West German Chancellor Helmut Kohl agreed Wednesday to meet with opposition leaders to hear their demands for changes in the proposed state treaty between the two Germanys but flatly ruled out any major overhaul of the document that will constitute the first major step toward unification.
"The state treaty cannot be renegotiated," he declared.
Apparently in an attempt to capitalize on a rumbling undercurrent of public concern in West Germany about the rapidity of unification, the Social Democrats, the main opposition party, decided Monday to oppose the treaty in its present form. They contend that it must be altered "to protect the interests of the citizens of both Germanys."
The treaty, signed by the two Germanys last Friday, effectively cedes East German sovereignty to West Germany in economic and social policy and makes the West German deutschemark an all-German currency on July 2.
It is seen as the cornerstone of the unification process--a process that most observers now believe is irreversible.
Kohl's concession to meet with Social Democrat leaders came after the first full debate on the treaty in the lower house of Parliament, the Bundestag.
During that debate, members of Kohl's ruling center-right coalition repeatedly accused the opposition of delaying tactics that could put at risk the move toward unification.
"We are at a decisive moment; who can think of delaying things now?" asked Wolfgang Mischick, the parliamentary leader of Kohl's coalition partner, the Free Democrats. "Whoever does that sins against the German people."
Warned Kohl's finance minister, Theo Waigel: "Once historic opportunities on this scale arise, politicians must firmly grasp them, because no one knows if they will ever come again."
Both statements reflect the overwhelming sense of urgency within the West German government to complete unification before fast-moving, unpredictable events in Europe, especially those in the Soviet Union, have a chance to complicate the process.
The state treaty was negotiated under enormous pressure in only eight weeks in order to allow time for the necessary ratification procedures in both Germanys to be completed by the beginning of the vacation period in early July.
To keep to this deadline, the East German Parliament must scrap, alter or introduce more than 60 laws within the next five weeks, a leading East German economist, Konrad Wetzker, head of the country's Institute of Applied Economics, said in East Berlin.
Despite recent opinion polls indicating that a majority of West Germans believe unity is happening too fast, the tone and content of Wednesday's parliamentary debate indicated a distinct reluctance by the Social Democrats to block or delay the treaty.
"For us, the issue is not delaying or inhibiting passage (of the treaty)," said Ingrid Matthaeus-Maier, Social Democrat parliamentary spokesman on financial affairs, to jeers from coalition lawmakers. "For us, the issue is improving conditions for the people of the German Democratic Republic (East Germany)."
The Social Democrats have demanded references to what they call an environmental union and additional provisions to cushion the effects of the inevitable bankruptcies and unemployment that will come as East Germany begins the difficult transition from a heavily subsidized, obsolete, centrally run industrial system to a modern, free-market economy capable of competing in the West.
West Germany's central government and the governments of its 11 states already plan to establish a $70-billion German unity fund to help finance the initial period of East Germany's economic reconstruction.