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Germany

A Question of Conscience

The Greens are on the spot. The outcome of Friday’s vote of confidence doesn’t change that. For some Greens sending in the troops is more than they can swallow. Even if that means giving up power.

Schröder has pulled off a risky political gamble linking the issue of military participation with the confidence motion. But victory came at a price. The Greens are deeply divided and the gap between the moderates and the hard liners is likely to widen further.

Four pacifist Greens lawmakers caved in at the last minute to avert a collapse of the government and reluctantly backed the confidence motion. But four other Greens voted "no", leaving Schröder with a precariously narrow majority.

"A government that just barely survives a confidence motion with a narrow majority is hanging by the silken thread of an uncertain parliamentary majority and is not capable of governing," wrote Handelsblatt, a German business daily.

"The Greens party congress could still bring down his government. And if he survives that, the government will limp forward to the next election in the autumn of 2002."

Plastering over the cracks

Greens leaders had taken a softly-softly approach, trying to convince the dissenters in their own ranks of the need to back Chancellor Schröder in Friday’s vote of confidence. They managed to convince them for now. But it is not a long-term solution to the fundamental problems they face.

The Greens, who trace their origins to the peace movements of the 1960s, are by and large devoted pacifists. Only in recent years as they won power in the federal government for the first time did Greens leaders begin to compromise on those principles.

But Greens grassroots members, already annoyed at party leaders for agreeing to German participation in the 1998 Kosovo war, are up in arms that troops are now to be sent to Afghanistan. It is possible that delegates to the party conference in Rostock on November 24 could vote to leave the coalition as a result. (aw)