W. German voters: dullsville looks good. Four more years of Kohl is what they want
Another four years of Chancellor Helmut Kohl would mean dullsville in both foreign and domestic policy. That's exactly what West German voters want, if all the pollsters have it right. ``Keep on like this, Germany,'' reads the most prominent poster for Dr. Kohl's conservative Christian Democratic Union. The CDU has been hammering this message home in the weeks before Sunday's vote.
In foreign policy, two immediate crises belie the placidity: the kidnapping of one and perhaps two West German businessmen in Beirut and the threat of a trade war with the United States. Rudolf Cordes was abducted Saturday in an apparent bid to force the release of Muhammad Ali Hamadi, a Lebanese terrorist suspect arrested at Frankfurt airport last week. On Wednesday, anonymous callers claimed they had abducted businessman Alfred Schmidt. The US has filed for extradition of Mr. Hamadi, a suspect in the 1985 TWA hijacking. Bonn has a policy of not yielding to terrorist demands, but it will be hard put to hold to this after the Italian, French, and US examples.
The threatened trade war has an initial deadline of Jan. 31, when Washington plans to retaliate against the European Community for the loss of US agricultural sales to Spain after Spain joined the EC and increased its tariffs. So far the EC's sole response has been to prepare counterretaliation in higher tariffs on US corn gluten, feed, and rice, but some European concessions appear to be required if the US action is to be deflected. West Germany has the EC's strongest economy, but one that is heavily dependent on exports and vulnerable to the dollar's continuing fall, and cannot long leave leadership in this field to EC bureaucrats.
In other areas of EC policy in which Bonn should logically play a prominent role - agricultural reform and accelerating the evolution to a real European common market in services as well as goods - the West Germans have been conspicuously reserved.
The one foreign policy issue in which the Kohl government does expect to exert some leadership after the election - quietly - is coordination of a European security response to a weakening of the US nuclear deterrence of conventional war in Europe. Immediately after President Reagan showed his willingness to dispense with nuclear missiles at the Reykjavik, Iceland, summit last October, Kohl indicated in a speech in Chicago that Bonn would take over more ``responsibility'' for strengthening the European pillar of NATO. Senior officials see Bonn as the only European capital that can take initiatives, given the French governmental split and domestic difficulties and the forthcoming British election. No very clear ideas have yet been worked out in this area, however.
In the broad sweep of foreign policy, the Western alliance and d'etente with the East would both be continued by a reelected Kohl government. Christian Democratic business manager Heiner Geissler has again confirmed this, despite the barrage of intracoalition attacks on Foreign Minister Hans-Dietrich Genscher and his policies by Franz Josef Strauss, chairman of the Christian Democrats' Bavarian sister party, the Christian Social Union. Mr. Genscher has courted black Africa and kept South Africa at a distance, and his Free Democratic Party has supported Bonn's present strict controls on arms exports. Dr. Strauss - who makes no secret of his desire to replace Genscher - wants to befriend South Africa, keep black Africa at a distance, and loosen restrictions on West German arms exports to Pretoria and elsewhere.
In relations with the Soviet Union the expectation is that the normalization that began last summer after three years of freeze will resume sometime this year. This week a high-level West German business team is in Moscow to scout out trade possibilities; among other things, the Soviets have expressed some interest in getting the West German nuclear industry to build additional safety shields on Soviet reactors.
In domestic policy, economic stimulation would probably be the one exception to the rule of continuity under Kohl, observers expect. And Washington's months-long pressure on Bonn to liven up its economy in order to boost imports is now reinforced by some domestic demands for faster growth than last year's (and this year's projected) weak 2.5 percent.
Thus, even before the election, calls were increasing within the government's own center-right ranks for a federal bank reduction of the already low 3.5 percent discount rate, and for advancement to this year of the tax reduction scheduled for 1988. Yesterday, the Bundesbank heeded this call and announced a cut in the key interest rate to 3.0 percent.
In other economic policy, the privatization that was on the agenda but languished in Kohl's first term would be reactivated. This week Finance Minister Gerhard Stoltenberg announced plans to sell off the government's remaining 26 percent holdings in the VEBA energy and chemical conglomerate and its remaining 16 percent share in Volkswagen during the year.
Job creation would get a lot of attention, but officials don't really expect it to keep ahead of the early 1960s' baby-boom cohorts who will be reaching work age between now and the early 1990s. Social welfare would remain essentially the same, with some adjustments in pensions to prepare for the demographic shift during the 1990s toward a much higher percentage of retired people and a lower percentage of wage earners to pay for the pensions.
As in Kohl's first term, the main economic task will be keeping German industry up to date in advanced technology. This is seen as requiring government commitments to help fund space research. And it would entail some especially hard decisions in the field of nuclear power, given the conflicts between keeping German technology competitive, getting a return on or writing off new plants now nearing completion that were ordered before energy use decelerated after the first oil crisis, and allaying consumer fears about nuclear safety following last year's accident at Chernobyl. In 1985 nuclear power accounted for 31 percent of electricity production and 11 percent of primary energy consumption.
Other environmental issues requiring action would probably also include the setting of tougher effluent and safety standards for chemical plants that have been polluting the Rhine River in particular, and further modernization of coal-burning power plants to reduce exhausts. Voters were again reminded of air pollution this week as winter atmospheric inversions set off smog alarms throughout the country.