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Greens party conferences opens, future of party in question

The Greens party have opened their three-day party conference. Following disappointing federal election results and failed exploratory talks with Merkel's conservatives, the leadership wants to establish a new direction.

The 800 delegates of Germany's Greens party assembled in Berlin on Friday to select new leadership. They also will be discussing the meaning of this year's federal elections for their own future.

Ahead of the event, Secretary General Steffi Lemke (pictured) told reporters the Greens must reflect on the mistakes which had resulted in losing parliamentary seats. However, they must also seek a common strategy for pursuing a more viable future as a political force in Germany, she said.

"I'm going to assume that we will maintain our solidarity [with one another]," she said, adding that it was important for party members not to undo progress made in recent years.

"We're going take one look back and two looks forward," Lemke said.

Major vote on Saturday

The party will vote for its new leadership on Saturday in the hopes of making a fresh start after disappointing election results in September.

Chancellor Angela Merkel's Christian Democrats (CDU) and its Bavarian sister party, the Christian Social Union (CSU), won a resounding victory in the national elections, garnering 41.5 percent of the vote. The opposition Social Democrats rose from the 2008 elections, winning 25.7 percent.

The Greens, meanwhile, fell from the last federal election, dropping from 10.7 percent to 8.4. The loss placed them slightly behind the Left party.

The loss prompted a full-scale reshuffle of the party leadership, with 22 politicians resigning. Parliamentary floor leaders Renate Künast and Jürgen Trittin and party co-chairs Claudia Roth and Cem Özdemir all stepped down, with only Özdemir seeking a re-election at this weekend's party conference.

Blame for the failed campaign fell on Trittin for supporting a contentious tax proposal - a 49-percent tax for people earning at least 80,000 euros ($109,500) a year. A further controversy, linking former party members to calls in the 1980s for some sexual acts between adults and children not to be treated as a criminal offense, also marred their image.

Coalition-ready?

Delegates are also scheduled to vote on a draft proposal from its federal committee concerning the party's way forward. The highlight of the draft - namely, the Greens newly found openness to form coalitions beyond the left-side of Germany's political spectrum - stems from recent exploratory talks with Merkel's CDU/CSU. The preliminary meetings had aimed to determine whether both sides desired to enter into formal coalition negotiations.

"As a matter of principle, other coalition options must be possible, be it [SPD-Green-Left] or [CDU/CSU-Green]," the draft states.

Pre-coalition meetings ended this week after both sides determined the remaining political differences were too wide to bridge. However, the discovery that the two sides could agree on key issues - including tax rates on the wealthy, health insurance reform and a national minimum wage - inspired confidence among the Greens about their future as a government coalition partner in the next round of elections.

Merkel coalition still in question

The CDU/CSU and SPD are expected to form a grand coalition, but the question remains whether the SPD-membership will give its leadership permission to pursue coalition negotiations. Its 470,000 members are due to vote on Sunday.

When asked what the Greens would do if a grand coalition did not come into being after all, the Greens' new co-parliamentary floor leaders, Katrin Göring Eckardt and Anton Hofreiter, said Merkel and her party would have to make more concessions in order for CDU/CSU-Green coalition talks to make sense.

Eckart gave her comments to the German news daily Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung and Hofreiter spoke to German news broadcaster n-tv.

Both Eckardt and Hofreiter said they had not rejected the idea of a left-leaning coalition with the SPD and Left as another possibility, but that the Left would have to indicate the willingness to find common ground, which it had not done thus far.

kms/ph (AFP, dpa)