Greens eye power-sharing in Germany At the halls of power after years in the streets

September 29, 1998|By Bill Glauber | Bill Glauber,SUN FOREIGN STAFF

BONN, Germany -- In a country with a love of fast cars and the open road, they campaigned for a highway speed limit and stiff new gasoline taxes. In a bedrock NATO nation, they called for dissolving national armies and military alliances.

And now, the Greens, environmentalists and pacifists who have campaigned for decades on the streets, are poised to enter the halls of power as a junior partner in the new German government.

Chancellor-in-waiting Gerhard Schroeder and his Social Democratic Party opened the mating ritual for a new governing partner yesterday, and signaled they were prepared to open talks Friday to forge a ruling coalition with the Greens.

Schroeder said at a news conference yesterday that the Greens should "prepare for a clear and tough round of talks," implying they might have to moderate some of their more radical principles if they wanted to share power.

In the wake of Sunday's impressive election victory for Schroeder and the Social Democrats, most analysts now expect Germany to go "red and green," the colors of two parties who could combine for Europe's most unusual political marriage. It will certainly make quite a change from the 16 years of steady rule by Chancellor Helmut Kohl.

But Germany's political landscape was transformed by Sunday's election in which Schroeder, 54, the prime minister of the state of Lower Saxony, completed an 18-year mission to gain Germany's top political post.

The Social Democrats earned 40.9 percent of the vote, a virtual landslide in a multiparty race. Kohl's Christian Democratic Union fell to 35.2 percent.

If the Social Democrats can forge a partnership with the Greens, who secured 6.7 percent of the vote, the government coalition would enjoy a 21-seat parliamentary majority in the 669-member Bundestag. Until an agreement is reached, Kohl's government will remain as a caretaker.

But partnership between the Social Democrats and the Greens could prove ticklish. The Social Democrats are tied to brawny labor unions but have moved to the center to appeal to big business. The Greens maintain the whiff of 1960s radicalism.

They will have to tackle Germany's problems of 4 million unemployed and the mounting disenchantment in the former communist east, the introduction next year of the euro, Europe's single currency, and the transfer of the German capital from Bonn to Berlin.

Schroeder made it clear in his first news conference that his primary focus will be on getting Germany's unemployed back to work and boosting the economy.

The Greens have long since moved away from their anti-establishment, Marxist roots. Wearing jeans and tennis shoes, their members entered parliament for the first time in 1983. Now, they're as buttoned-down as politicians in any mainstream party.

But they still play to the left, calling for an end to nuclear power in Germany and for "comprehensive disarmament."

Traditionally in Germany, the junior coalition partner extracts the prime post of foreign minister. If that holds true, Germany's diplomatic face could be presented by the Greens' leader, Joseph "Joschka" Fischer, 50, an ex-cab driver and former street rebel who is among Germany's most popular politicians.

Just as he transformed his once paunchy physique by running marathons, Fischer has helped steer his party to the political mainstream. He is considered by friend and foe alike to be a "realist," and he led the party's support to continue German participation in peacekeeping in Bosnia.

"Our foreign policy will be to work in close cooperation with our partners, not against them," Fischer said yesterday.

Schroeder moved quickly to dispel any doubts about his resolve to continue Germany's strong, pro-Western, pro-American, foreign policy.

"No one needs to have any worries; we will ensure foreign policy continuity," Schroeder said. "The international community can rely on Germany remaining a good partner and developing its partnerships."

0`

Official preliminary results

Party ......... 1998 results

............... % of vote ..... Seats

CDU/CSU ....... 35.2% ......... 245

SPD ........... 40.9 .......... 298

Greens ........ 6.7 ........... 47

FDP ........... 6.2 ........... 44

PDS ........... 5.1 ........... 35

Others ........ 6.0 ........... 0

Party ......... 1994 results

............... % of vote ..... Seats

CDU/CSU ....... 41.4% ......... 294

SPD ........... 36.4 .......... 252

Greens ........ 7.3 ........... 49

FDP ........... 6.9 ........... 47

PDS ........... 4.4 ........... 30

Others ........ 3.5 ........... 0

NOTE: CDU/CSU - Christian Democratic/Christian Social Union; SPD - Social Democrats; FDP - Free Democrats; PDS - Party of Democratic Socialism.

Election turnout was 82.3 percent compared with 79.0 percent in 1994. Parties need a minimum of 5 percent of the vote, or three directly elected constituency seats, to enter parliament.

SOURCE: Reuters

Pub Date: 9/29/98

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