued for decades afterward. Today, however, it’s relatively affluent and progressive.

But that doesn’t mean he stayed in the borderlands. Andresen studied in Copenhagen, Denmark, and got involved in politics there, working around refugee and LGBTQ rights. He also wrote his university thesis on U.S. politics, traveling to the States during the 2008 election and interviewing people in Ohio about how the financial crisis affected their vote. While there, he volunteered and canvassed for Barack Obama’s campaign. “Often the Americans are faster in setting campaigning trends, so I picked up some things, and after [George W.] Bush I really wanted to see a change,” he says.

Today he still tracks U.S. politics, citing both Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren as his political examples. Although he does admit he would choose Warren over Sanders, showing that he leans left — but not that far left.

Luise Amtsberg, 35, met him during his Obama days. Today she’s a member of the German Parliament, the Bundestag, for the German Greens, but by the time she got there in 2013 Andresen “already was one of those ‘old hands’ in our party, even though he was younger than me,” she says.

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Luise Amtsberg with Andresen.

In 2009, the two decided to run for state Parliament together in Schleswig-Holstein, despite their young ages. “There was resistance everywhere,” Amtsberg recalls. “Not only from outside, but also from the ranks of our party. Some thought that we were too young for the Parliament.” Eventually they became some of the youngest parliamentarians in Schleswig-Holstein’s history. During Andresen’s term, he pushed for issues from net neutrality to regional sporting events.

But however much these young politicians exemplify a new European generation, they will still need to convince an older cohort. While the German Green Party grew in the last elections, so did the far-right Alternative for Germany, although not as strongly as expected. In other countries, like Belgium, the Green Party got trounced, notwithstanding large climate protests.

There’s also the danger of getting stuck in the European sphere. “There are many great people in Brussels,” Andresen says. “But there’s still a Euro-bubble, and we also need to talk to people outside of it. The mindset here in Brussels is different from the one back home.”

And there are more challenges on the way for Andresen. “The Green fraction in the European Parliament is very heterogeneous,” says professor Gisela Müller-Brandeck-Bocquet from the University of Würzburg, where she specializes in European politics. “The German Green Party scored very strongly this time, so they need to take care not to dominate [Europe’s other Greens] too much.”

Additionally, besides questioning the European Commission on its climate ambitions, the Greens will have to turn their attention to Germany. The government there has been underperforming in climate policy in the past few years, and much will depend on a climate package that could go through the Bundestag at the end of this year.

Meanwhile, Andresen’s problems are also more day-to-day. Like a true green politician, when he returns to Flensburg he tries to do so by train instead of by airplane. “But the connection is really horrible,” he sighs. “It takes too long, and there are often delays. Maybe Europe should try to fix it.” A job that now, in a small way, falls to him.

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