GERMANY'S GREEN PARTY SOFTENS ITS STANCE ON CARS

News flash from Germany: Environmentalism yields to democracy.

News flash from Germany: Environmentalism yields to democracy.

In a commendable outburst of humility, Germany's Green Party has changed its agenda to accommodate popular will.

By itself, such compromise is remarkable. Environmentalism too often asserts a transcendent status approaching religion. By its rules, opposition is self-condemning.

To that extent, environmentalism differs little from other extremist causes destined to languish on the misty edges of public consciousness.

Yet environmentalism has made great inroads in mainstream politics-and nowhere more so than in Germany, where the Green Party is a junior member of Chancellor Gerhard Schröder's governing coalition.

So much for transcendence. In politics, everything is subject to compromise-environmentalism, too. It turns out that Germans aren't buying all of what the Greens are selling.

Specifically, Germans aren't buying the Green crusade against the automobile. The party ran into political trouble when it pushed for a tripling in the price of gasoline in 1998.

Less-expensive environmental taxes on fuel have been more successful than that during Schröder's year and a half in office-but not always more popular.

Now polls indicate a drop in public support for the Greens. Apparently, even environmentally conscious Germans turn testy when their pockets are being picked.

And the Greens seem to be getting the message.

The May 29 Financial Times reported that a strategy paper by party officials takes notice of the unpopularity of attempts to limit personal mobility.

Cars, the paper says, are "synonymous for many with the freedom to decide, at any time, where to go."

Freshly inspired by this central insight of the century just past, the Green Party apparently will lighten up on the antiauto rhetoric.

Instead, it will push for new vehicle fuel, especially hydrogen produced with sunlight as the source of primary energy.

So motorists' money and freedom still aren't safe. At least the Greens have decided to let Germans keep their cars. In environmental politics, that's a concession bordering on charity.

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