Bonn without bulldog Strauss: less explosive. . . but duller
Bonn will be duller without the right-wing Franz Josef Strauss. But Chancellor Helmut Kohl will have an easier job of conducting a centrist policy without having his pugnacious fellow conservative breathing down his neck.
An era has thus ended with the decision of the brilliant and explosive Strauss to remain Bavarian premier rather than join the federal government in Bonn. No figure has been as controversial in West Germany's postwar politics. None has lasted longer as a major player.
Strauss was elected to the first Bundestag (parliament) in 1949. He was an atomic scientist and then defense minister until the ''Spiegel affair'' (involving the detention of some journalists after various military leaks) forced his resignation. He later returned as finance minister, and in the 1969- 1982 years in opposition regarded himself as the heir apparent for whenever the conservatives should return to power.
As chancellor-candidate in 1980 he made the worst conservative showing in three decades, however. When the call to the conservatives finally came in fall of 1982, it was Dr. Kohl, not Strauss, who became chancellor.
By then, in the interests of party unity, Strauss had abandoned heaping semi-public scorn on Kohl as weaker and less intelligent than himself.
Kohl won an election in his own right on March 6, though, with a 48.8 percent conservative plurality (38.2 percent from Kohl's German Christian Democratic Union in the north, 10.6 percent from Strauss's Bavarian Christian Social Union). The CDU/CSU coalition thus needed the Free Democratic (Liberal) Party's 7 percent to govern.
This gave Kohl a Liberal counterweight to play against Strauss. In the post-election coalition negotiations, Kohl used this balance effectively - though nonconfrontationally - against Strauss. He offered Strauss the vice-chancellorship and free choice of any Cabinet position - with the exception of the only three Strauss wanted: foreign, finance, or economics minister. The first and third were already reserved for the Liberal incumbents, Kohl said, the second for the CDU incumbent.
In the end, Strauss turned down the ''any choice'' offer March 21, indicating that his presence in Bonn was made unnecessary by the ''outstanding results'' that the Christian Social Union had achieved in getting its desired policies and personnel adopted in the coalition's internal negotiations.
In Cabinet terms, this means five ministries for the CSU: Interior, Housing, Transportation, Foreign Aid, and Agriculture. The CDU has eight, including the crucial Finance and Defense ministries. The Liberals have three ministries - down one from the four they had in the left-Liberal government from 1969-1982, but maintaining the important Foreign Affairs, Economics, and Justice portfolios.
In domestic policies, the CSU will pull the government a bit to the right in law-and-order issues; the CDU itself has in any case thought things were getting too permissive. In foreign policy - the area that coalition negotiations ended with on March 22 - CSU views probably will have little impact, except in foreign aid.
The Liberals have managed to set some limits on how far to the right the government goes in civil rights issues. The 1977 ''contact ban'' forbidding contact between any jailed terrorist or suspect and his lawyer under certain crisis conditions is to be relaxed, for example, to permit prisoner contact with a ''neutral'' lawyer. And although a new demonstration law is to be drafted - providing criminal penalties for even nonviolent participation in violent or unpermitted demonstrations - there will be no ban on the wearing of helmets by protesters or the covering of faces (to prevent immediate identification).
In the other major domestic issue of environmental protection the CSU may turn out to be far less conservative than it was previously - or at least to have a new activist concept of conservatism. ''Acid rain'' has killed off some 15 percent of Bavaria's famous forests, according to some estimates, and has shocked the CSU out of its earlier reluctance to burden businessmen with new costly antipollution regulations.
Strauss's wish in foreign affairs has been for a tougher policy toward the Soviet Union and East Germany, and a friendlier policy toward South Africa and right-wing regimes in South America. The only area in which these shifts will be really introduced under Kohl, however, will be in making loyalty to the West a precondition to receiving West German development aid.
In East-West relations, Kohl is basically going to continue with detente. He has said repeatedly that he wants a higher price from the East for good relations (such as a reduction in the $10 per day per capita fee charged by East Germany to West German visitors). But he has no intention of returning to the polemical confrontation that the CSU might prefer.