Germany's Greens voted in favor of extending social benefits but rejected a proposal that would guarantee a basic income to everyone at a key party congress that ended in the city of Nuremberg on Sunday, Nov. 25.
The Green party has been struggling to find the right direction
The party, in opposition since the September 2005 elections, backtracked from the market reform policies introduced under the last government, when it was the junior partner in Social Democrat (SPD) Chancellor Gerhard Schröder's coalition.
Some 800 party delegates backed a motion for 60 billion euros ($90 billion) a year in increased state expenditure in payments to the unemployed, on education and on child support. At the same time, however, the party base voted by 59 percent to reject a plan to pay a basic income to everyone in Germany, irrespective of whether they worked or not.
Opponents of the more radical proposal said it would cost 1 trillion euros a year. Party leaders Reinhard Bütikofer and Claudia Roth were expected to resign if it had been passed.
Strengthened in opposition
Reinhard Bütikofer believes the Greens are now better prepared for the political arena
Bütikofer said the party had emerged from its congress halfway through Germany's electoral cycle "strengthened in opposition, strengthened in its capacity to govern."
"If we wish our policy to have weight in society, it must be visionary and ambitious, but most of all politically practicable," Bütikofer told rank-and-file members.
The Greens have been struggling to profile themselves as an opposition party, especially after the departure of their charismatic leader Joschka Fischer in 2005.
The party's repositioning on the German political scene is important because of the effect it may have on the coalition calculations in both the upcoming state elections next year and the 2009 general elections.
The rejection of the basic income proposal came as a relief to the Greens' leadership, which was seriously challenged at a special assembly two months ago when grassroots members -- going back to their traditionally pacifist roots -- voted down a leadership motion for continued support of the German military presence in Afghanistan.
Less surveillance, more freedom
Charismatic Joschka Fischer was foreign minister under Gerhard Schröder
Greens delegates also rejected moves promoted by Christian Democrat (CDU) Interior Minister Wolfgang Schäuble to increase police powers to monitor computers online, warning against a "preventive surveillance state" to counter the threat of terrorism.
In a shift to the left, the party staked out a position that combined environmental concerns with social policies.
It said it aimed to pay for the increased spending by increasing incomes taxes at the top end, raising inheritance taxes and closing tax loopholes.
Germany faces important state elections next year. At a federal level, Chancellor Angela Merkel's unwieldy grand coalition, combining her conservative Christian CDU/CSU bloc with the SPD, is thought likely to survive until the September 2009 elections.
A recent poll gave the CDU/CSU 40 per cent, the SPD 24, the Left 12, the Greens 9 and the market-liberal FDP 9 percent of the national vote.