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Germany

Germany's Greens Face Political Wilderness

Germany's environmentalist Green party gathers this weekend in Berlin to hammer out an election platform ahead of a likely national poll that is widely expected to cut short their first stint in the federal government.

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Foreign Minister Joschka Fischer of the Green party is ready to fight

Foreign Minister Joschka Fischer and some 850 delegates will huddle Saturday and Sunday in Berlin to chart a way forward amid rock-bottom poll ratings for their seven-year-old coalition with Chancellor Gerhard Schröder's Social Democrats (SPD).

Taken aback by Schröder's shock decision to call for a general election this fall -- one year ahead of schedule -- they will be forced to fight a very different campaign than in 2002.

At that time, they battled side-by-side with the SPD and scored a record 8.6 percent of the vote, rescuing the ruling coalition after Schröder's party posted losses. Now, it is every party for itself on what is widely seen as a sinking center-left coalition government.

Confidence or not?

On July 1, Schröder deliberately lost a parliamentary no-confidence vote. He engineered it in the hope of triggering new elections in September and winning a new mandate for his controversial economic reform drive.

President Horst Köhler must decide by July 22 whether to dissolve parliament and order new elections. Coalition deputies had been asked to abstain from the vote. But 46 of the 55 Greens deputies voted their confidence in Schröder in a paradoxical sign of defiance.

Bündnis 90 Die Grünen Logo

The Alliance 90, a movement of the former East Germany, merged with the Greens in 1993

At their Berlin convention, the Greens -- a party born in 1980 out of the environmentalist and civil rights movements of the 1960s and 1970s -- will turn their attention to bread-and-butter issues.

The party's program is expected to include higher taxes in the upper brackets to finance cuts to non-wage labor costs for lower paid workers, as well as guaranteed, full-day child care for children up to the age of three. Heated debates are also expected on proposals to introduce a minimum wage and hike value added taxes.

Greens support not immune

While the Greens had emerged largely unscathed from a bruising series of state election debacles for the Social Democrats, a key poll in Germany's most populous state in May showed a stunning reversal for the party.

The Greens barely cleared the five-percent hurdle to representation in North Rhine-Westphalia. This was in part due to an illegal immigration scandal threatening to engulf Fischer, once Germany's most popular politician.

The party that had once seemed immune to public anger over government cuts to the cherished welfare state and chronically high unemployment suddenly realized it would likely drop out of the next ruling coalition.

Proud of red-green coalition

The charismatic Fischer, the unofficial party leader, pledged the fight of his life in a fiery speech to parliament ahead of the no-confidence vote.

Fischer im Visier

Joschka Fischer is under close scrutiny by a parliamentary committee investigating a visa scandal

"This coalition has every reason to be proud of what it has achieved," he said. But Fischer acknowledged it had dragged its feet in the fight against joblessness, currently hovering at nearly 12 percent, undermining the confidence of German voters.

Leftist alliance could drain votes

Since the no-confidence vote, the parties have thrown themselves into campaign mode. The conservative opposition Christian Union parties (CDU/CSU), led by Germany's first female candidate for chancellor, Angela Merkel, are enjoying an imposing lead.

A poll released Friday by independent opinion research institute Forschungsgruppe Wahlen showed the CDU/CSU with 44 percent backing, versus just 27 percent for Schröder's SPD.

The Greens posted nine percent against seven percent for the CDU/CSU's favored coalition partner, the liberal Free Democrats FDP. A new leftist alliance, seen as a potential vote-robber for both the SPD and the Greens, reached eight percent.

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