West Germans Optimistic About Reunification, Poll Finds


Despite the expense, West Germans are surprisingly optimistic about economic and social unity with East Germany. They want to stay in NATO, but they also have a strong desire to ban nuclear weapons.

They like Americans, but they tend to prefer that North Atlantic Treaty Organization troops stationed on German soil also include an array of Belgians, Italians, Germans and Britons. Finally, their main concern, even ahead of economic unity and its inherent uncertainties, is the environment and pollution.

These are the findings of a new Los Angeles Times/Economist magazine poll taken in West Germany and West Berlin just one week before Germans embark on their historic first step toward becoming a single, powerful, unified nation once again. That step took place today, when East and West Germany combined currencies.

What has experts worried about this initial step is that West Germans might get caught up in a curious, yet potentially powerful, undercurrent of pessimism. Some politicians are concerned about German self-doubt. Others worry about the practical cost of rebuilding East Germany.

Some experts say it could cost more than 1 trillion marks ($600 billion) to lift East German standards to those in West Germany in areas such as transportation, telecommunications, social services and finance. West Germany will bear the brunt of those costs.

Nonetheless, the poll shows that 63% of West Germans and West Berliners view the coming 12 months with hope. Only 17% view the coming year with skepticism and 14% with fear.

Indeed, asked to name their two biggest concerns, a larger percentage of West Germans (65%) cited environmental pollution than either immigration (44%) or the effect of fiscal union with East Germany on their standard of living (42%).

Also, 42% said they had a generally good impression of their treaty on economic union, while only 28% said their impression was generally not good.

I. A. Lewis, director of the Los Angeles Times Poll, explained the apparent optimism this way: "Most West Germans today seem to be caught up in a wave of enthusiasm over reunification." But he warned: "If that generous impulse ever subsides, it will probably be the result of some first-hand experience of lower living standards."

The poll was taken for The Times and The Economist, a British newsweekly, by the Allensbach Institute, a private polling organization in West Germany. Between June 22 and June 25, Allensbach personally interviewed a representative sample of 840 people. A sample of that size gives the survey a margin of error of plus or minus five percentage points.

By a sizable margin, respondents to the poll said a united Germany should be a member of NATO.

About 51% said this statement came closest to matching their opinion: "We must remain in NATO so that our security will not be endangered." Only 34% said this statement came closest to their opinion: "Military alliances are crumbling and will soon be unimportant. Therefore Germany should be made neutral."

Nevertheless, a majority of the respondents expressed a strong and persistent preference for a ban on nuclear weapons from a unified Germany. A solid 54% agreed that "nuclear weapons should be removed from German soil." And only 37% agreed that Germans "cannot renounce nuclear weapons."

The percentage in favor of banning nuclear weapons was highest among those who said they followed disarmament negotiations closely (56%). Those interviewed split about evenly on whether nuclear weapons should be removed from Germany even if it means all American troops went with them.

Where the respondents balked was at letting the Soviet Union force a nuclear ban in Germany.

Only 25% agreed with the statement: "If the Soviet Union is prepared to agree to German unity only if all nuclear weapons are withdrawn from Germany, I think we should do so."

That contrasted with 65% who agreed with this statement: "I do not think we should let ourselves be pressured on German unity. What is to be done with the nuclear weapons will have to be decided at the disarmament negotiations. That is the only way to be sure that everyone cuts back on nuclear weapons, including the Soviet Union."

Forty-four percent said they like Americans; only 28% said they do not--while another 21% could not decide.

But the respondents tended to prefer that NATO troops in Germany be a mixture. Views on German Unification 840 West Germans were interviewed June 22 and 25. A United Germany should: Remain in NATO: 51% Become neutral: 34% Undecided: 15% Do you have a good impression of the treaty between East and West Germany creating a monetary, economic and social union? Good Impression: 42% Not a good impression: 28% Undecided: 30% Source: LA Times/Economist Poll

Copyright © 2019, Los Angeles Times
EDITION: California | U.S. & World