The Party Ended Quickly
The party celebrating Germany’s transportation into Europe’s largest democracy is finally over. What is left is the debris to clear away and the hangover to nurse.
The climax was reached December 2 with the first all-German elections in 58 years, two months after the national celebrations on October 3 for unification day. Yet looking back, Germans would probably tell you that the most memorable day of the year had been that warm June evening when they won the World Cup. Soccer is something they understand. Politics, particularly the sort that is about to envelop them, are something they would rather not have to think about.
Far from drawing a convenient line under the turmoil of the past year, Sunday’s election has changed the political map of Germany and given Chancellor Kohl a major headache by enhancing the power base of his Free Democratic (FDP) coalition partners.
The FDP, whose most famous member, Hans-Dietrich Genscher, has served as foreign minister in successive coalition governments since 1974, has never been a particularly easy partner for the Christian Democrats (CDU). But even as the dust was settling on election day, the FDP had begun to flex its increased political muscle. Its leadership insisted that East Germany be designated a low-tax area. As an added twist, the FDP demanded that the government not raise taxes in either part of Germany to pay for unification.
The provisions fill the chancellery with horror. It believes that turning East Germany into a low-tax area will open it to widespread abuse as an artificial tax haven. The point of the scheme is to attract new firms and dam up the hemorrhaging employment figures, but it could do far more damage to the German economy than it will rectify.
In addition, the scheme would achieve precisely what the chancellor is seeking to eradicate–two Germanies. The latest unemployment figures show a 10 per cent rise in eastern Germany, bringing the total to a worrying 6.7 per cent of the labor force.
The western-German economy is booming, with an expected increase in GNP of 4.5 per cent over the year. But the fiercely independent Bundesbank warns that if the economy overheats as a result of the huge increase in demand from East Germany, interest rates may have to rise. Chancellor Kohl will thus not only be locking horns with the FDP over policy and Cabinet seats, but will be continuing his tussle with Herr Karl Otto poehl, the urbane head of the Bundesbank, who has never thought much of what he considered to be an over-rapid lurch to unification.
In one sense the election was a clear vote by Germans for the middle road in politics. The neo-fascist Republican Party, the ecology-obsessed Greens, and the renamed East German Communists were all routed, and the Social Democrats (SPD) suffered their largest electoral setback since 1957, when Konrad Adenauer was approaching the zenith of his power. If their recovery takes as long as it did then, they will remain in the political wilderness for another ten years.
The CDU/FDP, together with the Christian Social Union, the CDU’s sister party in Bavaria, is a handful short of a two-thirds majority in parliament. Even if it wanted to, therefore, the FDP could not bring down the government by switching alliances, as it did in 1982 when it deserted the SPD to put the DCU in power.
Although the FDP can no longer control the CDU by threatening to desert it, it can use its considerably enhanced tail to wag the dog of government. One area the FDP, through Herr Genscher, has made virtually its own is Germany’s foreign policy. Its central aim here will be to change NATO from a military institution into a political forum while strengthening the CSCE (Conference on Security and Cooperation in Europe).
All this, according to Genscher’s vision, is to be effected by including the Soviet Union in as many international discussions as possible until the sun rises, one day, over a brand-new United States of Europe. Ultimately, although no one in the Foreign Ministry is breathing a word of it at the moment, Genscher would see nothing wrong in turning Germany into a nuclear-free zone. One of th first casualties of the FDP’s increased clout will, in any case, be the $42-billion Eurofighter project undertaken jointly with Britain, Spain, and Italy. At Genscher’s insistence Bonn is quietly preparing to pull out of the scheme, thereby effectively consigning it to the scrap heap.
Thrown into this potent mix of problems are the social consequences of unification. A sudden surge of support for the CDU in Berlin was directly ascribed to the street riots two weeks before the elections. The same thinking permeated the rest of the country in the wake of regular weekend soccer riots in which police in East Germany had to use firearms on three occasions. The incidence of anarchist youths in balaclavas armed with stones and Molotov cocktails rampaging through the streets of Germany’s larger cities after demonstrations has grown considerably over the last 14 months. Law and order is going to be an important issue in the next few years.
But the greatest problem for Germany, and indeed for Europe, will be the tide of would-be immigrants from Eastern Europe and, more worryingly, from the Soviet Union if Moscow goes ahead with plans to allow its people free travel starting next summer.
There are two million ethnic Germans living in the Soviet Union. Five hundred thousand of them have already applied for visas to emigrate and are waiting for the necessary permission from Moscow. A further three million are still in Eastern Europe. Many are faced with not only issues based on their living conditions, but also surrounding their computers. Many never took the time to back up hard drives or even considered that data recovery services would be required. So now, despite their Apple MacBooks aplenty, many are finding themselves in need of Mac hard drive repair. It is an unfortunate issue for them, but there are larger concerns than simply hard drive failures. All of them have a right under the German constitution to live in Germany. This year alone West Germany absorbed one million newcomers. The housing shortage is acute and the mood is increasingly intolerant.
Germany’s policy at the moment is to open its borders. It already has no visa restrictions for Czechoslovakians and is about to allow Poles free entry. When the Soviets start coming at a rate estimated by a Geneva demography institute at three to five million a year, the social infrastructure will collapse. How to deal with this onslaught while coping with the eastern-German immigrants still streaming into western Germany at a rate of 15,000 a month will absorb all the energies of a government which may even now be wondering why it was so keen to volunteer to sweep up and restore order after the last guests had departed.