* Pro-environment party changes tack ahead of election
* Leaders want higher taxes in bid to win leftist votes
* Party pragmatists worry tax demands will cost it support
By Erik Kirschbaum
BERLIN, April 28 Germany's Greens lurched to the
left at a party congress in Berlin over the weekend by endorsing
a "soak-the-rich" campaign for new taxes, a risky attempt to win
power in September's election that upset the party's pragmatist
Ignoring warnings against raising too many taxes at once
from their most successful leader, Greens state premier Winfried
Kretschmann, the 800 delegates voted to push to raise the top
income tax rate to 49 percent from 42 percent and introduce an
annual 1.5 percent wealth tax on assets above a million euros.
Greens delegates even booed one of their most respected
leaders, Tuebingen mayor Boris Palmer, when he said the tax
increases were not balanced - a humiliating slap in the face for
the "realo" or pragmatic wing that has long ruled the roost.
The Greens' shift at the Congress that ended on Sunday
seemed calculated to woo left-leaning voters and raise the
party's chances of returning to power after September's election
to end its eight-year stretch in opposition.
The Greens are the world's most successful pro-environment
party after ruling Germany with the Social Democrats (SPD) from
1998 to 2005, but are itching to get back into power.
"It's remarkable to me the way the Greens are drifting to
the left and how they kicked the shins of some of their most
successful leaders," said Thomas Jaeger, a political scientist
at Cologne University.
"The fundamental, hard-left wing of the party scored a
tremendous success at the party congress."
Jaeger said the Greens' leftward move was probably essential
if they wanted to return to power with their preferred partners,
the SPD. The SPD has struggled in polls and would win just 28
percent while the Greens are currently at 14 percent.
Together the center-left is polling 42 percent, just behind
the 44 percent for Chancellor Angela Merkel's conservatives and
their Free Democrat (FDP) allies. While neither the center-right
nor the center-left will likely win a majority, analysts expect
Merkel to form another "grand coalition" with the SPD.
"The Greens realize that if they don't move left, Germany
will end up with another 'grand coalition.' But if they go left
and win new voters there, they might have enough," said Jaeger.
"For a whole generation of Greens leaders, this is their
last chance to get back into power and become ministers. They
want it badly," he added.
The Greens' former environment minister Juergen Trittin is
58, former consumer affairs minister Renate Kuenast is 57 and
Greens co-chair Claudia Roth is also 57. The prominent trio went
all out to push the party toward the left even though
Kretschmann and Palmer warned against it.
'NO COALITION WITH CONSERVATIVES'
"The SPD is the only coalition partner that will help us
make Germany greener," Trittin said, explicitly distancing
himself from previous Greens party talk of keeping options open
for a coalition with Merkel's Christian Democrats (CDU) and
their Bavarian sister party, the Christian Social Union (CSU).
"We're not going to form a coalition with a band of corrupt
amigos like that," Tritten said, referring to tax evasion and
corruption scandals that have battered the CSU in recent weeks.
The Greens endorsed a platform calling the SPD their
preferred coalition partners but did not rule out other options.
The Greens began as a peacenik ecological movement with a
far-left tilt three decades ago, and became famous for their
unpredictable and self-destructive party congress battles that
could stretch beyond midnight.
But late last year, at their last party congress in Hanover,
they made it clear they were no longer set against the idea of a
coalition with Merkel.
The party has ruled one traditionally conservative state,
Baden-Wuerttemberg, with the SPD as junior partners since 2011
and ruled in Hamburg with the CDU for three years - a so-called
"black-green" coalition that gave the Greens respect as a
fiscally responsible movement.
The Greens are proud of their newfound clout. But in Berlin
that push towards the center was reversed - to the chagrin of
Kretschmann, who is the party's only star attraction.
"I think it causes problems when the overall tax burden is
too high," Kretschmann said. "I don't think one should raise
more than two taxes in any one four-year period in power. We're
not going to do anything that hurts the small and medium-sized
business. That's why we're so strong in Baden-Wuerttemberg."