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Germany

Greens to Vote on Party Change

After losing the two party chiefs who stewarded the Greens to their best election results ever last year, members of the party are now voting on a major change to their charter.

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Holding steady at the helm: The Greens' Reinhard Bütikofer and Angelika Beer

The credentials of former Green Party leaders Claudia Roth and Fritz Kühn are impressive. As the most successful leaders of the Greens, they secured representation of the environmental party in two successive German governments and scored the highest-ever result for the Greens in a national election last fall.

Despite their superlative success, the leadership duo fell victim to a party rule stipulating that senior officials in the Green Party hierarchy are not allowed to hold seats in Germany's parliament at the same time. Last December, those who wanted to scrap the rule failed to get the necessary two-thirds majority at a party congress. It was the victory of a tiny but vocal group of Green traditionalists who have become the party's pacifist and environmental conscience at a time when pragmatism often seems to bury Green principles.

Reinhard Bütikofer and Green defense expert Angelika Beer are the current co-chairs of the party. Bütikofer himself doesn't want to keep the old rule, but he has some understanding for those clinging to it.

"I can understand why some party members want to stick to this principle for the sake of balancing power within the party," he said. "But on the other hand, we have come to understand that curtailing power has never really worked."

The obvious example is German Foreign Minister Joschka Fischer, who has been the undisputed party ruler for 10 years and the most powerful of all Greens. Fischer finally got around to running for a party post only two years ago.

A compromise

Now, more than 43,000 Green Party members are set to cast votes on the divisive issue of separating the party leadership from party mandates in parliament. The current leadership, however, has taken the sting out of previous resolutions that called for scrapping the rule altogether. As a compromise, Bütikofer and Beer now propose that about one-third of the six member board of the Greens should be allowed to have parliamentary mandates.

Bütikofer said he believed party members would approve the change. "I think this proposal will find a majority," he said. "At the last party congress, we were just eight votes short of a two-thirds majority. I assume the vote will produce more or less the same result." But there's a major difference this time around: only a simple majority will be required to approve the change.

Neither Bütikofer nor Beer need fear for their posts: Their successful predecessors, Roth and Kühn, have received better-paid mandates in the German parliament. It's highly unlikely they will seek to resume their roles managing the party.

The party will continue to collect ballots through May 13, with a final result expected to be released on May 23.

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