While the overall direction of the Social Democratic-Green coalition government continues on a course of helping the German rulers wrest concessions from the workers and farmers, recent moves by Schröder have strained the coalition and exposed differences and hesitations on how far to push anti-worker measures.
The two parties formed a coalition government in 1998 when they gained a narrow plurality with 298 SDP and 47 Greens in parliament.
The Green Party, which fused with the Bundnis 90 alliance of civil rights movements in eastern Germany in 1993, was formed in 1980 by diverse forces including activists in the antinuclear movement, the peace movement, and opponents of the antidemocratic measures of the ruling parties. The party's platform in the 1998 federal elections called for "ecological and social renewal" and included planks on "global responsibility"; pension cutting reforms; "environmentally friendly agriculture"; along with demanding "No to nuclear power" and "women's self-determination."
The Greens' platform cloaks their proposals for flexible work time and part-time jobs as a way to advance women's equality, saying it leads to "fair distribution of...housework, child-rearing, and nursing care to allow women and men to share in paid work sufficient to support themselves and their families."
On their web site, the Greens explain they orient toward younger people and that "Green voters tend to have a relatively high level of education." The Green Youth, they say, has more than 5,000 members between 14 and 28.
The governing coalition has helped the German rulers hold down wages of German workers in relation to contracts won by workers in Norway and Finland who struck for their demands. Schröder's government also succeeded in passing a tax cut bill last July that boosts profits and improves the international competitiveness of German capitalists.
Last fall the Social Democrats, whose membership base includes the trade unions, began slowing down their moves to cut pensions and took steps to strengthen the workplace councils, committees of workers' delegates that represent nearly half the country's workers and act to safeguard workers' interests in the plants. The councils represent 98 percent of workers in factories of more than 1,000 employees. These steps drew an angry reaction from the country's main industry groups, and opposition from the Green leaders. The Cologne Institute for Business Research said this month that the plan to reinforce the works councils "goes fundamentally in the wrong direction," and the capitalist press has expressed alarm.
Schröder has "become patently more wary of antagonizing his core supporters in the trade unions and on the left," complained Haig Simonian of the Financial Times, who praised the Green leaders, on the other hand, for being "particularly concerned by the recent gyrations over pensions reform." The Greens' budgetary spokesman, Oswald Metzger, remarked, "Obviously, the SPD can't win an election as the party of business, but you can't turn the clock back so far."
Fritz Kuhn, national Green co-chairman, said, "We must seek opportunities to emphasize our role as modernizers," code words for cutting back the social wage and measures that restrict business competitiveness. Dow Jones Newswires writer Jonathan Stearns reported that industry leaders are hoping the Green Party "might accept changes to the draft law" that the SPD won't.
While the Greens traditionally took a stronger position against nuclear power than the SPD, Kuhn urged party members last month not to demonstrate against the planned transport of nuclear waste to Germany from France, the first such shipment since 1998. At that time, concern with container leaks led to a halt in the shipments. Previously, Germany's nuclear power industry shipped spent nuclear fuel to La Hague in France for reprocessing, after which it was shipped back. Green leader Kuhn said some transports are necessary and that Germany has a moral and legal obligation to take back the reprocessed fuel. The "No Nuke" Greens have now given their agreement to the government's deal last summer with the nuclear industry to take a slow-track approach in phasing out nuclear power over 20 years or more.
Meanwhile, the Schröder government has restricted asylum laws for immigrants and stepped up deportations. At the same time it is calling for a government ban of right-wing groups as a way to stop attacks on immigrants. Foreign Minister Joschka Fischer, who is also a Green Party leader, blamed the "silent majority" for aiding the attacks by not speaking out against them.
On foreign policy, Fischer is becoming a point man for the administration, in which backing up Washington is increasingly a central theme. Earlier in February, the German foreign minister traveled to Moscow for talks with Russian president Vladimir Putin, and reported that the Russians were showing new flexibility on the U.S. missile shield plan. "In the end, I think Russia will accept negotiations" on the shield plan, Fischer told reporters, while denying that he was acting as an intermediary between Russia and the Bush administration.
The German daily Die Welt said that in discussion with Russian officials on the U.S. missile plan, "Fischer made it clear that...Germany basically stood on the side of the United States," stressing that Washington "is Germany's most important ally, and that would not change." The paper pointed out that by doing this "Fischer corrected the impression the Russians had gathered from the recent Moscow visit of Defense Minister Rudolf Scharping," an SPD member who had made statements critical of the U.S. plan.
The February visit to Washington by the German foreign minister, taking place just days after U.S. and British planes bombed sites close to Baghdad, Iraq, marks another step in the evolution of the German Greens and the "Red-Green" alliance in this direction. The German government has maintained what the Financial Times called "a tactful silence" about the latest bombing.
Fischer's background as a radical youth in the 1960s gives a left cover to the regime. Opposition parties in the German parliament are trying to erode the coalition by calling for an investigation into Fischer's participation in a conference organized by the Palestine Liberation Organization in Algiers in 1969.
The Greens supported Schröder's decision to send German troops to occupy Yugoslavia along with military forces from the United States and other European powers.
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