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Germany

Opinion: Germany's New Opposition

No politician ever wants a seat in the loyal opposition, but Germany's three small parties could use their position to make strategic decisions the bigger parties wouldn't tolerate, says Deutsche Welle's Heinz Dylong.

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Germany's small parties have been relegated to the opposition

It's foreseeable that Germany's next government will be a grand coalition of the left-center Social Democratic Party and the right-center Christian Union parties, leaving the Free Democrats, Greens and the Left Party to chew over what roles they'll play from the opposition's hard benches.

Each party will have to decide what risks it wants to take and how to show its strengths against a ruling government that will have a comfortable majority of about 450 of the some 600 seats in the Bundestag.

FDP ca n focus o n ce n tral themes

With 61 seats, the free-market liberal FDP will be the largest of the small parties in parliament. In the opposition, long-time FDP front man Guido Westerwelle, who was recently chosen to take over the official job as the party's parliamentary group leader in May, will have the opportunity to return to the FDP's core beliefs of business-friendly economic reforms.

Wahlabend FDP Westerwelle

Westerwelle enjoyed good results on election night, but they weren't enough for a coalition with the CDU

Westerwelle should recognize that his party's better-than-expected results in September's federal election was largely thanks to voters jumping ship from Merkel's Christian Democratic Union and hoping for the FDP to push a neo-liberal agenda as the junior player in a CDU-led government.

But since he won't be sitting next to Merkel, it will be much easier for Westerwelle and the rest of the FDP to censure whatever reforms the grand coalition passes as not doing enough to help get Germany's economy going.

Ca n the Left Party establish itself?

The Left Party, the new left-wing alliance, is the No. 2 in the rows of the opposition. As the only party that has bluntly refused social and job market reforms, the Left's two lead horses, Oskar Lafontaine and Gregor Gysi, will be left to hope that their rhetorical skills will establish them among the public and drum up more media attention.

Gregor Gysi und Oskar Lafontaine

Gregor Gysi, left, and Oskar Lafontaine will try to ingrain the Left Party in German politics

Any failures on the part the grand coalition in creating noticeable changes to the job market would benefit the Left Party most. Should Germany's unemployment continue to run high, Lafontaine and Gysi can expect voter sympathy to grow and their party to entrench itself in German politics by poaching voters from the SPD.

Gree n s n eed to ope n to CDU

The situation of the Green Party is more complicated. As part of the last coalition it helped push the reforms that lead Chancellor Gerhard Schröder to call for the vote of confidence that landed them in the opposition. Now it won't be so easy for the Greens to contradict what they said as part of the government just because it pleases their party base. That means they'll be left in the unenviable position between the FDP's pushing and Left Party's pulling.

Außenminister Joschka Fischer geht

Joschka Fischer has turned his back to Green Party leadership positions

The Greens need to sharpen their image as supporters of the environment and civil rights to have any success in this legislative period. Outgoing Foreign Minister Joschka Fisher's decision to take a seat in the back of the Bundestag and not play a major role in the party hasn't made his colleagues' work any easier.

If the Greens want to drop their persona of only being able to push the SPD into power, they'll have to start what for many will be the ideologically painful process of making concessions to the Christian conservatives.

A CDU-Green coalition would have to be tested in state governments before it is ever seriously considered on a federal scale, and the Greens will only be able to start with this strategically necessary choice from the opposition, away from the obligations that come from ruling with the SPD.

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