Kohl Plans Environment Ministry; Politics Seen
West German Chancellor Helmut Kohl announced Tuesday that his government is creating an Environment Ministry, a move viewed as a political reaction to the Soviet nuclear power plant disaster at Chernobyl.
The head of the new ministry will be the mayor of Frankfurt, Walter Wallmann, who is one of the most popular politicians in the Christian Democratic party.
Kohl’s Christian Democrats have fallen in public opinion polls since the Chernobyl accident on April 26, partly because of the government’s confused reaction to the radiation levels in West Germany and the effect on milk and farm products.
Environmental matters had been under the control of the Interior Ministry, whose chief, Friedrich Zimmermann, was attacked by the opposition Social Democrats and the radical Greens party for issuing contradictory statements about the radiation threat.
Political observers said the creation of an environmental department had been expected next year but that Kohl moved it forward to take political advantage of the move.
The government faces the loss of the state of Lower Saxony in the regional election, which will be held June 15. Polls show the Christian Democrats, who run the state from the capital at Hanover, trailing the Social Democrats.
The environment is a major political issue in West Germany. Much of the country’s forests are dying, and there is widespread opposition to nuclear power.
The new department’s responsibilities are expected to include nuclear reactor safety and radiation security controls, in addition to general environmental areas shifted from the existing Agriculture, Research and Health ministries.
The 53-year-old Wallmann has earned a reputation as a skilled administrator. He has been responsible for reconstructing the city center and providing housing in Frankfurt, West Germany’s financial and transportation capital.
However, his new appointment was denounced Tuesday by Social Democrats and Greens as a transparent measure to bolster the Christian Democratic image before the Lower Saxony election.
The Free Democrats, the minority partners in Bonn’s governing coalition, were reported to be pleased with Wallmann’s appointment and the downgrading of Interior Minister Zimmermann, who has disagreed publicly with some of the Free Democratic Cabinet members.