Prague, April 4, 1997 (RFE/RL) - Conservative Helmut Kohl's announcement yesterday that he will seek a fifth term as Chancellor attracts a good deal of comment not only in the German press but in other Western newspapers. The coming enlargement of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization also is the subject of commentary today.
BILD: The Fight Has Begun
German commentators largely praised Kohl's decision to seek an unprecedented fifth four-year term. They described it as an admirable, but risky, move designed to raise the pressure on the opposition Social Democratic Party (SPD) well before parliamentary elections scheduled in 18 months' time. The mass-circulation Bild daily proclaims, "The Fight Has Begun." It adds, in an allusion to the opposition's two possible opponents for Kohl: "SPD voters also have a the right to demand clarity --(Gerhard) Schroeder or (Oscar) Lafontaine." Germans deserved "clarity," the paper says, but it "it would not be a good thing if the country was plunged into a year-and-a-half of campaigning before the general election."
FRANKFURTER ALLGEMEINE ZEITUNG: Kohl Seized The Moment
The Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung notes that Kohl had considered waiting until the summer to make his decision, but seized the present moment to intensify pressure on the SPD. The paper's commentary says: "Either (the SPD) puts off the decision and triggers bitterness in its own ranks, as well as accusations that it cannot field a candidate to rival Kohl, or it gets on with it and thereby traps itself in fetters and snares." As for Kohl, the FAZ says that he "has never before risked so much personally."
SUEDDEUTSCHE ZEITUNG: Kohl's Decision Deserves Respect
The Munich-based Sueddeutsche Zeitung praises Kohl for staying the course as the German political seas got rougher around him, rather than retiring to what the paper describes as "his unquestioned place in history." The SZ's editorial continues: Kohl's decision "deserves respect because (he) has not pushed the responsibility --for rising unemployment, the government deficit and the tax burden-- onto others, but has put himself before the electorate."
BERLINER ZIETUNG: Kohl Has Good Chance Of Success
The Berliner Zeitung described Kohl's decision as both the best thing and the worst thing that could happen to his (Christian Democratic Union) party." It writes: "With Kohl, (the CDU) has a good chance of election success, and forces the SPD to make radical leadership choices. But," the paper adds, "Kohl's new candidacy will (also) prevent overdue (social and economic) reforms from taking place."
DIE WELT: Kohl Has Obligation To Run
The daily Die Welt believes that Kohl had an obligation to run again for office. The paper writes: "It is clear there is no one else (in the CDU) who would have had a chance of victory. Kohl's decision will stabilize the coalition for the time being. A refusal by the Chancellor would have led to thoughts of a grand (CDU-SPD) coalition."
WASHINGTON POST: Most Germans Want Kohl To Retire
Two U.S. analysts also comment today on Kohl's decision to run again. Writing from Berlin in The Washington Post (FF18), correspondent William Drozdiak calls Kohl's announcement a "surprise," noting that "opinion polls...show a majority of Germans want him to retire from politics." But, Drozdiak writes, "the Chancellor...has powerful personal motivations for staying in power. Having secured his place in history as the architect of German reunification, Kohl says his ultimate ambition is to anchor his country in the vanguard of a united Europe."
LOS ANGELES TIMES: Kohl More Respected Abroad Than At Home
Also writing from Berlin, The Los Angeles Times' Mary Williams says (FF16) that Kohl's "handling of...heavyweight international matters has won him the respect of leaders from around the world." But she adds that "it is n-o-t winning (him) points at home at the moment. Voters are more worried about bread-and-butter issues than seemingly abstract foreign affairs." Williams writes: "The subject foremost in German minds these days (is) jobs. Officials unemployment here is 12.8 percent and rising every month --the highest percentages since the (1930s') great depression."
Two commentaries today on NATO's planned expansion to the East are also worthy of notice.
FINANCIAL TIMES: The Cost of Enlargement Will Keep It Slow
In Britain's Financial Times (F-710), Karl-Heinz Kamp (head of Germany's Konrad Adenauer Foundation) focuses on the financial costs of enlargement, about which, he says, little has so far been written. Kamp notes that estimates of the cost of enlarging NATO range from $ 42 billion to $ 124 billion dollars, depending on who is doing the estimate. He writes: "One thing seems clear: There is not the slightest chance in an increase in the defense budgets of any of the large NATO members....Nor can those (Eastern) countries that are likely to join NATO be expected to bear the brunt of the estimated burden."
Kamp concludes that, because of the high costs involved, "the military integration of the new members will be a very gradual and protracted process." But he emphasizes: "The costs of NATO enlargement are (in the end) a political (not financial) question. Costs estimates are useful as long as they are seen in their political contexts. But they have little role to play in the debate over the pros and cons of enlargement."
INTERNATIONAL HERALD TRIBUNE: Limit New Members
In the U.S.' International Herald Tribune (F-511), commentator Frederick Bonnart calls for a slow-down in the process of NATO expansion. He writes: "The idea of accepting all of Central and Eastern Europe as members of NATO should never have been considered. For, once begun, such enlargement cannot be halted." Bonnart continues: "Unless it is held in check, enlargement would permanently impair relations with Russia, whose population would feel and remember the humiliation. It would create a class division in Europe between countries now admitted and those put off; if they feel humbled and excluded, their democratic renewal may be at risk. Above all, it would divide, emasculate and finally destroy the Alliance.
Bonnart continues: "The worst can still be avoided. The enlargement process is begun; it is (now) important that it be properly channeled...Russian concerns should be met by complete transparency....An enhanced Partnership for Peace process should satisfy the needs, if not the aspirations, of other prospective candidates." He concludes that the first NATO entrants should be limited to "economically advanced countries. Initially, only one --say, the Czech Republic-- should be admitted, with a definite further timetable for Hungary and Poland."