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Germany

In Joschka We Trust

Germany's Green Party is betting that their popular foreign minister will lead them to victory in this year's elections.

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German Foreign Minister Joschka Fischer points the way forward

The popular and controversial foreign minister who helped put Germany back on the world stage was rewarded by the party he guided through its most difficult transition this year.

Foreign Minister Joschka Fischer was named as the lead candidate in the Green Party’s 2002 election campaign.

The nomination means the Greens will base their campaign around the charismatic and popular politician, who will be presented as a third option to voters outside Social Democratic (SPD) Chancellor Gerhard Schröder and Christian Social Union (CSU) challenger Edmund Stoiber.

Fischer in the lead

The move is an unprecedented one for the Green Party, which has always presented two candidates in an effort to be impartial. It was approved by 14 of the 16 members of the party’s executive council on Monday, with Fischer abstaining and Astrid Rothe, of Thuringia against it because she wanted the party to present more than one candidate.

The resounding approval is proof that a party once made up of environmentalists and fragments of the opposition and disillusioned left, is realizing its future lies in power politicians like Fischer.

Though greeting the nomination, Fischer said "the real news" was that the Greens are unified.

He will be surrounded by a six-person campaign team made up of the party’s political stars. Environmental Minister Jürgen Trittin, Minster for Consumer Protection, Food and Agriculture Renate Künast, the party's parliamentary leaders Rezzo Schlauch and Kerstin Müller and the party's co-leaders Claudia Roth and Fritz Kuhn, make up the campaign team.

The lineup shows that the Greens "also have a very convincing alternative on personal terms," Fischer said.

"I’m really looking forward to the election," he told the newsmagazine Der Spiegel this week.

Afghanistan vote set stage

Joscha Fischer

Fischer sports a smile after his speech on German troop deployment in parliament last November

The stage for Fischer’s nomination was set back in November, when he convinced the majority of the Green Party’s parliamentary group to vote in favor of German troop deployment in Afghanistan and save their coalition government with Schröder’s Social Democratic Party. A few weeks later, more than two-thirds of the party’s delegates at their annual conference voted in favor of the deployment.

The votes were unprecedented in the history of the Greens, whose founding constitution explicitly rules out the military’s role in the shaping of foreign policy. The decisions were heralded by opposition politicians and some party members alike as the death knell of the 22-year-old party.

Fischer and the party’s elite stood firm, staking their reputation on the votes. Fischer threatened resignation both after the parliamentary vote and after the party congress vote if the Greens rejected troop deployment.

His tactics, as they had in previous make-or-break party political decisions, bore fruit.

A young and feisty leader

Ever since his appointment as environmental minister of the state of Hessen in 1985, Fischer had been considered by many to be among the party’s elite. He combined a talent for oratory and political skills with a healthy anti-establishment image that endeared him to the former left-wing radicals and environmentalists that made up the party’s basis.

He wore white Nike sneakers to his swearing in as environmental minister in 1985 and last year, Germany’s Stern magazine published photos taken of him beating up a policeman during the street riots in Frankfurt in the 1960s.

Fischer, consistently one of Germany’s favorite politicians, survived calls by the opposition to step down after the photos had come out. His image had changed, after all. The white sneakers and leather jacket he favored earlier for political appearances have been replaced by tailored three-piece suits.

A sellout to some, a hero to others

Critics of the party say he personifies the negative way in which the Greens have morphed from a successful opposition party into a compromise-ready member of the political establishment.

Supporters see the party’s entry into the coalition government with Schröder in 1998 as a major step in the Green evolution. Without their presence, major issues like Germany’s environmental tax and the country’s plans to give up nuclear power within 20 years, would have never been discussed, say the party’s leadership.

Fischer’s activities as a foreign minister has helped elevate the reputation of the party on a global level as well.

By involving himself as a mediator in thorny disputes like the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, Fischer has garnered worldwide attention and praise. By convincing his party to support the deployment of German soldiers in peacekeeping missions in Kosovo and Macedonia, he won the respect of American and European leaders alike.

Losing members but not hope

Along the way, the Greens lost many of the members that had helped ground the party. Ex-Greens said the party had lost its appeal as a real alternative to establishment politics and predicted the demise of the party come the elections this Fall. The Greens are hoping a campaign featuring Fischer will win them more than the 5 percent of the vote needed to have representatives in parliament.

Fischer said he is looking forward to the challenge of running the Greens campaign and focusing, once again, on domestic politics. He also made clear over the weekend that he worked well with Schröder and had no grand designs on the chancellorship.

"He knows I don’t want his job, and I know, he doesn’t want mine," he told Der Spiegel.

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