Greens barely colour Germany's policies

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PENNING THEIR names to a document bound by a red- green leather folder, leaders of Germany's ecologist party signed up yesterday for their first stint in national government, in coalition with the Social Democrats.

Joschka Fischer, the Greens' leader and the next German foreign minister, immediately swore not to make the consumption of muesli compulsory, but pledged that the government would begin phasing out nuclear power in this parliament.

There would also be a rise of about 4 per cent in the price of petrol in the coming weeks, although the Greens' vision of a whopping energy tax will not be realised. The 50-page common programme unveiled by the two parties' leaders yesterday at a champagne reception pays lip-service to many other Green issues, but most policies have been plucked straight out of the Social Democrat manifesto.

Thus, the government will launch a series of tax cuts in the next four years, which should leave an average household with two children DM2,700 (pounds 964) a year better off. Intended to encourage enterprise and ease unemployment, the business world was nevertheless underwhelmed by the reforms, which plan to cut the tax burden by an unimpressive DM10bn.

"This tax reform is moving in the right direction... but it remains far behind what is necessary," commented Germ- any's six leading economic institutes. With growth expected to slow next year, even this modest measure may be called into doubt.

The new cabinet of 16 includes three Greens, responsible for the foreign, environment and health ministries. Although both parties operate strict quotas, there are only five women on the top rung of government, and only one person - a woman - from eastern Germany.

"We will not do things very different, only better," Gerhard Schroder, the next chancellor, had promised on the election trail. So far, he appears to have fulfilled the first part of his pledge. The one big difference will be a new law easing nationalisation procedures for long-term foreign residents and granting automatic citizenship at birth to grand- children of immigrants.

The coalition pact must be approved at party congresses this weekend. The new Bundestag will meet next Tuesday, and is due to elect Mr Schroder as chancellor next Wednesday.