Green light fades for Germany's red alliance

Click to follow
The Independent Online
The wedding vows have barely been exchanged. Already, though, the rows have begun. Greens and Social Democrats have finally agreed to the creation of a ruling coalition in Germany's most populous state, but neither party yesterday showed much enthusiasm for the deal that has been struck.

Johannes Rau, the veteran Social Democrat (SPD) Prime Minister of North Rhine-Westphalia, Germany's industrial heartland, has not hidden his sullen mood after the formation of a "red-green" coalition which he will now lead. Mr Rau, 64, grumbled that he could imagine "a nicer way of spending my twilight years".

But the Greens are equally unhappy about the compromise that has been struck, where they can boast of few clear victories over the SPD. As Mr Rau himself noted, there is an "unmistakable Social Democrat signature" on the 200-page coalition agreement.

Rudolf Scharping, national leader of the SPD - in opposition, in Bonn - talked yesterday of a "good signal" being sent by the agreement, which paves the way for the creation of an SPD-Green regional government, probably next week. But not all share Mr Scharping's optimism. Critics talked of a "nonsensical" compromise.

In particular, the Greens failed to force the SPD to cancel plans for further open-cast mining at Garzweiler, south-west of Dusseldorf. Instead, a decision on the highly controversial project has been deferred - with the result that both sides now have reason for complaint.

Miners, part of the SPD's traditional core electorate, are angry that there is no clear commitment to go ahead with Garzweiler. Thousands gathered at the weekend to attack Mr Rau as a "Judas". Their slogan declared: "Green and red - miners dead." Equally, however, the Greens have been forced to "swallow toads", as they themselves put it. As one angry Green noted, "You can't be a little bit pregnant - and you can't have a little bit of Garzweiler, either."

For both sides, one problem during the six-week negotiations has been that they needed to impress their own voters, regionally and nationally, by showing that they were ready to stand up for their own principles. The Greens, who had robbed the Social Democrats of their absolute majority in North Rhine-Westphalia, did not want to be seen as an easy touch for the SPD. Equally, the SPD, which did not want to offend its traditional clientele with the prospect of job losses, was wary of cosying up to the Greens. Now the question is whether the shotgun marriage (for the SPD, at least), will turn into something more stable, or whether it will be filled with constant recriminations.

The participation of the Greens in the North Rhine-Westphalian coalition in Dusseldorf is seen as a possible model for a future federal government in Bonn, to replace the existing Christian Democrat-led coalition. If the coalition in Dusseldorf works well, this will be bad news for Helmut Kohl and his government. Equally, however, if the Dusseldorf coalition falls apart - Helmut Linssen, the leading Christian Democrat in the region, said yesterday there was "no way" that the coalition would survive - then the voters' inclination to repeat the experiment, in Bonn, will be reduced.

The coalition has been created at a time when Mr Scharping is under considerable pressure, not least from his main rival, Gerhard Schroder, who makes no secret of his own belief that he could do the job better than Mr Scharping. Mr Schroder's supporters see Mr Scharping as lacklustre; Mr Scharping's supporters see Mr Schroder as a brash big-mouth.

Mr Schroder has recently shown as much loyalty to Mr Scharping as has Michael Portillo to John Major. Mr Scharping's current personal ratings are disastrous. It is, however, unclear whether the increasingly irritated Mr Scharping would want to challenge his critics head-on. A put-up-or- shut-up resignation, a la Major, does not look likely.