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German Greens Finding Governing A Big Ask

The German Green Party, almost in free-fall at the polls, is being warned to start acting like a governing party in a modern democracy, more than the anarchic, pacifist, anti-nuclear militants they were when the party was founded. John Howard reports.

Germany's Greens hold a party congress this weekend amid concerns that they are not facing up to working with political reality.

The Greens have been almost in free-fall in popularity and clout since taking power with the Social Democrats (SPD) after legislative elections in September 1998.

Greens Foreign Minister Joschka Fischer, is pushing for a more pragmatic line, the so-called "realo" point of view, against fundamentalists known as "fundis."

The problem is that divided and fractious at the best of times, the Greens, Germany's third main political party, are looking in bad shape after 17 months in the federal German government.

Their views appear to count for little with German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder.

In the September 1998 general elections the Greens won 6.7 percent of the vote (and the SPD 40.9 percent). This was already well down on the 11 percent they were enjoying in opinion polls earlier in that year.

In the Berlin state election last October 10, they slid to 9.9 percent compared to to 13.2 percent in a similar vote in 1995.

No issue highlights the Greens dilemma more than their pledge to abandon nuclear energy they had written in their coalition contract with the SPD before forming a centre-left, "red-green" Government in October 1998 under Gerhard Schroeder.

Greens co-leader Juergen Tritten was given the environment ministry but he quickly ran into trouble with Schroeder as he pushed for a quick shut-down of Germany's nuclear power reactors.

Tritten backed down on this as well as his attempt to immediately end contracts with Britain and France for reprocessing nuclear fuel, which Schroeder said would be not only illegal but bad for business.

And only this week, just days before the Greens congress opens in Karlsruhe, they openly bickered over a government move to give guarantees for three major exports of nuclear technology, including one 300-million-mark contract with China.

The Greens Foreign Minister, as well as the Greens parliamentary whips, defended the move since 11 other projects had already been refused export credits.

This has set the stage for what Greens Secretary General, Reinhard Buetikofer, told reporters would be "an exciting party congress."

One of the main themes of the party congress is reforming the Green party structure.

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