BERLIN (Reuters) - Germany’s Green Party has drawn level for the first time with the main opposition Social Democrats, a leading poll showed, propelled by its campaign against government plans to extend the use of nuclear energy.
Support for the environmentalist party hit a record high of 24 percent, up to two percentage points from last week, in the Forsa survey published on Wednesday by Stern magazine.
The Greens were junior coalition partners to the Social Democrats (SPD), traditionally Germany’s main center-left party, from 1998 to 2005 and wrote the law to shut down nuclear power plants by 2021.
Chancellor Angela Merkel’s Merkel’s center-right coalition of Christian Democrats (CDU) and Free Democrats (FDP) now wants to extend nuclear use by 12 years. When the Greens entered the federal government under former chancellor Gerhard Schroeder in 1998, they won just 6.7 percent of the vote while Schroeder’s SPD took almost 41 percent.
Together the Greens and SPD had 48 percent support in the latest Forsa poll — 14 points ahead of Merkel’s coalition on 34 percent. Her CDU fell one point to 29 percent in the past week while the Free Democrats (FDP) were steady at 5 percent.
On Saturday, tens of thousands of Germans marched in front Merkel’s office in one of the biggest anti-nuclear rallies in years. Protesters called on her to drop the unpopular plans to extend the use of nuclear power.
Surveys have shown a majority of Germans are opposed to extending nuclear lifespans and Merkel faces a battle to get the planned measures through parliament. The SPD and Greens have said they will go to court to stop the extensions becoming law.
The Greens, who won 10.7 percent in the 2009 federal election, have surged to one record after another in polls in recent months, thanks to their staunch opposition to nuclear power and voter frustration with Merkel.
They have also profited from their campaign against an unpopular multi-billion euro plan to rebuild the railway station of Stuttgart, which has provoked mass protests in the city, the capital of the southwestern state of Baden-Wuerttemberg.
Polls show the Greens have even pulled slightly ahead of the SPD in Baden-Wuerttemberg and the city-state of Berlin. Both states hold regional elections in 2011. It would be unprecedented if the Greens won enough votes to head the state governments.
The party, whose roots go back to the peace movement and anti-nuclear protests of the 1970s, has benefited from worries about climate change and its support for renewable energy. Germany draws 16 percent of its electricity from renewables.
The Greens, who were long closely allied to the SPD, have also gained in popularity among conservative voters after opening the door to new coalitions. They rule in coalition with the CDU in Hamburg and with the CDU and FDP in Saarland.