Germany’s Green party has two new faces at the helm – Defense expert Angelika Beer and national party manager Reinhard Bütikofer. The two replace one of the most successful leadership duos the Greens have ever had.
Emotional farewell - Claudia Roth, left, and Fritz Kuhn comfort each other after giving up their leadership posts
One of the most nagging issues dodging the Green party in Germany in recent weeks, the junior coalition partner in the current government, has finally been laid to rest.
At a party conference in Hanover on Saturday, the party found itself facing a leadership crisis after delegates narrowly rejected a motion to allow Claudia Roth and Fritz Kuhn to remain the party's leaders.
Roth and Kuhn fail to get their way
Green party leader Fritz Kuhn, left, and Claudia Roth
The two led the Greens to their best ever result in federal elections this September, and won Bundestag seats themselves. However the party statute bans members from holding a party post and a seat in parliament at the same time.
Both the exuberant cropped-haired Roth and the low-profile Kuhn, reluctant to give up their party leadership positions, fought to the bitter end to press for an exception to the party statute.
But a motion to grant them permission to stay on as co-leaders failed to gain the two-thirds majority required by party rules, leaving them with the choice of either staying on at the head of the party or vacating their Bundestag seats. Both have now opted to remain in parliament.
Temperamental Roth shaped the party
In her characteristic emotional style, Roth in a tearful farewell speech said, "I love this party so unbelievably much and exactly for how it is".
However she was gracious in accepting defeat. "I'm not going to take this personally. I'm not going to go and sulk in the corner. It's about something we all care about. This is not to be taken as a threat, but I'm going to keep fighting."
Roth, who took over as party chairman in March 2001, promised Green members and followers at the time exactly what the erstwhile protest party had missed for so long – clear principles, and no compromises for the sake of being part of the government.
"I want to be myself, I don’t want to be anything else" – with this credo, Roth managed to capture the soul of the Greens who were hunkering for a clear identity. However in the months that followed, though Roth often insisted that she didn’t want to a "woman on the frontlines" who wanted to follow a certain stream of politics, she was often accused like other prominent Greens of sacrificing her own ideals in the political battlefield.
German Foreign Minister Joschka Fischer
Kuhn who joined the Greens in 1979 after being disillusioned with the nuclear policy of the Social Democrats, was also pragmatic about the decision. "I respect this decision. But I would like to remind you that in this case, bitter as it is for the majority, the minority has the right to call the shots."
Fischer disappointed too
The present shake-up at the reins of power is also a blow to the party’s figurehead and Germany’s foreign minister and most popular politician, Joschka Fischer, who had argued in favor of changing the statute.
"Hope, pray and light a candle" that the party makes the right decision, is how he described his own feelings before the crucial decision was taken.
New leaders determined to carry on Green agenda
Meanwhile the two new leaders of the pacifist and ecological-oriented Greens have vowed to keep the Green flame burning.
45-year-old Angelika Beer, the new co-leader of the Greens who made her name as a defense expert was elected by a wide majority of 459 out of a total 614 votes.
Beer emphasized cooperation and said, "I'm convinced we'll get the job done. I want to do it together with you, with a new team in the party executive, with the parliamentary faction and with the party as a whole. Green politics are proceeding ahead. That is the signal I want to send today."
She will be joined by Reinhard Bütikofer, the Greens' 49-year-old national party manager. Bütikofer stressed that the leadership question was now settled and that the focus should be on the party platform.
"I'm convinced that the Greens represent the modern Left: ecological, human-rights-oriented, emancipatory and individual. Our goals are ambitious, and I think we should pursue them ambitiously."
The two new Green co-leaders face quite a challenge as junior partners of the Social Democrats (SPD) in the current coalition.
This second time around, the partnership between the Greens and the SPD has come under tremendous strain as the government stands accused from all sides of raising taxes in the face of an ailing economy and staggering unemployment.
Sharp differences between the Greens and the SPD have also become apparent in recent months over crucial policy and reform issues.