German Election: Greens stake claim to cabinet posts

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The Independent Online
ON FRIDAY morning, Germany's two victorious left-wing parties will begin the historic task of building the country's first "Red-Green" national government.

Each party will send a 12-member team to the negotiations, though the real work will have to be done behind closed doors by just one or two negotiators on each side. The discussions will be sensitive because of the huge differences between their respective positions, and the massive expectations of their membership.

"We are going into the talks without preconditions, and nor do we accept preconditions," declared Jurgen Trittin, the Greens' chief negotiator. It fell to Joschka Fischer, the Greens' parliamentary leader, to clarify that there were indeed specific issues to hammer over, as he gave journalists a broad outline of his priorities.

Thus, the Greens are committed to forging an "alliance of jobs" between employers, employees and the government. They are demanding an overhaul of the tax and welfare system, so as to cut the cost of labour in Germany and thus stimulate employment. They are proposing to finance the social welfare reforms by slapping an "environment tax" on petrol.

In car-obsessed Germany, the fuel tax could emerge as the biggest issue separating the two coalition partners. The Social Democrats are also proposing to increase the price of petrol, but by a lot less than their coalition partners, whose ultimate goal is DM5 a litre - roughly pounds 7 a gallon.

The two parties should have little problem agreeing on a new nationality law, which would enable up to 3 million long-term foreign residents to become German citizens. Though there are differences between the two parties' concepts, these can be bridged.

Foreign policy is a more serious point of conflict, especially in the light of persistent rumours that Mr Fischer has his eyes set on the foreign ministry. Without confirming his ambition, Mr Fischer sought to reassure journalists that he or his party no longer want to abolish Nato, and remain committed to Germany's international obligations. "We want a Europe- wide security system," he declared, without mentioning Nato by name.

Mr Schroder, in a separate meeting with the press, tried to reassure Germans and foreign leaders that his government would change practically nothing. "Germany will not be a worse partner under a new government," he pledged. "The international community can rely on Germans to remain good partners."

Mr Schroder reiterated his commitment to European monetary union, dismissing reminders of his earlier opposition to the project as "history".

"The new government will do everything to make the euro a success," he said. The chancellor-in-waiting was confident that the Greens were serious about power sharing.

"I have the impression that the leadership of the Greens is not entertaining the idea of forming a government contract for less than four years," he said. "Care comes before haste. We are not under pressure."

While refusing to discuss the distribution of ministerial portfolios, Mr Schroder repeated that he saw no objection to the formerly pacifist Mr Fischer becoming foreign minister. "It is not the first time that I have said that I could imagine Joschka Fischer in that office," Mr Schroder said.

The SPD won 40.9 per cent of the vote to become the largest party in the next parliament. Together with the Greens, who claimed 6.7 per cent, they would command a majority of 21 seats. The CDU took 35.2 per cent and their liberal allies, the Free Democrats, won 6.2 per cent of the vote.