WITH the departure of the most radical wing of the Greens, Germany's ecological party is now capable of making a comeback. This is the opinion expressed by party pragmatists, known as "realos," at a crucial party congress here in north Germany over the weekend.
Most members saw the congress as the Greens' last chance to send a positive signal to voters after a crushing defeat in national elections last December. At that time, the Greens in west Germany failed to win enough votes to hold on to their seats in the Bundestag, the parliament. The defeat, which no one expected, left them stunned.
Much of the congress was marked by the high-pitched internal arguing that has become the Greens' trademark and one reason for their increasing ineffectiveness in national politics.
But this key problem was swept away at the congress when the radical left wing of the party, led by Jutta Ditfurth, announced it was quitting the party. "The fact is, it's over," said Ms. Ditfurth yesterday, the last day of the congress. "The Greens are not our party anymore."
The realos, she said, had pushed through too many changes at the congress: The party no longer represented the feminists, radical ecologists, and grass-roots fundamental democrats who make up her faction. It is precisely those changes, however, that the realos said were needed to regain trust among voters.
Most of the changes concerned the internal structure of the Greens, which at its founding 11 years ago was meant to preserve grass-roots democracy. These principles included mandatory rotation of office and the rule that no member could hold more than one office at a time. The point of these rules was to prevent one person from amassing too much power. But time has shown, the realos argue, that the structure is impractical and has actually paralyzed the party by perpetuating internal strife.
Rotation in office and the rule against holding multiple office has spread talent too thin, they say. And the board, for instance, often took one position while the members of the Bundestag took a completely different one.
At the congress, delegates eliminated the rotation of office, created a new body to coordinate between the national and regional levels of the party (a body that now allows some multiple office-holding), and reduced the size of the board of directors from 13 to nine to streamline decisionmaking.
But when the realos tried to push through multiple office-holding at the board level, Ditfurth's group became incensed. They swarmed the platform at the congress, pulled out a bull horn when they were denied access to the microphone, and came to near blows with the realos, whom they accused of "manipulating" the congress.
Though the realos failed to win this last item, they are optimistic about the future. Without the argumentative Ditfurth, the Greens are on the road to becoming "competent," said Heide Ruhle, a board member.
Ms. Ruhle regretting that the congress focused so much on structural change and not on the reasons behind last December's defeat. But now, she said, the party is in a better position to discuss this without being distracted by constant inner strife.
An encouragement for the Greens is that they have actually been fairly successful at the regional level in recent months. The realos in the state of Hessen gained the upper hand in January and were able to form a coalition government with the left of center Social Democrats.
In state elections in Rhineland-Pfalz last week, the Greens improved their standing and are being considered for a coalition government with the Social Democrats there.
The overwhelming feeling here is that if the Greens can keep up the momentum at the state level and prove to be dependable - though distinct - coalition partners, they have a chance at the Bundestag next time around.