Limp Greens surge back in Germany: A party written off in 1990 may join Bonn's next coalition government, writes Steve Crawshaw in Wiesbaden

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The Independent Online
'ANYTHING over 5 per cent is OK. Over 7 per cent is good. Over 10 per cent - that's saugut'. The assessment came from Joschka Fischer, a leading member of the German Greens just before the European elections on Sunday. Saugut means 'pig- good', which means 'so good you can't find a word for it'. Saugut is what the German Greens have now achieved - even, Mr Fischer suggested yesterday, 'supersaugut'.

In national parliamentary elections in 1990, the Greens gained only 5 per cent of the vote. On Sunday they doubled that. Mr Fischer and his colleagues have good reason to be pleased with their performance. A party that was written off in 1990 as a one-decade wonder is back, and looks set to stay.

The problems may lie elsewhere. In their small way, the Greens now look much healthier than the Social Democrats (SPD), with whom they hope to form a coalition after parliamentary elections in October. The SPD suffered badly, instead of making gains at the expense of Helmut Kohl's Christian Democrats.

Rudolf Scharping, the SPD leader, this week distanced himself from the Greens. But calls for an SPD-Green alliance are growing louder. Mr Fischer talks of dinners a deux with the SPD party manager, Gunther Verheugen.

'I can talk about it because half the Chancellor's office were in the same restaurant that evening.'

Mr Scharping claims that he does not want a grand coalition of Social and Christian Democrats, which many now predict. But he insists that he is not ready for 'the (Green) tail to wag the (SPD) dog'.

The Greens' party conference earlier this year heard proposals to phase out Nato. This prompted excited headlines and scorn from Mr Scharping. But even the Greens' leading radical, Ludger Volmer, says it is 'nonsense' to think the implementation of such decisions would be a condition for forming a red-green coalition. He says the old arguments between 'Realos' and radical 'Fundis' are dead.

Mr Fischer too, is confident. He disagreed with the decision on Nato but thinks the radicals will budge.

'Ludger Volmer came from the Fundi corner. I've always been where I am today. I never won. And yet, today they're all Realos.'

If Mr Scharping is impatient with the Greens, the feeling is mutual. Mr Volmer argues: 'We're afraid that Mr Scharping is not so different from Mr Kohl in his views.' Mr Fischer is equally critical. 'The SPD is frightened of 'red-green' as a subject.

'I think that's a mistake. It's not our business to persuade Scharping. But he has a great problem: that he can't explain what difference the SPD will make.'

Mr Volmer and Mr Fischer are the de facto leaders of a party which has no leaders. Mr Volmer is 'spokesman'; Mr Fischer is environment minister in the red-green coalition government in Hesse, based in Wiesbaden.

Both men are wary of being co-opted into the establishment. Mr Fischer wears jeans. In the waiting-room to his ministerial office, bicycles are propped against the wall.

The Greens merged last year with the group that emerged from the former East German civil rights movement, Alliance 90. The two- in-one party is a home for dissident-minded citizens - and thus differs from other Green parties in Europe, which focus exclusively on environmental issues. For many German Greens, the party's outspokenness on immigration, racism, and military involvement abroad is just as important as rain forests or the proposed abolition of nuclear power.

Now that the Realo-Fundi war of the 1980s is over, the Greens form part of an alternative establishment.

They form parts of ruling coalitions in several regions. If Mr Scharping beats the CDU in October, the Greens might be part of a coalition government in Bonn. Greens in a national government would be a first in Europe.

But Mr Fischer remains sceptical. 'I don't think the SPD will change now,' he said yesterday. 'It's too late. For a reform coalition, of course, that's bad news.'

(Photograph omitted)