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Germany: Stresses Build Inside Coalition

Munich, 9 March 1999 (RFE/RL) -- German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder is seeking support from an opposition party to win parliamentary approval of a key reform which will allow thousands of foreign residents easier access to German citizenship.

By turning to the opposition Free Democratic party (FDP), Schroeder has revived speculation in Germany that he is increasingly dissatisfied with his coalition partner, the Greens environmental party. Schroeder recently publicly blamed the Greens and their policies for the mistakes his government has made in its first four months in office.

Television talk shows and political commentators have already begun speculating on how long the coalition between the Greens and Schroeder's Social Democrats will continue.

Some commentators said today that Schroeder's impatience was not eased by a weekend convention of the Greens which failed to take any steps to modernize the party's policies or its structures. Many newspapers today described the convention as a fiasco and said the failure to reform could damage the Greens in provincial and communal elections later this year.

Reforming the citizenship laws was a major goal of the Greens party. Their original proposal would have allowed an estimated three million foreign residents -- including thousands of Turks -- to have dual citizenship with both a German passport and another national passport.

The Turkish community forms the biggest minority in Germany with about 2.2 million members. They have pushed most for dual citizenship.

The plan met with considerable opposition from voters and conservative political parties and after an election defeat in a provincial election fought largely on the issue, Schroeder and his Interior Minister Otto Schily said they would modify it. However many fundamentalists in the Greens party resisted any changes, forcing the government to turn to the opposition Free Democrats in the hope of winning approval. The government's new plan is based on a proposal formulated by the Free Democrats a year ago.

The plan -- which is still being modified -- would grant automatic citizenship to any foreign child born in Germany when one of the parents has lived in the country for at least 10 years and has the right of permanent residence. The child would have to decide by the age of 23 whether to take German citizenship or revert to the citizenship of his parents. Other provisions would make it easier for long-term foreign residents to obtain German citizenship.

The main sticking point is an attempt by Schroeder's Social Democrats to retain vestiges of the dual citizenship proposal. The government proposes that those who have lived in Germany for more than 30 years should be allowed dual citizenship. The Statistics office says about 450,000 people would benefit from such a law. The Free Democrats resist this, arguing that anyone who has lived in Germany for 30 years should know whether he wants German citizenship or not. Their view is supported by at least 69 Social Democrats who signed a petition last week.

Negotiations are continuing this week and the government hopes to present the law to parliament by the end of the month.

For many commentators, however, a major interest is the state of the Social Democrat's coalition with the Greens. At the weekend convention, the self-styled "realist" faction in the party warned that it faced a slow death unless it renewed its image and dropped some of its insistence on idealistic programs which are rejected by the majority of voters. They said polls showed young Germans -- who are the Greens main constituency -- are turning away from the party because it no longer addresses their concerns. They warned this could lead to disaster in upcoming elections. The main Greens representative in the Schroeder government, Foreign Minister Joschka Fischer, told the convention: "we have to combine our visions with what is actually possible to achieve. We have to learn how to govern and how to go out and campaign".

On the other side, the Free Democrats make no secret of their pleasure that the Schroeder government's new proposals regarding citizenship are based on their plans. Some officials have publicly floated the idea of the FDP replacing the Greens in the coalition, although they have not been joined by anyone in the leadership. The conservative newspaper Die Welt has gone so far as to speculate on which ministries the Free Democrats might claim if they joined a coalition under Schroeder. One of the most important German newspapers, the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung, has commented that the ties between the Greens and the Social Democrats are becoming brittle.

The Free Democrats have a tradition of switching support from party to party so they can join the government. In 1982, the party deserted the Social Democrat government of Helmut Schmidt and switched support to the Christian Democrats. That brought Helmut Kohl to power for 16 years. At the provincial level the FDP has frequently switched partners to remain part of a governing coalition.

Most commentators emphasize that for the moment the only real sign of ties between the Schroeder government and the Free Democrats is the adoption of the main articles of the Free Democrat citizenship proposals. Several are looking to the provincial elections in Bremen in June as an indication of what the future might hold. Much depends on how the Greens perform.