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Germany: Coalition Faces Crisis Over Kosovo

Munich, 7 October 1998 (RFE/RL) -- The incoming German government of Gerhard Schroeder is facing its first political crisis even before it has been officially installed. The cause is Kosovo and the possibility of NATO military action there without UN agreement.

Schroeder goes to Washington tomorrow ahead of Friday talks with U.S. President Bill Clinton and senior U.S. officials. The visit comes even though his government won't assume office for at least another three weeks. The German foreign office says the possibility of a NATO airstrike in Kosovo is expected to be high on the agenda. Schroeder is taking with him Joschka Fischer, who is widely expected to be named foreign minister in the new government.

Fischer is a senior official of the Greens party, the coalition partner of Schroeder's Social Democrats. The Greens are deeply divided over NATO, and particularly, over whether it has the right to take action in Kosovo without a clear UN mandate.

A heated debate at a recent meeting of the Green party's executive committee heard warnings from the left-wing that any agreement in Washington to support NATO action in Kosovo could threaten a coalition agreement between the Social Democrats and the Greens, expected to be signed on October 23. Some said it was possible the left-wing would vote against joining the government. This could threaten the 21-seat majority which the coalition would enjoy. The Greens have 47 seats.

The left-wing of the Greens party even opposes Fischer joining Schroeder in the U.S. visit. It has argued publicly that he might be unable to resist pressure from President Clinton and the Pentagon to accept NATO air strikes without a UN Mandate.

The more extreme members of the left-wing faction are opposed to Germany participating in any kind of NATO operation, including peacekeeping. Some reject NATO entirely. They want it to be phased out and replaced by a vaguely-defined European Security organization, including every country in Europe.

A political analyst, Gunter Braun, said today the situation illustrated the problems Schroeder faces in trying to reach a coalition agreement with the Greens. He told our correspondent that "Schroeder and the Social Democrats want a firm coalition which will last throughout the four-year parliamentary term." He said "they don't want a situation where factions within the Greens movement can make demands which change government policy." Braun said this would require "a fundamental change in the Greens party, which until now has allowed any faction to come forward with proposals and expect them to be considered by the party leadership."

The Greens are basically divided between "realists" and left-wing "fundamentalist." Fischer was originally a fundamentalist, but has moved over the years to become the leading member of the "realists." Its members have modified their positions to make the party acceptable to a broad range of voters.

Fischer told the Greens at a party meeting last weekend that they had to realize they were now a political party with a future in governing the country. In his words, they could no long continue as "a collection of discussion groups with the culture of the 1980's."

NATO is not the only issue on which divisions among the Greens are complicating coalition talks. Some Greens demand an immediate end to the use of nuclear power in Germany. Others argue it should be phased out over a number of years while alternative sources of energy are developed.

Some of the Greens also demand what is called an "ecological" tax reform. In practice this would require a hefty increase in the price of gasoline for private cars. The Greens also want to impose speed limits on the autobahns, where there are none at the moment except in special areas.

A less important problem, but one which is causing difficulties, is the Green's quota system for men and women in all official posts. The Social Democrats have offered the Greens three ministries in the new Government. However, the Greens would like four so they could be divided equally between men and women.

A Social Democrat spokesman said today the Green's demands were under discussion, but declined to comment publicly on any of them. He said Schroeder was convinced that all problems would be resolved by the end of the month and the coalition agreement would be signed as scheduled on October 23.