Green Germans agonise on French nuclear boycott

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German consumers are in a quandary. Flushed with the dramatic success of their boycott of Shell garages earlier this summer, they are now agonising over whether to adopt similar tactics in protest over France's decision to resume nuclear testing in the south Pacific.

Some restaurateurs have already taken matters into their own hands by banning French products. The North Sea islands of Amrum and Fohr have declared themselves Cognac and Champagne-free zones. And nobody with even half a claim to political correctness would be seen dead buying a new Peugeot.

But while nearly all Germans are strongly opposed to the planned French tests, most feel decidedly uneasy about flexing their enormous economic muscle in an attempt to persuade the French President, Jacques Chirac, to change his mind.

"Given our two countries' histories, a German call to boycott all French goods would send out a very ominous signal," said Anne Nilges, a spokeswoman for the Green party, one of the most critical of the proposed French tests. "Just 50 years after the war, it would be a fatal mistake."

The power of the German consumer was made only too clear last month in the widely supported boycott of Shell garages which in effect brought about the U-turn on the decision to sink the Brent Spar oil platform at sea.

With the scent of victory still fresh in their nostrils, some German anti-nuclear campaigners and environmental protection groups thought similar tactics could be used against the French government. Never mind Champagne and Camembert, they called for an outright boycott of all French products.

A few maverick MPs (including some from Chancellor Helmut Kohl's junior coalition partners, the Free Democrats) supported such calls. The political establishment as a whole, however, firmly rejected them.

"The action against Shell was directed against a company over a specific decision and as such had an immediate impact," said Klaus Hagemann of the opposition Social Democrats (SPD). "In this case the French government is responsible for the policy, but a goods boycott would actually hit the French people - and that is something we want to avoid."

That said, condemnation of the planned nuclear tests, which were announced last month, has been unanimous. While anxious not to let the issue mar the close Franco-German relationship, Chancellor Kohl spelled out German anxieties during a summit meeting with Mr Chirac earlier this month.

Wolfgang Gerhardt, leader of the Free Democrats, described the French decision as detrimental to moves towards a common European security policy and "not only wrong but unbelievable". Joschka Fischer, a leader of the Greens, called the test resumption "fatal, wrong and very dangerous".

As a signal of their protest, several German MPs, including Heidemarie Wieczorek-Zeul, deputy leader of the SPD, plan to join a protest flotilla setting sail to the test zone at the Mururoa atoll in early September. According to Mr Hagemann, the German participants want to make it clear to the countries of the south Pacific that they are not alone in their opposition to the French policy.

Although he does not think there is much chance of a climbdown from Mr Chirac, moreover, Mr Hagemann does think the French President may be persuaded to reduce the number of tests to be conducted at the atoll, currently set at eight.

"There is room for a face-saving compromise," said Mr Hagemann. "Perhaps Mr Chirac will feel able to call a halt to the programme after five tests. We do not want to jeopardise our friendship with France over this, but we do feel that, as an old friend, we have a moral right to say that with this policy France is actually harming itself."