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Greens swing left, side with Social Democrats

The Greens have finalized their policies for Germany's September election by siding on the opposition left with the Social Democrats. The Greens want the rich taxed higher to boost welfare and energy innovations.

Eight hundred Greens delegates wound up their pre-election congress in Berlin on Sunday by pitching policies to left-leaning voters who perceive failings in Germany's social market economy. The Greens also rejected talk of keeping options open for a future alliance with Chancellor Angela Merkel's governing coalition.

Surveys put Merkel's Christian Democrat conservatives and pro-business Free Democrat allies jointly on 44 percent. Trailing on 42 percent is a potential SPD-Greens alliance, with the opposition Social Democrats (SPD) on 28 percent and the Greens on 14 percent.

One of two top Greens candidates, former environment minister Jürgen Trittin (pictured above with Katrin Göring-Eckardt) described the SPD as the "only coalition partner that will help us make Germany greener."

SPD chairman Sigmar Gabriel had addressed the Greens' congress on Saturday, telling them "you're a special party. You've had a decisive influence on Germany."

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The Greens lean left

The Greens have spent eight years in opposition since they jointly governed Germany at the federal level with the Social Democrats from 1998 until 2005.

Members of the Greens' "realo" or pragmatic wing drew boos from delegates on Saturday after they had warned congress participants that raising taxes would hamper business, especially Germany's broad band of middle-sized enterprises run by families.

On Sunday, the Greens premier of Germany's conservative, business-oriented southwestern state of Baden-Württemberg, Winfried Kretschmann, declared the inner-party wrangle resolved: "We have found the right balance at this party congress."

His reconciliatory tone emerged after Greens at their Berlin congress had voted to raise Germany's top income rate from the current 42 percent to 49 percent and introduce a 1.5 percent wealth tax on assets above one million euros for ten years. A Germany-wide hourly minimum wage would be set at 8.50 euros and automobile tax would favor owners of electric and hybrid vehicles.

'Tax orgy,' says Merkel camp

In reaction, the general secretary of the economic advisory committee of Merkel's Christian Democratic Union (CDU) party, Wolfgang Steiger described the ecologists' manifesto as a "Green tax-raising orgy" that would drive "nails into the coffins" of Germany's medium-sized and family enterprises.

Merkel's conservative ally and Bavarian premier, Horst Seehofer, told his Christian Social Union (CSU) party near Munich on Sunday that he would not tolerate higher taxes but wanted tax relief from voters on low and medium incomes.

"With us there will be no tax hikes," said Seehofer.

'Success' for party left

Political scientist Thomas Jäger of Cologne University told the news agency Reuters that what he called the "fundamental, hard-left wing" of the Greens party had scored a "tremendous success" at the party congress.

Jäger said the Greens had realized that if they did not move left, Germany would "end up" with another grand coalition similar to Merkel's first-term alliance from 2005 to 2009 that was led by her conservatives and the Social Democrats.

The Greens, who were launched as a left-wing ecologist party more than three decades ago have become Germany's third mainstream party, partly for their anti-nuclear stance that was underscored by Japan's 2011 Fukushima nuclear disaster.

Merkel's pro-business allies, the liberal FDP, scored 14.6 in the 2009 federal election, but the party has sunk in recent nationwide surveys to around 5 percent, the minimum for re-entry into the Bundestag federal parliament.

ipj/hc (dpa, Reuters)

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