Germany: The Mixture as Before


A long battle behind the scenes is now under way in Bonn following last Sunday’s elections, when an unexciting campaign was followed by the anticlimactic victory of the Christian Democrats. The Social Democrats improved their position by 3 per cent—not sufficient to harass seriously Professor Erhard’s ruling party. They are disappointed; they had hoped for a much closer race and it now seems doubtful whether Brandt will lead them in yet another election campaign. The Social Democrats were criticized for pulling their punches in the campaign—for trying to appear respectable at almost any price, for not being radical enough. The Social Democrats undoubtedly tried to steal their rival’s clothes, figuratively speaking, but this was not the cause of their defeat.

If the election programs of the two main parties often seemed indistinguishable, this only reflects their growing similarity in social structure. The Social Democrats have substantial white collar support, the Christian Democrats considerable working class backing. The Social Democrats did worse than they expected, a failure that can be traced to the innate conservatism of the lower-middle-class voter, especially in South Germany and the Rhineland, and to the fact that their leader, though a very decent and sensible man, is not a magnetic personality. The poor showing of the Social Democrats will cause minor changes in party leadership. Even while excluded from participation in the national government, they will maintain their rule in about half a dozen of the Länder, such as Hesse and Hamburg. One of the pillars of the Hamburg local government, Helmuth Schmidt, is often mentioned as a possible successor to Brandt. He is younger and more dynamic, and certainly one of Germany’s best public speakers.

Professor Erhard, in the week after the elections, faces more serious problems, and at any rate more urgent ones, than the Social Democrats. If he will have a majority in the Bundestag, which is uncertain, it will be tiny and therefore unworkable. The Free Democrats who were his allies in the last coalition have proved on more than one occasion awkward partners, with their objections to Germany’s eastern policy, to the appointment of Franz Josef Strauss as a minister, and even to the relationship of Church and State. Erhard regards the Free Democrats as the only possible coalition partner, whereas his right-wing party colleagues—Adenauer and Strauss—prefer a great coalition with the Social Democrats. They reason that in coming years Germany will have to face a number of great domestic and foreign issues; and cooperation between the two major parties will be imperative. This coalition, unlikely at present, seems not impossible in the long run. Certainly it would be a prerequisite for the adoption of a more realistic policy on German unity and its Eastern borders. It is a question whether Erhard was more harassed in the recent campaign by political rivals or by friends in his own party—such as, for instance, former Chancellor Adenauer.

Adenauer, Strauss, and other Christian Democrats have been highly critical of Erhard and his…

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