German Greens cheer revival and new coalition deal
BREMEN - Still savouring their best election result, Germany\'s rejuvenated Greens approved a new coalition with the Social Democrats at the weekend, wrapped up a row over nuclear power and turned to more pressing matters.
\"Free beer for everyone!\" campaign manager Reinhard Buetikofer told 750 cheering delegates eager to celebrate the September election triumph and a coalition agreement that gave the pro-environmental Greens more power than ever.
Their surprise success, which saved Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder\'s government, firmly established the Greens as Germany\'s third strongest political force and gave them added clout in the newly re-elected government.
The Greens, who grew from the peace and anti-nuclear movements of the 1970s, jumped to 8.6 percent from 6.7 percent in 1998. Schroeder\'s SPD fell to 38.5 percent from 40.9.
After endorsing the coalition deal at their congress in the northern town of Bremen, the Greens partied through the night with an enthusiasm reminiscent of the early heady days in 1983 when they first won seats in parliament.
\"The mood is excellent,\" Vice Chancellor and Foreign Minister Joschka Fischer told Reuters. \"We had a great election and everyone here was part of that very successful campaign.\"
He is undisputed party leader even though he holds no formal office. He is called the \"Green Godfather\" because he makes or breaks careers with his behind the scenes influence.
The Greens have come a long way from infamous party rallies in the past, where delegates with strong grassroots traditions forced leaders to swallow bitter pills - including a vote-killing call in 1998 to quadruple petrol taxes.
\"We need to be politically smart,\" Fischer said, confident the Greens were finally growing comfortable as a party in power.
Fischer persuaded delegates in a stirring speech on Friday to pass the coalition deal, which the SPD is set to approve on the weekend.
There had been fears the vote would be close because of delegates\' anger over a secret pact Schroeder made with energy producers to delay the start of the shutdown of Germany\'s 19 nuclear power plants by two years.
The Greens hold three ministries, foreign, environment and agriculture, the same number as in the last government, but have won added powers.
NEW GREENS FOCUS ON ECONOMY
Fischer said it was vital they focus more on the economy in the next four years, a notable shift for the pro-environment party.
The centre-left government nearly lost in September because of sluggish growth of less than one percent in the last two years and a rise in unemployment.
Fischer said that after petrol tax increases over the last four years the Greens would not push for further fuel hikes until 2004 - and only under favourable economic conditions.
\"The economy is the main thing now - not only for the Greens but for the whole country,\" he told Reuters. \"The negative business cycle is a big challenge for all of us.\"
Fischer devoted a third of his address to unemployment and the need for the Greens to push economic reforms. It was an eye-opening moment for Greens delegates, many wearing thick wool sweaters or thick beards that are unofficial party symbols.
\"We need to be a stronger motor of reform in the years ahead,\" he said. \"We need to increase labour market flexibility.\"
Rezzo Schlauch, now Deputy Economics Minister, said the Greens hope to stimulate the economy, promote business start-ups, and create jobs by cutting bureaucracy, helping small businessmen obtain loans, and relaxing rules dating from the Middle Ages on tradesmen starting their own companies.
Story by Erik Kirschbaum
REUTERS NEWS SERVICE
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