Cook to meet Green leader

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The Independent Online
BRITAIN WILL see the face of the new Germany today when Joschka Fischer, the most powerful Green politician to walk the world stage, arrives for a short visit.

The 50-year-old former revolutionary, sworn in yesterday as Germany's Vice-chancellor and foreign minister, is flying to Paris, London and Warsaw in an effort to reassure Germany's closest European friends of "continuity".

He is due to arrive in London tonight for dinner with Robin Cook, Foreign Secretary, and will have a round of formal talks with his host tomorrow morning. Language should be no barrier. Mr Fischer speaks good, if slightly rusty, English, which might help to clear up some misunderstandings.

While Downing Street was delighted with the Social Democrats' victory in last month's elections, its reaction to the Greens entering government for the first time was muted.Suspicions linger abroad about Mr Fischer's "anti-imperialist" past.

Unlike many in his party, Mr Fischer no longer advocates the abolition of Nato and is a committed Atlanticist. After the rape of Srebrenica in 1995, he shed his pacifist clothes and has supported military action since to prevent Serbian atrocities.

While never missing a chance to repeat the word "continuity", he has never the less served notice of some changes in German foreign policy. "We will add new accents: the human rights question, sustainable development, the democratisation of Europe, [and] the relaunch of disarmament," he told the French newspaper Liberation .

On matters of immediate concern to Britain, however, Mr Fischer believes (like his predecessors) that Europe will not remain a "vague confederation", and that it must evolve into some kind of federal structure. Monetary union, in Mr Fischer's view, is a "revolution" in which he hoped Britain would eventually play an active part.

However, the new emphases in Germany's relationship with Europe are more likely to come from the Social Democrats. Gerhard Schroder, formally elected Chancellor by the Bundestag yesterday, has lined up his government alongside other left-leaning administrations that are urging Europe-wide measures to fight unemployment.

Oskar Lafontaine, finance minister and number two in the government (irrespective of Mr Fischer's grand title), is expected to preach the Keynesian gospel across the Continent. That may cause a few problems in relations with London, just as his attacks on his predecessor's strict regime to defend the euro is already scaring the banking community.

On Monday Mr Schroder will travel to London to explain what he means by his promised "new beginning". He has a clear mandate from the German electorate and yesterday obtained a surprisingly strong endorsement in parliament, with seven opposition MPs voting for him as Chancellor.

What he will do with it, he has yet to make clear.

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