Germany's far left eyes election campaign saying: replace NATO, disarm

Reuters News
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Posted: Apr 03, 2017 3:57 PM

By Michelle Martin

BERLIN (Reuters) - Germany's far-left Linke party said on Monday that NATO should be replaced by an alliance including Russia, called for an end to weapons exports as U.S. President Donald Trump urges more defense spending, and demanded an end to German combat missions.

But the party did not insist on withdrawing from NATO while presenting its draft program for a Sept. 24 election as it eyes a possible 'red-red-green' alliance with the center-left Social Democrats (SPD) and Greens. The Linke's opposition to NATO contributed to its status as political pariah in the past.

The latest polls show the Linke on 8 percent support. Some have suggested a three-way left-leaning alliance could just about muster enough support for a majority in the Bundestag lower house of parliament. The three parties have already held talks to explore that coalition option.

"Other parties always assume that leaving NATO is a red line for us, but that's a misrepresentation of our position - we're fighting for NATO to be replaced by a collective security system that involves Russia," said co-chair Katja Kipping.

"We're not doing that because we're great fans of (Russian President Vladimir) Putin ... If you want peace in Europe you need de-escalation and cooperation with Russia ... but saying we must definitely leave NATO isn't a red line for us," she said.

The Linke will not join any government that goes to war and it wants the German armed force's current foreign deployments - such as in Mali and Afghanistan - to end, Kipping said.

Co-chair Bernd Riexinger said the Linke wanted Germany to start disarming and did not want NATO members to stick to their commitment to boost defense spending to 2 percent of gross domestic product - a key issue for Trump's administration.

The party also wants to stop weapons exports.

The Linke is seeking to woo voters with pledges to raise pensions, increase taxes on the wealthy, hike the minimum wage to 12 euros per hour from 8.84 euros currently, forbid real estate funds to stop speculation on homes and replace the private and public health funds with one system.

The focus on social justice is also being taken up by new SPD leader Martin Schulz. The Linke welcomed his plans to pay unemployment benefits for longer and end fixed-term contracts.

But Dietmar Bartsch, leader of the Linke in the Bundestag, warned against fixating on the SPD as a potential partner ahead of the election, telling broadcaster ARD: "We have the election campaign now and every party needs to fight for itself."

Senior SPD member Hubertus Heil expressed scepticism too, telling Deutschlandfunk radio: "Many in the Linke party neither want to govern nor are they capable of it."

Hopes for a 'red-red-green' alliance were dealt a blow in a March state election in Saarland, where voters fearing such an alliance flocked to Chancellor Angela Merkel's conservatives.

There are 'red-red-green' governments in the eastern states of Berlin and Thuringia, while Brandenburg is ruled by a coalition of the SPD and Linke.

(Editing by Hugh Lawson)