INTERVIEW-Forget May 1968, think Green says old student leader

* Former student leader sees no repeat of May '68

* Promoting Green issues at European election

* Denounces European political elite, says change needed

PARIS, May 13 (Reuters) - French students are protesting and workers have hit the streets, but anxiety rather than revolution hangs in the air, says Daniel Cohn-Bendit, a leader of the 1968 May uprising who has transformed into a pro-European militant.

Although the economic downturn has pushed the capitalist system into crisis, Cohn-Bendit snorts at suggestions a new May rebellion is brewing, arguing that radical ecology is the only way forward for the recession-bound European Union.

"Danny the Red", the leftist firebrand, long ago morphed into "Danny the Green", an outspoken environmentalist and EU federalist who looks certain to win a fourth mandate at next month's European parliamentary election.

Brushing aside suggestions that national politics is the best arena for imposing change, Cohn-Bendit insists that the real seat of power is the Brussels assembly, an influential institution that is largely ignored by most EU citizens.

"Why do you want to reduce me to the level of a small, provincial player?" Cohn-Bendit, 64, said when asked if he had harboured ambitions of one day becoming French president.

"Me, I want to act on the European stage, that's where things are happening," he said, speaking in a corner of the fashionable leftbank Cafe Flore, a cobblestone's throw from where students in 1968 erected their barricades.

More than four decades later, and French students are once again on the march, protesting against university reforms introduced by centre-right President Nicolas Sarkozy.

But Cohn-Bendit, scruffy, unshaven and as provocative as ever, said the atmosphere was utterly different to 1968.

"Then the question was how to share out the wealth in a different way. Now the situation has changed," he said.

"The difference between us and the youth of today was ... we weren't afraid of anything. We said, 'the future belongs to us and we are going to seize it.' Today, people say 'we are frightened that we don't have a future,'" he added.


While dismissing talk of possible revolution as a press invention, Cohn-Bendit said the recession could spark "a very hard social struggle" and is using the election campaign to push his call for an ecological transformation of the economy.

He has toured a dozen European countries promoting his vision for a "New Green Deal" to rid the 27-nation bloc of polluting industry and to cut energy consumption by 50 percent.

His European Greens party is proposing a European bond to raise one trillion euros over five years to pay for the upheaval as well as taxes on capital flows and mobile phone calls.

Cohn-Bendit was born in France after his Jewish father fled Nazi Germany. He later gave up the chance to take French citizenship to avoid national service here and was expelled by General Charles de Gaulle in 1968 as a troublemaker.

He moved to Frankfurt and gradually shifted into more mainstream politics, becoming a German Euro parliamentarian in 1994 before switching to a French constituency in 1999.

One opinion poll suggests the Green party list he heads in Paris might win as much as 15 percent of the vote, putting it in third place, well above its score in national ballots.

But polls also predict there will be massive absenteeism next month, not just in France but across the bloc.

Cohn-Bendit said part of the problem was that EU leaders lacked stature and were using the election to score petty national points rather than promote European debate.

He dismissed Sarkozy as "infantile" and said European Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso was "useless".

"He has a way of always agreeing with the last important person he spoke to," said Cohn-Bendit, who has regularly clashed with EU leaders when they have to go before the full parliament. "I make things happen, I debate, discuss and put forward ideas," said Cohn-Bendit. "Europe is my arena." (Additional reporting by Gerard Bon)