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ANALYSIS : Series of Tough Challenges Lies Ahead for Kohl

TIMES STAFF WRITER

With their decisive electoral mandate, voters Sunday propelled Chancellor Helmut Kohl into a new chapter of German history, one filled with challenges far different from those that accompanied unification.

He must deal with a series of divisive, potentially explosive issues in both domestic and foreign policy affairs that will require a new level of political courage.

In sharp contrast to that year that brought German unity, Kohl will no longer have the broad political consensus that sustained him during that period.

How he deals with these challenges will shape much of a united Germany’s early years and, with them, events in Europe as a whole.

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To succeed, Kohl will need considerable diplomatic finesse in addition to the single-minded determination he showed in steering Germany to unity.

In foreign affairs, the 60-year-old chancellor faces a staggering array of demands that have descended upon the new Germany.

From the Soviet Union and the former Communist nations of Eastern Europe, the demands are for help, lots of it, both in technology and finance.

Moscow has already received over $13 billion worth of German assistance this year and new German credits will be extended to Poland when a new general framework treaty between the two countries is signed early next year. And in the last week of the election campaign Kohl took time out to meet visiting prime ministers from Romania and Czechoslovakia, both countries that require large-scale aid.

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In addition to the sense of the moral obligation Kohl so frequently mentions in connection with such assistance, German interest--as is that of Europe as a whole--is to help these nations help themselves rather than unleash a westward flood of refugees that many fear would follow a general economic collapse.

Economists and political analysts alike wonder how Kohl can balance these demands along with the crippling costs of rebuilding what used to be East Germany--a cost now conservatively estimated at $600 billion to $1 trillion--and still keep to his election promise of no new taxes.

Kohl also faces other, subtler challenges as his government moves to redefine Germany’s global role as a united country.

In the push for European integration, Kohl must carefully exert a more powerful German voice on such key issues as monetary and political union of the 12 European Community nations, then prepare a country especially sensitive to criticism for the heat that is bound to come its way.

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A major debate is also likely as the new German Parliament takes up the issue of whether to amend the constitution to allow the nation’s military forces to take part in operations outside the North Atlantic Treaty Organization region.

The subject was prematurely thrust upon the country last August by the Persian Gulf crisis but was sidestepped by Kohl, who said then that only a new, all-German Parliament could take it up.

While Germany has pledged $2.2 billion to support the mission of the United States and its allies in the Persian Gulf, a joke making the rounds among NATO diplomats in Bonn these days is that only three alliance countries have no direct presence in the gulf itself: Iceland, Luxembourg and Germany.

In campaign speeches, Kohl tried to prepare the electorate for a possible wider German role by telling voters that, with unity achieved, the country could not continue reaping benefits as one of the world’s largest trading nations yet shrink from the international responsibilities inherent in such a position.

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It is not a message happily received.

And as some Germans speak of reshaping the armed forces for out-of-area operations, the new Germany is already involved in cutting its armed forces in half to 370,000, and the Kohl government has already pledged to trim defense spending by 5%.

Sunday’s especially strong showing by Foreign Minister Hans-Dietrich Genscher’s Free Democrats, the junior member in Kohl’s three-party ruling coalition, could add to the chancellor’s problems by strengthening Genscher’s leverage in key areas of security policy.

Security specialists predict that German support for such controversial programs as the European Fighter Aircraft and the TASM tactical nuclear missile system and the future of NATO’s nuclear policy known as “flexible response” are all likely to become less predictable because of this shift in coalition strength.

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“These (election) results bring more uncertainties,” said Michael Stuermer, director of the Ebenhausen Institute, a government-funded think tank near Munich that specializes in international affairs and security policy. “Foreign policy will be less well-defined, which could bring more trouble for the allies.”

An added question mark will be the voting patterns of the 144 new members of Parliament from eastern Germany, whom some observers expect to be more inward-looking and inclined toward pacifism.

Domestically, Kohl faces a series of equally difficult, fundamental issues whose outcome will help shape the future Germany.

Decisions, for example, whether the seat of government remains in Bonn or moves to Berlin will likely trigger a debate as emotional as that expected on the drafting of new abortion legislation.

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Commitment to a new law on abortion broke a deadlock in unity talks between the two Germanys last summer after the two sides were unable to reconcile differences between East Germany’s abortion-on-demand and the severely restrictive West German rules.

On top of these specific problems, Kohl must preside over the gradual fusion of the two Germanys, maintaining public morale in the eastern area as the economic crisis deepens there during the next 12 months while preventing any major backlash of resentment in booming western regions as the costs of unification rise.

As Kohl embarks on his third term, the political stakes are high.

For if he succeeds, analysts believe he could ensure his party’s strong all-German position, possibly guaranteeing conservative control over Europe’s most powerful nation through the end of the century and beyond.

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“This election is like 1949 in West Germany (the first ever held there),” said Stuermer. “If the ruling party can consolidate its gains, it can last for 20 years.”


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