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Germany

An Unlikely Combination

The latest election victories for Germany's left-wing, ecologist Green Party have the conservative opposition parties re-thinking their strategy. Is it possible to work together after all?

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The conservatives are considering sharing the stage

Not so long ago, the very idea of cooperation between the Greens and the conservative parties would have been unthinkable. But following a string of strong election gains by the Greens, the Christian Democratic Party (CDU) and its Bavarian sister party, the Christian Social Union (CSU), have begun to see the Greens as a force to be reckoned with.

Leading CDU and CSU politicians have said they plan to reconsider their strategy toward the Greens following the summer break. But whether the conservative's new approach will involve courting the party of Foreign Minister Joschka Fischer as a potential coalition partner or fighting harder to stunt their growing popularity remains to be seen.

"We have to come to grips with how we're going to deal with the Greens in the future," said CDU parliamentarian Volker Kauder. His primary concern, however, was not how to win the Greens as a coalition partner. Instead, he said the CDU needs to think about how best to challenge the Greens and analyze how the party appeals to growing numbers of voters, especially in large cities such as Berlin and Hamburg.

Gains for Greens

During last weekend's elections for the European Parliament, the Greens managed to push its coalition partner in the federal government, Chancellor Gerhard Schröder's Social Democratic Party (SPD), out of second place in several cities. In Berlin, for example, they had the second strongest showing after the CDU. In Freiburg -- the only large German city with a Green mayor -- the Greens captured the top spot.

Many of the CDU's younger members have already grown accustomed to the idea of forming a coalition with the Greens. "It's become a realistic option," Philipp Missfelder, the head of the CDU's youth branch, told the news agency DPA.

Given the slipping popularity of the SPD, there's a sense among some Greens that the party needs to start looking ahead to the 2006 general elections if it wants to stay in government. While there's no doubt that having been the SPD's junior coalition partner since 1998 has helped the Greens to mature as a party, analysts also say it was only due to the Greens' huge gains in the last general election that the SPD even got a second term.

"The Greens have to look around for new coalition options for the long term," Dieter Salomon, mayor of Freiburg and Greens member, told the Berliner Zeitung.

Inspiration to fight harder

For some members of the CDU/CSU, the success of the Greens inspires thoughts of competition, not cooperation. The CDU's head in the state of North Rhine-Westphalia, Jürgen Rüttgers, said his party has to stop fighting for the votes of SPD supporters and start fighting for those of Greens supporters.

Michael Glos

Christian Socialist Union (CSU) party parliamentary floor leader Michael Glos

One of the CSU's leading politicians, Michael Glos (photo), said he sees opportunities for coalitions with the Greens on a state level, but he drew the line at a coalition on a federal level, using a rather unflattering metaphor. "In order for ticks to survive in the long term, they have to find a new host animal," Glos said. "I don't want us to become that new host animal."

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