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WEST GERMANY: More Power to Brandt

6 minute read
TIME

WEST German Chancellor Willy Brandt and his political allies were far from alone last week in celebrating the outcome of the most significant election in postwar Germany. Both Washington and Moscow drew satisfaction from the re-election of a reliable and predictable partner in the delicate negotiations of détente. West Germans themselves could rejoice that they had ended a seven-month political and constitutional crisis and wiped away any lingering doubts about the maturity of democracy in their country. At the same time, the resounding re-election they had accorded Brandt—a test that France’s Georges Pompidou and Britain’s Ted Heath have yet to face—affirmed the Chancellor’s position as the most powerful man in Western Europe.

Some time in the weeks before Christmas, Brandt, 59, will make a historic journey to East Berlin to sign a basic treaty, now assured of ratification, normalizing relations between the two states. But the main innovations of Ostpolitik will be largely over.

The only negotiations remaining are with Prague over restitution for Nazi occupation of the Sudetenland and rejection of the 1938 Munich Pact. These discussions may be lengthy because the Czechs want Bonn to declare the pact not merely invalid now but also illegal from the outset, which would create complicated precedents in international law for West Germany. After that, however, as Brandt rather woodenly put it last week, “the bilateral aspects of our relations with the East will to a certain extent be replaced by multilateral aspects,” meaning that Bonn’s foreign policy will be largely conducted through the Western alliance.

Brandt’s reelection, with a solid majority of 48 seats for the coalition of his Social Democrats and the Free Democratic Party in the Bundestag, makes him a formidable member within that alliance. Bonn is expected to take a harder line than before in negotiations over trade and monetary reform and to press for more favorable terms when the latest two-year agreement covering U.S. forces stationed in West Germany is renegotiated next year.

During the next four years, however, domestic policy will take the more dominant role. Christian Democratic Challenger Rainer Barzel confronted Brandt on pocketbook issues in the election largely because of Brandt’s foreign policy successes. Nevertheless, Brandt, who campaigned in 1969 as a pocketbook man himself, will be forced to do something about inflation, spiraling at an annual rate of 6.4%. The Chancellor, as one U.S. State Department expert noted last week, must shift his role from that of “peace chancellor” to that of “reform chancellor” and among other things revamp tax laws originally passed a quarter-century ago to grant generous incentives to business as a way of speeding postwar reconstruction. Additionally Brandt must act to correct shortcomings in education, agriculture and city planning. One new face in his next Cabinet will be that of former Munich Lord-Mayor Hans-Jochen Vogel, 46, a leading urban expert; Vogel is expected to head a new ministry concerned with city planning.

While Brandt now has a free hand with regard to West Germany’s foreign policy, he must proceed cautiously in domestic affairs. It is here, if anywhere, that friction will arise with Brandt’s coalition partners, the Free Democrats, who now want a fourth Cabinet post in recognition of their strong electoral showing (two-thirds of the coalition’s increase in seats represents F.D.P. seats). The Free Democrats are more conservative than Brandt’s Social Democrats with regard to taxes and fiscal policy. The Social Democrats seek to give workingmen an equal voice with owners in running industry; the Free Democrats are opposed. They also have reservations about the amount of power that ought to be given to Helmut Schmidt, the Chancellor’s Finance and Economics Minister and political heir apparent. Although the Ministries of Economics and Finance will be separate in the new government, Schmidt intends as Finance Minister to dominate economic planning along with monetary policy, with himself as Schatzkanzler or Chancellor of the Exchequer.

Essential Bills. Brandt’s first domestic assignment will be to reintroduce into the Bundestag essential bills that had to be pigeonholed this year when the combined Social Democrat-Free Democrat majority dwindled to a tie with the opposition group composed of Barzel’s Christian Democratic Union allied with the Christian Social Union of Franz Josef Strauss. At the outset, Brandt should have little trouble rounding up votes. The Social Democrats for the first time are the Bundestag’s biggest party, with a final total of 230 seats to the Christian Democrats’ 224. To celebrate that happy position, Social Democrats last week began moving out of basement offices in the Bundestag to better quarters previously occupied by the C.D.U. At the same time, caucusing began over the choice of a Social Democrat as Bundestag President, a post that for the first time may go to a woman. As an ebullient victory gesture, party workers rounded up campaign posters bearing Brandt’s picture with the legend: “Willy Brandt must remain Chancellor,” and on his face pasted the words Danke schön (Thank you).

For the Christian Democrats, consecutive defeats in 1969 and 1972 were a crushing blow. Some party officials blamed their debacle on weak issues and bad organization. Much of the loss was attributed to Barzel, whose personality turned many voters away. Meeting at Konrad Adenauer House, the party’s Bonn headquarters, C.D.U. officials last week declined to ask Barzel to resign as party leader. “We should not add execution to defeat,” said one. Strauss insisted that Barzel, 48, remains “indisputably No. 1 in the C.D.U.-C.S.U.” But it is likely that Barzel will eventually have to resign both as party chairman and as a Chancellor candidate. He will keep his opposition spokesman’s role in the Bundestag, where he is a skillful leader. However, other jobs will goto other men as the C.D.U. begins to reshape its image. Prime candidates now include the Minister-President (roughly “Governor”) of the Rhineland-Palatinate, Helmut Kohl, 42, who challenged Barzel unsuccessfully last year for party leadership, and Schleswig-Holstein’s Minister-President Gerhard Stoltenberg, 44. Both are energetic moderates.

Willy Brandt’s second victory was a watershed election in West German politics; whoever challenges the Chancellor four years from now will have to do so in an entirely different atmosphere of widespread public participation. West German voters this year for the first time discovered what Winner Brandt called “a new self-confidence.” More of them voted than ever—91.2% of those eligible, v. 55% in the U.S. election—and they split their preferences more than ever before. The neo-Nazi National Democratic Party, as well as the far-left parties, got only a fraction of 1% of the vote. As Novelist Günter Grass, who campaigned for Brandt, put it, the election proved that Germans had overcome the scars of the Nazi past, which made them afraid to identify too closely with any political party, and showed that they understand democracy as a “way of life” rather than a “formal superstructure.”

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