West Germany

THE most important event for West Germany last fall was the death of President Kennedy. The West Germans were shocked out of their usual somewhat soporific political mood, the result of years of settled government and of sober concentration on promoting their own economic well-being. The new Chancellor, Ludwig Erhard, announced early in December that the accession of President Johnson meant that his country was called upon to play a bigger role in relations between the United States and Europe.

Since becoming Chancellor, Erhard had already made several references to his belief in the need to merge “little Europe" with a more broadly based Atlantic community. He had plainly advertised his determination that the “Kennedy round" of tariff talks in the spring should succeed. It was not a coincidence that President Johnson’s first talks with the head of a foreign government were with Chancellor Erhard. His Foreign Minister, Gerhard Schroeder, made immediate contact alter President Kennedy’s death with the British Foreign Secretary, R. A. Butler. They had several meetings in which they discussed the common interests of their countries.

Erhard’s bigger role has, indeed, taken shape quickly. West Germany will act as a bridge between both the Europe of the Six and America, and between the Six and Britain. The West Germans, while implicitly recognizing the reality of the special relationship with France — embodied in the Franco-German Treaty of Cooperation, which Adenauer and De Gaulle signed last summer — were only too ready to show their desire to create a triangle of discussion with the United States and Britain.

Lower tariffs

Erhard is a fervent supporter of the new trade talks. From the first he has wanted the progressive lowering of external tariffs by the Six, and he must have been gravely alarmed when, early in December, it became known that his most influential partner, France, wanted the external tariffs on steel raised and would regard this as a useful precedent for higher tariffs on other goods. Erhard wants a general lowering of tariffs in the Western world, partly because he is a confirmed free trader and partly because West Germany is peculiarly vulnerable to shrinking external markets which could result from the maintenance of a big tariff barrier around the Six. West Germany is essentially a trading nation and must continue to buy and sell on a big scale outside the Common Market as well as in it.

In the second place, Kennedy’s death has made the West Germans more aware of their military vulnerability, since they face the Iron Curtain, and twenty-seven Russian and East German divisions are sitting on the other side of it. This awareness has made the West Germans the keenest protagonists of the American plan for the creation of a nuclear sea-force manned internationally or of some suitable alternative to it.

Among the German generals there have been misgivings about the force, partly on grounds of cost and partly because they feel that it adds very little to the effectiveness of Western defense. But these misgivings should blind nobody to the intense German desire to keep the United States fully involved in Europe, militarily as well as politically and economically. This is a much more important factor than any German desire to secure “nuclear equality” with its allies. The symbolic value of an American-European integrated nuclear force is, the Germans realize, considerable. It could become one of the pillars of a broadly based Atlantic community.

The farm vote

The third reason for West Germany’s increasing alignment with the Anglo-Saxon powers is that both Erhard and Schroeder have become restive under a situation in which France has vigorously and unashamedly dominated the Europe of the Six. This situation has produced endless FrancoGerman differences over agricultural problems. The importance of these problems cannot, from the German point of view, be underrated. There will be a Federal election in the fall of 1965. The Social Democratic opposition may be expected to increase its vote, perhaps to somewhere around the 40 to 42 percent mark. This will not enable it to overtake the Christian Democrats; and Erhard — who has quickly begun to show a taste for power — intends to stand as Christian Democratic candidate for reelection as Chancellor.

One thing could defeat him: this is if the West German farmers, traditionally conservative in their politics, feel that they have been abandoned in their struggle to rationalize their form of landholding and their methods of agriculture. The farmer’s vote could be the key to the 1965 election.

Erhard has been confronted by the French demand to settle outstanding agricultural issues before the new trade talks begin. The French intention is to standardize agricultural prices within the Common Market while maintaining or even increasing tariffs on agricultural imports from outside the Six. This intention was at the root of the “chicken war” with the United States, when higher tariffs were clamped onto imports of American poultry in order to enable France to build up its own poultry trade and sell its surplus to its Common Market partners.

The French have proposed that levies on imported foodstuffs should go to a central fund for financing the agricultural surpluses of the Six. And for “the Six” one can safely read “France,” and only to a very minor extent, Italy or Holland. General de Gaulle’s plan is to give France the most balanced economy in Europe and to create a thriving agricultural population which will become one of the pillars of his “France of 100 million Frenchmen.”

There has been another factor in the West German desire to draw closer to America since President Kennedy’s death. This was the intense interest, partly sentimental but largely rational, of the West German community in the person of the late President. The success of Kennedy’s visit to West Germany last June became fully apparent, paradoxically, only after his death. The vast majority of Germans felt a genuine grief, and an even more oppressive sense of loss. One British newspaper even detected a temporary wave of anti-American feeling—because an American had murdered “our” President and because Europe’s future had suffered a bitter blow at the hands of “lawless” Texas.

West Germany’s new government

In all calculations of West Germany’s future alignment within the Western alliance as a whole, the retirement of Chancellor Konrad Adenauer has, of course, played a major part. For the past two years Adenauer has, in the opinion of many Germans, clung to De Gaulle’s coattails. The only reason why the Germans have appeared to acquiesce has been their deep-seated desire for reconciliation with the French people. An act of reconciliation has now been signed and sealed; it is inevitable that Germans will begin increasingly to think in terms of a partnership of equals with the French.

Although overshadowed by Kennedy’s death, Adenauer’s retirement was a momentous event for the Germans. It marked the end of an era in which a single man had imposed his authority On ministers, Parliament, and people to an astonishing degree, and in which he had applied his wisdom single-mindedly in their service. An era of paternalism ended with Adenauer’s resignation on October 15; and it must be admitted that a great many Germans heaved a sigh of relief.

Social Democrats had never ceased to wish him out of the way, regarding him as a disciple of Machiavelli who was too astute for them, and as a “little German” who was totally uninterested in the reunification of his country. For, reunification would bring millions of Protestant North German voters into electoral calculations, and nearly four million inhabitants of Berlin, the city which some of Adenauer’s followers have called “heathen.”

The former Chancellor’s own Christian Democrats had begun to wish him out of the way, for one state election after another went against them during the first half of 1963 while Adenauer was obstinately refusing to nominate Erhard as his successor and was deferring his own retirement until the last possible moment. The moment that he announced the operative date of October 15, the Bremen state election brought a sensational Christian Democratic success; in an opposition stronghold its vote rose by 10 percent while that of the Social Demo-' crats remained barely constant.

The Chancellor’s retirement was an undisguised blessing for the Free Democrats. Their chairman, Erich Mende, had sworn never to serve under Adenauer. In October he entered the new Cabinet as Vice Chancellor and Minister for All-German Affairs. The coalition began to function smoothly; it had never done so under Adenauer. The new Cabinet became a real team, and members like Foreign Minister Schroeder and Kai-Uwe von Hassel, Minister of Defense, were given more scope for their undoubted talents.

Moreover, the large, amorphous center of the Christian Democratic Party, comprising three quarters of its members in the Bundestag, swung in favor of Erhard. These were yes men, some of them good enough committee members but none of them making any contribution to the formation of policy. They swung in favor of Erhard for two reasons: as Chancellor he was the dispenser of patronage, and as the director of the flourishing West German economy he was the talisman of victory for the 1965 Federal election. The Christian Democrats have been in power since 1949; they are alarmed at the thought that they might have to forfeit political power. Their herd instinct rallied them behind the new Chancellor.

Two other factors have helped to consolidate the new West German government. The first was the lack of restraint and common sense which Adenauer showed during his last weeks in office. On September 30 he was recommending that British Prime Minister Harold Macmillan should resign; on October 1 he was uttering a solemn warning about the machinations of the British Labour Party. During the next week he trenchantly criticized the American decision to send wheat to the Soviet Union, claimed to have offered an independent deal to Khrushchev by letter (the Russians denied this, and nobody knows whether such a letter was ever written), and referred to his British allies as “only half-friends.” The comment of the London Economist was. “Cheerfully dropping a few last clangors. Dr. Adenauer is preparing to go.” But the echo of the clangors lingered.

Democracy with a heart

The second factor in the consolidation of the Erhard government was the new Chancellor’s own deportment. The man whom Adenauer declared to be “devoid of political talent" quickly showed his understanding of the foreign political situation. He met De Gaulle on the latter’s home ground in Paris and was not overwhelmed. He stated his hrm determination to look for a path to German unity, and expressed guarded approval of American probing of Soviet intentions and of AngloAmerican interest in removing causes of East-West friction.

For the home political front he proclaimed “democracy with a heart,1’ the founding of a classless society, and the arrest of “an exaggerated social policy which suggests to people that they can forever earn more while working less.” Commentators in Bonn noted that he was coining some useful slogans but had no fear of making himself unpopular in the national interest.

The stability of the Erhard Administration quickly became an acknowledged fact. Erhard, indeed, came into a sound inheritance. More than ten million East German refugees had been fully integrated into the West German economy; seven million new homes had been built since 1950; exports were once again rising quicker than imports; trade union agitation for higher wages had waned, and the impetus of the trade union movement had declined as a result of so many union demands being met. In spite of the failure in October of the Stinnes Bank and the rumors in November of financial difficulty in the mighty Krupp steel and engineering combine, the new Administration inherited a buoyant national economy.