Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

Social Democrats at Odds on Key German Issues

Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

Social Democrats at Odds on Key German Issues

Article excerpt

GERMANY'S Social Democrats are mired in domestic and foreign policy disputes that threaten to mar electoral gains and split the party as it enters its congress today.

Party officials say too much bickering could nullify hard-fought regional victories gained recently after last December's humiliating defeat to Kohl's conservative coalition in national elections. After decisive triumphs in Hesse state and Rheinland Palatinate, the SPD governs nine of Germany's 16 states and holds a majority in the Bundesrat, the upper house of parliament.

One of the most divisive issues is whether German troops should be deployed abroad in peacekeeping operations. Under pressure from allies to shoulder more of a burden in the international arena, Chancellor Helmut Kohl's government has proposed constitutional changes that would authorize the nation's armed forces to take part in military operations outside NATO boundaries under United Nations auspices.

Although there are dissenters in conservative ranks, the proposal has unleashed fierce debate in the Social Democratic Party (SPD), which could block the changes in parliament with a unified vote. Debate over "out of area" troop deployment promises to dominate the agenda of the four-day SPD congress here, although officials had hoped to focus largely on domestic issues, where Mr. Kohl is viewed as very vulnerable. Wrangling over whether to move the federal government from Bonn to Berlin is also expected to enliven the fray.

Kohl, who was criticized internationally earlier this year for the German lack of participation in the Gulf war, supports the constitutional change. Bjorn Engholm, who is to be formally elected SPD chairman this week, says he agrees in part, but insists the troops should only serve as peacekeepers, with no deployment where armed conflict appears inevitable. That position has already pitted the dapper governor of Schleswig-Holstein against SPD patriarch Willy Brandt and Hans-Jochen Vogel, the retiring party chairman. …

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