Students bid to take over party

February 13, 1998

Students in Berlin are attempting a "hostile takeover" of a political party in a campaign to force through their demands for German higher education reform.

More than 1,000 students have already filled out application forms to join the liberal Free Democrats (FDP) in Berlin, which has only 2,700 members.

The students have calculated that they need only put up 3,000 new members to control the party - achievable in a city with a student population of 132,000.

"We want to try to force through a different higher education policy within the party," said Enrico Rudolph, 28, an information technology student at the Technical University of Berlin and a leader of the campaign. The scheme was devised during the mass student strikes before Christmas.

Despite mobilising the biggest student demonstrations since 1968, nationwide protests against overcrowding in universities and poor teaching quality failed to win political change.

But the Berlin campaigners were influenced by political commentators who claimed the student protests would not succeed unless they tried to reform democratic institutions from within. The FDP seemed the easiest target for infiltration. Although it is the junior coalition partner in the government, the party's popularity has waned since the general election.

In the Berlin state elections it gained only 2.5 per cent of the vote, well short of the 5 per cent needed to win parliamentary representation.

The FDP leadership has reacted cautiously to the students' arrival. Guido Westerwelle, the federal party's general secretary, said every new application would be examined "to find out whether it was student tomfoolery or a serious intention to support the party", he said.

But Berlin party leader Martin Matz said the students were being taken seriously. While the two sides probably had opposing ideas about higher education policy, he said, they agreed on one core demand: more funding for education.

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