Dismay over wilting of the Greens' ideals

They were once the nice guys of German politics, wilting custodians of "flower power", wedded to radical ideas about saving the planet. Now they stand accused by their own disaffected members of the heinous crime of pursuing "pure power politics".

The charge was levelled against the Greens by their MP, Vera Lengsfeld, who defected to the Christian Democrats this week in disgust. She said the Greens were preparing to strike a Faustian pact with the post-Communists of eastern Germany, a move which she, a former East German dissident, found repugnant.

It is a testament to the enduring legacy of their idealism that some Greens should be surprised by their party's single-minded attempt to enter government. But in truth, Petra Kelly's heirs long ago abandoned any pretence of trying to change the world from the outside and have inevitably been corrupted by the morsels of power picked up along the journey.

The goal of "zero growth" - economic stagnation for the sake of the environment - is but a distant memory, pacifism a hollow slogan. What remains of the original dream is the "four wheels bad, two wheels good" mantra, hostility to nuclear power, and the pledge to impose an "environmental tax" on fuel. Even these are subject to negotiations, however.

Of all the Greens' recent metamorphoses, their changing relationship with industry is the most striking. The party's avowed aim is to form the government with the Social Democrats after the next elections scheduled for 1998, a goal portrayed by the current administration as a recipe for mass unemployment and recession. Chancellor Helmut Kohl's Christian Democrats have put out posters depicting factory machines covered in cobwebs, brought to a halt by a double-whammy of wage-inflating Reds and Luddite Greens. To improve their image among blue-collar workers, the Greens have lately been courting the trade unions.

So now it's onwards and upwards for the left? Not quite. Their problem remains that the sum total of votes cast for a Red-Green alliance is less than the two parties would score if they were not shackled by the other. According to a poll published this week, the Greens would get about 14 per cent - twice what they gained in the last elections in 1994 - while the Social Democrats would be supported by 35 per cent of the voters.

That would be enough to oust Mr Kohl, but real elections have shown that many Social Democrats are prepared to vote against their own party if that is what it takes to keep the environmentalists out of government.