- The Washington Times - Thursday, November 29, 2001

BERLIN A new conservative party is making its way in Germany by exploiting widespread frustration over the centrist politics of the two largest political parties.
The "Legal-Offensive Party" (PRO) moved into the national spotlight after its founder, Ronald Schill, won a local election with provocative statements about crime reduction and harsher punishments for immigrants convicted of crime.
Mr. Schill, a Hamburg law-and-order politician who was voted into the city's government with nearly 20 percent of the vote last month, will expand the party's scope to a nationwide organization. In Germany, the percentage of votes received by a party determines the degree to which it participates in the government. The impact of Mr. Schill's party had long been underestimated in Hamburg, a German city-state that had been lead by Germany's liberal Social Democratic Party for the past 44 years.
Mr. Schill's ultraright-wing and anti-immigration policies, however, have captured the people's concerns: Hamburg's crime rate is the highest in the nation, partially due to a large number of heroin addicts who have been exploiting the liberal political climate that allowed the public consumption and dealing of drugs. Mr. Schill made a name for himself as a judge in Hamburg. He was known locally as "Judge Merciless" for handing out the longest possible sentences for foreign criminals and drug dealers.
In his Hamburg election campaign, Mr. Schill attempted to secure votes with ideas such as enforced castration for repeated sexual offenders and succeeded. With 19 percent of the votes, he scored very close to the established Christian Democratic Party (CDU). Although the PRO takes an even more conservative stance than the CDU, the CDU has formed a coalition with Mr. Schill that rewarded him with the position of Hamburg's minister for the interior.
Peter Paul Mueller, coordinator of the national expansion strategy, said that the party was overwhelmed by a "flood of inquiries" from other German states after its polling results in Hamburg. Party member Katrin Freund is to set up headquarters in Berlin and in the neighboring state of Brandenburg, and all of the other German states with the exception of Bavaria and Saxony are soon to follow. Bavarians should not feel slighted, though; a party spokesman said conservative parties there "are doing a good job" already.
Immediate efforts are for the April elections in the east German state of Saxony-Anhalt. According to Mr. Mueller, the party will focus on internal security, the economy and unemployment in the coming state elections. The party will probably not be ready for national elections in 2002, but Mr. Mueller said that things might take an unpredictable turn if the PRO's overall results in elections in the next three states measure up to its Hamburg success. With the ruling coalition of Social Democrats and the Green Party moving more toward the middle of the political spectrum, and the conservatives being short of any new issues on the political agenda, smaller parties have been getting increasing attention and might change the political scene in Germany.
The latest developments will put the Green Party in particular at risk. Known for its traditionally pacifist stance, it lost much of its credibility when it supported sending German troops to Afghanistan two weeks ago. Small parties such as the populist law-and-order Schill Party, or the PDS, the offspring of the communist party of the former East Germany, benefit from pragmatic concessions that compromise the principles of the ruling parties and thus anger their supporters. As these smaller parties gain in popularity, the leftist PDS and the right-wing PRO might be formidable coalition partners in the next German elections.

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