SPD will assault Kohl over troops in Somalia: Germany's opposition party appeals to the judges to solve a knotty political problem

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The Independent Online
GERMANY'S opposition Social Democrats (SPD), under their new leader, Rudolf Scharping, have seized on the issue of German troops in Somalia for their next assault on Helmut Kohl's government. Today they submit a legal challenge to the presence of the troops, after Bonn refused to back down on the issue in talks with SPD leaders yesterday. The complaint, to Germany's highest court, is likely to lead to more confusion in Germany's tortuous foreign policy.

German politicians have become increasingly fond of referring difficult political problems to the constitutional court for an official ruling. The constitutional court in Karlsruhe tends to ignore the legal issues and looks at the realpolitik instead.

The waiting list for decisions is long, and the judges do not like to be hurried. The court still has not ruled on a six-month complaint about the Maastricht treaty, which means that Germany may be the last country to approve the treaty. After asking whether Germany would be internationally embarrassed if it were not allowed to provide crews in the Awacs aircraft flying over Bosnia for the UN (the answer was 'yes') the judges gave permission for the politicians to put German crews in the planes. The government had taken itself to court on the issue.

Now, the SPD is throwing itself on the mercy of the judges. If they accept the SPD plea, then Germany will have to order home its troops in Somalia and will face enormous embarrassment with its allies.

Two arguments are used by those who oppose a German presence in Somalia. The argument against deployment of German troops out of the Nato area was historically based. German military force was seen as intrinsically dangerous; there is still queasiness about change. But more familiar arguments are also coming into play. There is talk of soldiers returning home 'in lead coffins'.

Some argue that the SPD may be looking to the court merely to endorse an SPD change of line. Focus magazine argued this week: 'SPD politicians admit, in whispers, that the Social Democrats have gone to Karlsruhe only to get the judges to take the responsibility for their embarrassing change of line.'