In the battle of the sexes, it's Green v Green

Germany's Greens, possibly the most politically correct party in the world, take women's rights very seriously indeed.

At their annual conference this weekend, delegates who wish to make a speech must apply in writing by placing a slip into the appropriate box: one for each sex. A well-balanced selection committee then picks an equal number of applications from each box. This way, 50 per cent of the speakers are guaranteed to be female. The speeches stop when the female box runs out.

The bureaucratic procedure takes away a little of the event's spontaneity, but it is a small price to pay for women's liberation. To prove how deadly earnest they are about equal opportunities, the Greens have quotas throughout their organisation, from tea-persons to regional chairwomen. Their leader, Joschka Fischer, only happens to be male, as does his Number Two. In their 30-strong national office in Bonn, 17 are women.

Into this harmonious collective stepped Harald Handel three months ago, to take on the job of national spokesperson. Mr Handel is young - 36 - politically right-on, and comes from an oppressed minority: he is a born and bread Ossi from East Germany. But despite an impressive career in television news, Mr Handel has a major flaw. "I am just a man," he admits.

No one can now explain how it happened, but the Greens hired the wrong sex. The national leadership do not think so, but the party's own staff council do. They have taken the party presidium to court, demanding Mr Handel's dismissal. The first hearing of the case of Greens versus Greens is expected in January.

The staff council, consisting of two men and one woman, accuse the party leadership of busting the quotas. Mr Handel was picked out of 200 applicants. The position had fallen vacant because the previous incumbent - a woman - could not get on with her male boss.

After her resignation, the party leadership selected another woman, but she turned them down. At the second attempt there were only four candidates left; two men and two women. The Greens' presidium of five men and five women voted unanimously for Mr Handel, with only one (male) abstention.

On that day, the staff council nodded the new recruit through, but later changed its mind. Gerhard Lippe, its male chairman, complained that the Greens already had too many regional spokespersons of the male variety. That's irrelevant, countered Gunda Rostel, a member of the party presidium. Ms Rostel is the highest-ranking Ossi in the party, and was not about to settle for a Wessi spokesperson, whatever the gender. Members and officials are like gold dust in the East, where the party remains largely irrelevant. Sacking Mr Handel now would alienate the few remaining Ossi supporters.

There is no chance of that happening. The Greens are standing by their man, leaving the Green staff council with no choice but to sue. "The party leadership sought the advice of lawyers, and were told that nothing could go wrong," says Mr Handel.

"It is a disaster for the Greens," he adds. Apart from the bad publicity, the legal battle is likely to be protracted, and will cost the party a small fortune. Independent experts believe the staff council have no legal leg to stand on, because political parties do not have to justify whom they employ.

The male-dominated staff council knows it cannot win, says Mr Handel, but is using the issue to score points in the Greens; Byzantine office politics. "It's just a macho game to them," the spokesman explains.