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Germany's Green party votes on parliamentary leadership

Germany's Greens have voted in the party's new floor co-leaders in the Bundestag, the country's federal parliament. The party's new duo will be pivotal in upcoming talks on a possible coalition with Angela Merkel.

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Katrin Göring-Eckardt beat fellow hopeful Kerstin Andreae in a party vote on Tuesday. She represents the Greens' conservative wing, who like to call themselves 'realos' or realists.

Following the party's poor showing in the September 22 general election, the Greens had announced a full-scale reshuffle of party leadership. The former pair of parliamentary floor leaders, Renate Künast and Jürgen Trittin were blamed for the result, which brought the party down to 8.4 per cent - more than 2 percent shy of the 2009 election tally - making it only the fourth largest party in the Bundestag.

Göring-Eckardt, 47, a former Bundestag vice president, is also a senior figure within Germany's Protestant church, and was something of a surprise winner when the Greens voted last November for their traditional twin-ticket in the election, standing alongside Trittin.

In line with the Greens' policy of equality, in which every leading post must be held jointly by a woman and a man, Göring-Eckardt will share her new position with Anton Hofreiter from the Greens' left wing (both pictured above).

Hofreiter, 43, was the only candidate from the party's left for the co-leader role and had no competitors. The biologist stands out in the German parliament because of his long blond hair and beard, but also because of his thick Bavarian accent. In his four years in parliament, during which he has headed the infrastructure committee, he has earned himself a reputation for being outspoken and strong-willed.

The German Greens are held up as the most successful environmentalist party in the world. Their success story started in the 1980s, when they campaigned on an anti-nuclear, environmentalist and pacifist platform. They were even a junior coalition partner at the national level with SPD chancellor Gerhard Schröder, who led Germany until being defeated by Merkel in the 2005 German elections.

In this year's election campaign the Greens' leadership had spoken out again in favor of a coalition with the Social Democrats. But their contentious election proposal, calling for a 49-percent tax on high incomes, was quickly identified as one of the main reasons for the party's poor showing. The condemnation of a perceived "shift to the left" strengthened the party's conservatives.

Germany's former foreign minister, the now retired Greens' figurehead Joschka Fischer, came out as a particularly strong critic.

"Instead of talking about the environment, Europe, education and families we just talked about taxes and levies,” he told the German news magazine Der Spiegel.

Tuesday's vote for parliamentary co-chairs came two days before the Greens' turn to meet with Angela Merkel's Christian Democrats (CDU) for exploratory talks on possibly forming a governing coalition for Germany. This follows the CDU/CSU's initial discussions with the country's second biggest party, the Social Democrats (SPD) on Monday.

The Greens hold more than enough seats to provide Merkel with a majority. A CDU/CSU-Greens alliance is all but unthinkable for the Green party's left wing, as well as for staunch CDU and CSU conservatives.

A new "grand coalition" government of CDU/CSU and SPD is still widely seen as the most likely scenario.

jr/rg (dpa, Reuters)

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