THE FADING OF GERMANY'S GREENS

Green politics is turning brown around the edges in Germany.

Green politics is turning brown around the edges in Germany.

Poor showings in recent regional elections threaten the Green Party's status as a coalition partner with Social Democrat Chancellor Gerhard Schröder.

If it's a trend, Green weakening would have importance well beyond German borders. The party's move from fringe activism into formal officialdom made Germany a test case for environmental politics.

The question at hand: Can single-issue environmentalism accommodate itself to the mainstream enough to govern?

In growing numbers, Germans apparently think the answer is no.

After 2½ years in Schröder's government, the Greens are losing ground.

In March elections the party's support fell to 7.7% in Baden-Württemberg and 5.2% in Rhineland-Palatinate. A party needs at least 5% support to maintain parliamentary representation.

It wasn't the first election in which Green support declined.

Speculation has begun that Schröder might seek another coalition partner before general elections in 2002.

Reasons for the Green slide aren't clear. The March elections were tough for most of Germany's small parties. And radical environmentalism might simply have fallen out of fashion in Germany, especially among young voters possessed of a new sense of political chic.

Signs of targeted discontent have nevertheless emerged. Several Green office-holders have caused dismay by letting their extremism show. And fears for the economy, in which unemployment recently has risen, might be making many voters reconsider the Green agenda.

Whatever its cause, the fading of the Greens is a welcome development.

Environmentalism itself is a positive influence in politics and commerce. Myopic activism is another matter.

Environmentalists have suceeded in shaping human thought and behavior, and humanity is mostly better for the change.

But the movement should be about natural values, not power. Environmentalism's biggest weakness is its allure to people who simply want to tell others how to live.

Maybe Germans have figured that out. Maybe their votes mean they see that environmentalism has properly joined the general competition among interests and ideas and that it can only suffer from the all-or-nothing nuttiness still typical of many disciples.

If so, Germany's leadership among nations in this area remains firmly intact.

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