Greens roar back with Schröder's blessing

Ten thousand people are expected in the Marienplatz in central Munich tomorrow night, and there could be more. The guest is no rock star but, four days before Germany's election, Joschka Fischer, leader of the Greens and Foreign Minister, is the next best thing.

The star quality of this former Sixties rebel attracts support far beyond the Greens' usual constituency. And if there is one smile broader than that of Chancellor Gerhard Schröd-er in Germany it is Mr Fischer's. On Sunday, he was given Mr Schröder's public endorse-ment at a rally in Berlin: if the coalition returns to power, he promises, Mr Fischer will keep the job he so palpably loves.

The Greens are enjoying their second spectacular revival. The first was their emergence from 15 years of almost terminal in-fighting to join Mr Schröder in government four years ago. Almost exactly 10 years have passed since the Greens' first high-profile leader, Petra Kelly, was found dead, apparently killed by her long-time lover, who killed himself.

The latest revival of the party's fortunes has been only a little less spectacular than its post-Kelly renaissance. Only three months ago, the prevailing view was that even if Chancellor Schröder managed by some miracle to be re-elected, he would need a new coalition partner. The Greens looked as though they might not receive enough votes to get back into parliament, let alone join a new government.

Now, the bets are only on whether they can exceed 8 per cent of the vote or will have to settle for 7. If Mr Schröder is re-elected, the Greens will return to government, too.

Blazing Mr Fischer's trail to Munich at the weekend was Renate Künast, the minister for Consumer Protection, Nutrition and Farming (the order is deliberate). Ms Künast, who endorsed Jerzy Montag, the Greens' parliamentary candidate for Munich South, embodies many of the reasons Germany's Greens have succeeded in government where other "alternative" parties often fail.

The 47-year-old social worker and lawyer achieves a rare combination for a politician – especially a female politician – of being transparently competent and well-liked. She talks straight, is prepared to compromise and stands up to lobby groups.

The Greens sell a T-shirt printed with a Friesian cow design and the legend "Cows prefer Kunast", a play on the German for cow and the first syllable of her name. Witty and often cheeky, the Greens' election propaganda is streets ahead of any other party's. Another poster shows Mr Fischer, in open-necked shirt and grey hair dishevelled, and says: "Minister on the outside, green on the inside". "Aussenminister" translates as "minister on the outside", but also means Foreign Minister.

Ms Künast was rapturously received at a restaurant next to a park in the Munich suburbs. Her audience of 300, a highly respectable group of all ages, from pensioners to teenagers, testified to the success of Germany's Greens in tapping into the mainstream and broadening their appeal.

One of the brochures available contains "The Greens' 10 greatest hits, 1998-2002", picturing "the band" (their cabinet), and their achievements in government, including an end to battery-chicken farming, increased investment in alternative energy, improved women's rights and higher family allowances.

Their four years in government have worked in their favour. They have adapted to taking responsibility and proved themselves shrewd political operators. They have maintained the loyalty of even their most idealistic supporters, while no longer scaring traditionalists. Their manifesto calls for a redivision of labour, with shorter working hours and more part-time work, as part of the solution to Germany's high unemployment.

Their priority this week, though, is to attract as many votes as they can to increase their bargaining power and make the "red-green" coalition "more green".

Immigration reared its head yesterday for the first time in the election campaign when Edmund Stoiber's centre-right alliance issued an "immediate" seven-point plan, headed "Less immigration, more integration". The plan called among other things for immigration to be "reduced to a tolerable level" and for deportation of failed asylum-applicants to be speeded up. Family reunification would also be curbed. The document was condemned by Mr Schröder as a "counsel of despair", reflecting his challenger's declining popularity.

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