West Germany

EARLY in September rumors were coursing around Bonn’s corridors that the West German government of Professor Ludwig Erhard was in danger of falling. These rumors were at least in part the product of the “silly season,” which normally descends on the politically overbusy and self-conscious Federal capital a year before a Federal election. The length of the silly season is predictable — it begins in September, when Bonn’s parliamentarians reassemble after their summer holidays, and lasts until shortly after Christmas, when they begin to treat the approaching election with becoming seriousness. It produces no crises, but a lot of chatter.

This fall’s silly season began more stormily than usual. Erhard, it was felt, had to some extent lost control of his government and had allowed a marked coldness to develop between his own Christian Democratic Party and his Free Democratic coalition allies. Erhard’s new plan for European political integration had evidently been cold-shouldered by General de Gaulle.

Bonn’s Foreign Minister, Gerhard Schroeder, had come under fire for advocating more “flexible” foreign policies, which, it was hardly surprising, could not produce quick results. Violent criticism of Schroeder began with articles by the editor of the Bayernkurier, a Bavarian newspaper pledged to the support of former Defense Minister Franz-Josef Strauss, Schroeder’s most bitter rival. The Bayernkurier did not like Schroeder’s ideas for creating closer relations with Poland and Czechoslovakia possibly by playing down the theoretical German claims to the lost territories east of the Oder-Neisse Line.

Criticism of Schroeder became an article of faith for the Christian Social wing of the Christian Democratic Party in Bavaria, which dislikes him as much for being a North German and a Protestant as for his policies. Schroeder has always given the impression of being a cold, calculating politician. For all his common sense and efficiency, he has never been popular. Moreover, he had been absent for a couple of months because he was ill with a virus infection. And his absence handicapped Erhard, who as Vice-Chancellor had no voice in foreign affairs, and, therefore, as Chancellor depended very much on Schroeder.

Fear of inflation

Erhard came under some fire, too, because of his incessant appeals to the electorate to exercise greater moderation in their way of life, in their demands for higher wages and a higher standard of living. Yhe government has perhaps been overanxious about the dangers of inflation. In October it called a special session of the Bundestag to discuss telephone charges, which had been raised only a few months earlier. With the approval of the Bundestag, the government reduced the previous increases — mainly having to do with telephone rentals and long-distance calls —by 50 percent. So simple a change could have been made without recourse to parliament.

Two factors in particular increased the government’s worry about inflation. A large number of trade-union wage agreements were due to terminate, and it was expected that the unions would be tough in negotiating for wage increases.

The powerful coal-miners’ union, for instance, categorically assured its members of its determination to improve their conditions of work.

The second factor which has concerned the government has been the rise in the cost of living. The index went up last year by 3.6 percent. This compared favorably with increases in Italy and France of 6.4 and 4.8 percent, but Germans do not value such comparisons. Their own cost of living has remained astonishingly steady in the past and has risen no more than an average of one percent a year.

The changes in the Kremlin

Some Germans were disposed to attach little importance to the fall of Khrushchev. He had been responsible for building the Berlin Wall and had supported the Communist regime in East Germany undeviatingly. The former Chancellor, Konrad Adenauer, was even inclined to look on Khrushchev’s departure as a good thing. “There is not the slightest reason for wasting a tear on Khrushchev,” Adenauer told the Bildzeitung, “for he was a very tough man and a big danger to the free world. In the matter of reunification we could have expected nothing from him.”

Soon after Khrushchev’s fall a former German ambassador to Moscow, Hans Kroll, said that Khrushchev’s successors, Brezhnev and Kosygin, were sensible, down-toearth men who were most unlikely to adopt an uncompromising line toward West Germany. Kroll’s opinions have considerable value; he was a tireless ambassador while in Moscow and had a knack of establishing good personal relations with the Soviet leaders. But his view in this case was outweighed in West Germany by the fact that Khrushchev had indicated that he was coming to Bonn at the end of January, and his son-in-law, the now deposed editor of Izvestia, Aleksei Adzhubei, had let fall hints that the Soviet government was considering a more liberal policy toward Bonn.

German hopes, which had been aroused by Khrushchev’s impending visit to Bonn, were dashed by the changes in the Kremlin. The feeling of uncertainty which they engendered among the people is telling against the Bonn government.

Distrust of British Labor

There has been equal uncertainty in West Germany over the result of the British general election. One of the first reactions was that of the influential Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung, which regards Harold Wilson as anti-German and anti-European. At the very least, it was felt, Wilson would show less sympathy toward Germany than the retiring Prime Minister, Sir Alec DouglasHome, had done. This would drive West Germany increasingly into the arms of General de Gaulle.

There are several reasons for German distrust of Harold Wilson. The first is his repeated references to some kind of de facto recognition of the East German state. Second, he has shown interest in plans, including those put forward by Communist Poland, for limited military disengagement in Central Europe. Such were the Rapacki Plan for a nuclear-free zone and the Gomulka Plan of more recent days for a nuclear freeze in Central Europe. The West Germans are afraid of any such plans, because they believe they would help to crystallize the division of their country.

Finally, Wilson is unpopular in West German government circles because of his assertions that there should be no German finger on the nuclear trigger. It is possible that the Labor government will advance serious counterproposals to the American plan for MLF, the multilateral nuclear force, which West Germany is ready to join without demur. This might force West Germany to listen to De Gaulle’s thoughts on the subject of an independent European nuclear deterrent.

The visit of the Queen

Before the British general election, Bonn was basking in the knowledge that Queen Elizabeth would be paying her eagerly awaited visit to the West German capital next spring. The Federal government is reserving the whole of the 130-bed Hotel Petersberg, on the hills opposite Bonn, for the duration of her visit. The royal entourage will occupy one wing, and in the main part of the hotel the Queen will be hostess at a state banquet and gala evening in honor of the President of the Federal Republic. The royal visit was planned as the culminating point of a period of increasingly cordial Anglo-German relations.

Labor’s advent to power in Whitehall has disturbed West Germans. The new government’s first action was to place a 15 percent duty on imports other than foodstuffs and basically needed raw materials. This has incensed German manufacturers, who pointed out that Britain already exported more to Germany than it imported. The Federation of German Industry in Cologne declared that trading relations had been severely damaged and trust in Britain badly shaken.

Signs of dissatisfaction

There was nothing that Erhard and his administration could do about Khrushchev’s fall and Wilson’s rise. But the two events increased Bonn’s nervousness, especially as local elections in three of the West German states were approaching. On October 23, two days before the elections took place, the government managed to get postponed a statement which was to have been broadcast on all ten German radio stations by Herr Fritz Frier, the Social Democratic spokesman in the Bundestag on military matters.

Erler’s statement was concerned with the first year in office of the Erhard administration. The Christian Democrats canvassed the directors of the German radio corporations and secured a seven-tothree vote for postponement of the statement until October 26, one day after the state elections. In the event, the speech turned out to be mild, but there was no mistaking the government’s frenzied anxiety.

The local elections in Hesse, the Rhine-Palatinate, and the Saar were disturbing for the government. Voters were, as is usual in Germany, more concerned with national than with parochial questions. The cost of living and Germany’s place in Europe were the issues which were most discussed. In all three states the opposition Social Democrats scored impressive gains. In Hesse their vote rose from 47 to 51 percent; the Christian Democratic vote only from 27 to 28 percent. However, Hesse has always been an opposition stronghold.

The Rhine-Palatinate is mainly rural and Roman Catholic. In the 1960 local elections it gave a 45 percent vote to the Christian Democrats and a 37 percent vote to the Social Democrats. On October 25 the Social Democrats failed by a whisker (42.9 against 43.7 percent) to win the local elections there. They did even better in the Saar, where their vote rose from 29 to 39 percent, and the Christian Democratic vote moved only from 35 to 37 percent. The Saar is staunchly Catholic, and unlike other West German states, has absorbed few East German Protestant refugees. The Saar result was a real shock to the Erhard government.

It has become conventional to say that the Social Democrats, while they may periodically increase their vote, can never be strong enough to form a West German government. They always have been confronted by the political equivalent of the sound barrier, a residue of interests which remain unchangeably antisocialist, and in particular antiMarxist.

In spite of shedding doctrinaire Marxism, the Social Democrats have hardly hoped to capture the votes of orthodox conservatives, whether farmers, independent businessmen, white-collar workers, or men who simply follow the instructions given to them from the pulpit on the Sunday morning of election day.

The political sound barrier of the Social Democrats has been around 40 percent of the popular vote. The local elections last October showed that they may break through their sound barrier when the Federal election takes place in September, 1965.

The critical farm vole

About the end of January there should be a change in the West German political climate. The coalition parties will patch up their differences. The Bavarian wing of the Christian Democratic Party will quiet down. There will be a rally of forces behind Erhard, who still has a good chance to be re-elected Chancellor in a year’s time. The realization of material well-being may outweigh the few extraneous problems which appear likely to irk the West Germans in the meantime.

One of them is the relationship with France. De Gaulle’s threat on October 21 to leave the Common Market unless arrangements for setting up the common agricultural market are completed by the end of the year disturbed West Germans. The Federal government has to go slow on agricultural integration, since it will be a painful process for the German farmers, whose votes the Christian Democrats badly need next September. The relationship between the price of cereals and the 1965 election is, indeed, an intimate one; the farmers’ vote, if split, might be the determining factor in making the Social Democrats strong enough to win.