German Greens castigate leaders

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The Independent Online
GERMANY'S GREENS confronted themselves yesterday with the question of whether they were ready for government, and answered with a resounding No.

At a weekend party conference, the delegates rounded on the only Green politician who had distinguished himself in government, heaped abuse on their coalition partners, the Social Democrats, and turned their backs on calls to reform the movement, whose rules date back to the days of flower power.

Joschka Fischer, the Foreign Minister who had urged the party to modernise its cumbersome decision-making process, was accused of plotting a putsch. In a resolution adopted by an overwhelming majority, the Social Democrats were attacked for their "provocative and extortionist behaviour" in the nuclear debate. Chancellor Gerhard Schroder's "indecisiveness" also came in for criticism, and his government was ordered to ban the reprocessing of nuclear waste and start phasing out nuclear power immediately.

The Greens' party conference came in the wake of a series of setbacks, culminating in the Red-Green coalition's unexpected defeat last month in regional elections in Hesse. Compared with their share of 12 per cent of the votes a year ago, the Greens are now scoring about 6 per cent. Their Environment Minister, Jurgen Trittin, has been humiliated by Mr Schroder's party after he had attempted to start phasing out nuclear energy faster than his coalition partners were prepared to move. As a result of the defeat at Hesse, Green proposals for reforming Germany's nationality law look likely to be watered down.

These reversals add up to a picture of the Green army in full retreat, but they are still refusing to concede that there might be something wrong with the strategy or the battle formation. The delegates had gone to their conference in Erfurt to prepare for the coming European elections, and not to hear criticism of their movement.

Only Mr Fischer, the Green politician with the highest popularity among voters, was prepared to suggest that the movement could do with some updating. He was heard out in icy silence. "We have to combine our visions with what it is actually possible to achieve," Mr Fischer told the meeting. "We have to learn how to govern and how to go out and campaign."

As always, Mr Fischer thinks he knows the answers. The Social Democrats had been able to outflank him and his colleagues because Green ministers had no power to take decisions without going through tedious procedures for internal consultation. What the party needed, the Foreign Minister said, was clear leadership structures and less tokenism.Unlike other parties, the Greens have "spokespersons", rather than leaders, though no one really disputes Mr Fischer's role as primus inter pares.

His comrades nevertheless interpreted his intervention as an attempt to grab an undisputed leadership role. "This makes me absolutely mad," said parliamentary whip Kerstin Muller. "We all know that when the Greens talk of structure reform it's all about a battle for power," she said. Ms Muller received sustained applause for her contribution.