Germany's fired-up Greens prepare for battle

21st November 2010, Comments 0 comments

Germany's resurgent Greens looked Sunday to stick the knife into Chancellor Angela Merkel's weakened coalition and turn record poll ratings into real power in key state elections in 2011.

"Next year we have the chance to be represented in all 16 states of the Federal Republic of Germany for the first time in our history," co-chairman Cem Ozdemir told a buoyant party conference on its final day.

"We are playing to win," Ozdemir, the first person from Germany's large Turkish community to head a German political party, said to cheers in Freiburg, in the southwest of the country.

"2011 will be Green," the party's co-president Claudia Roth said.

The Greens governed at federal level between 1998 to 2005 as junior coalition partners to chancellor Gerhard Schroeder's centre-left Social Democrats (SPD).

But although they are in coalitions, the Greens have never been the senior partner at state level and none of the country's 16 states has ever had a member of the party as premier.

With poll ratings nationally of 20-25 percent, the party has high hopes for several of next year's six regional elections, including in Baden-Wuerttemberg in March where its conference was held, and in Berlin in September.

If they succeed, the Greens could make life even harder for Merkel, whose popularity has fallen sharply since winning a second term in office in September 2009.

Under Germany's federal system, the "Laender" (states) have considerable autonomy over issues ranging from energy policy to taxation to education, and vet legislation in the federal upper house.

The Greens have benefitted from strong opposition to Merkel's aim to postpone by more than a decade, until the mid 2030s, the date when Germany turns off the last of its 17 nuclear reactors.

In Baden-Wuerttemberg, where Merkel's conservative Christian Democrats (CDU) have governed for 57 years, misgivings about a mammoth rail project backed by the chancellor has lifted the Greens' poll ratings to more than 30 percent.

Berlin's mayor is Klaus Wowereit from the SPD.

Merkel, Germany's first female chancellor and its first leader from the ex-communist east, ditched the SPD as partners after her re-election, teaming up instead with the pro-business Free Democrats (FDP).

The 56-year-old has admitted her the "dream" coalition had a rocky start, with the partners descending into public name-calling amid disputes over everything from tax policy to pensions and military service.

In May, the CDU and the FDP got a taste of voter unhappiness when they lost power in the most populous state, North Rhine-Westphalia. This cost the coalition its majority in the federal upper house in Berlin.

"Our chances have never been so good," activist Florian Schaerdel from Berlin, 28, told AFP at the Greens' convention.

© 2010 AFP

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