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Western Press Review: Europe Fixes Steady Eye On Germany's Elections

  • Don Hill
  • Dora Slaba

Prague, 15 September 1998 (RFE/RL) -- Mr. Europe is on the defensive. Helmut Kohl, German chancellor for the last 16 years, and his Christian Democratic Party (CDU) are running well behind the Social Democrats (SPD) of Gerhard Schroeder in opinion polls as September 27 general elections approach. Across the rest of Europe and in the United States, political developments in Germany attract eager attention and press commentary, partly because Kohl has been a leading and unabashed champion of European unity. German commentators sometimes sound as though they're commenting on a different election campaign than the one the foreign press is watching so avidly.

Kohl and other CDU leaders greeted this weekend's favorable outcome of Bavarian state elections as a happy harbinger. But the Sueddeutsche Zeitung and the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung summed up the majority press opinion in two commentary headlines yesterday. "Bavaria Is Different," said the Frankfurt daily. "A Victory, Not a Signal," warned the Sueddeutsche Zeitung.

FINANCIAL TIMES: The Bavarian result does not necessarily indicate a national mood

The British newspaper Financial Times, circulated widely on the continent, reaches the same conclusions in an editorial today. The newspaper says: "For three reasons, (the Bavarian result) does not necessarily indicate a national mood change that would propel Mr. Kohl back to power. First, Bavaria is special. Edmund Stoiber, its Christian Social Union president, uses a tougher brand of conservatism on, say, crime and immigration than Mr. Kohl (does)."

The editorial says: "Second, because there was no prospect of unseating (Stoiber), the SPD had less incentive to mobilize. And third, while the Bavarian poll spelled bad news for the Greens, Mr. Schroeder's potential allies, it was worse for Mr. Kohl's actual Free Democrat (FDP) allies."

NEW YORK TIMES: Chancellor Helmut Kohl's prospects for reelection got a significant lift

The New York Times's Edmund L. Andrews, in Munich, wrote yesterday: "Chancellor Helmut Kohl's prospects for reelection got a significant lift Sunday, when Bavaria's Christian Social Union won a decisive victory over the Social Democratic Party in statewide elections."

Andrews conceded The Financial Times' point: "Political experts and politicians alike were cautious about reading too much into Sunday's results." But, he wrote: "Nevertheless, the vote was considerably better for the conservatives and considerably worse for the Social Democrats than most people (in Bavaria) had expected."

Then the New York Times writer hedged again, saying: "There is still no doubt that voters here are far more loyal to the Christian Social Union than to the broader ruling coalition in Bonn. This is, after all, a state that still likes to think of itself as a separate country from the rest of Germany."

SUEDDEUTSCHE ZEITUNG: Helmut Kohl is no longer popular

A German commentator, Kurt Kister, writing today in the Sueddeutsche Zeitung, sounds a more certain note on claims of good news for the CDU. Under the headline "Christian Democrats Whistle in the Dark," Kister writes: "Certainly, there are limits to what the result of Sunday's election in the federal state of Bavaria says about the outcome of the general election to be held on September 27. Bavarians were being asked to re-elect a popular prime minister whose policies win approval even from many supporters of other parties."

Kister concludes: "In the general election, on the other hand, the conservatives' leading candidate is Helmut Kohl, a chancellor who is no longer popular. Even fellow-members of the present coalition government want him to name a retirement date if he wins."

LOS ANGELES TIMES: Voters in Bavaria gave a tail wind to Chancellor Helmut Kohl

Carol J. Williams, writing in yesterday's Los Angeles Times, cast the Bavarian outcome as an uncomplicated omen. From Berlin, she wrote: "In electing a regional parliament Sunday, voters in Germany's most prosperous state gave a decisive victory to Bavaria's conservative Christian Social Union and with it a tail wind to Chancellor Helmut Kohl as he enters the final two weeks of his own re-election battle."

PRAVO: The Bonn coalition is experiencing new hope

From Bavaria's neighboring Czech Republic, the leftist newspaper Pravo editorializes: "The elections in Bavaria brought nothing new. Nothing has changed. Bavaria needn't have gone to the polls at all. Nevertheless each party is giving a different interpretation. The Bonn coalition is experiencing new hope, but the opposition is also not referring to a defeat, even though better results would have been more welcome."

CORRIERE DELLA SERA: The Christian Democrats have served Kohl well

Italy's Corriere della Sera (Milan) says the Bavarian vote is a genuine boost for Kohl even if only a psychological one. The newspaper says: "The CSU thereby gave the ambitions of Helmut Kohl a little breathing space and hope. Even though regional concerns were in play, the election in Munich imprinted the SPD with the mark of four years ago. This indicates that Gerhard Schroeder's strong personality influenced on the election battle rendering the Bavarian Social Democrats less effective. If the results in the richest land in the federation fill Chancellor Kohl with optimism and boost his hopes psychologically, then the Christian Democrats have served him well."

LA REPUBBLICA: The CSU's results boost the chancellor's confidence

Also from Italy, La Repubblica in Rome says in an editorial: "Six million Bavarian voters have dampened the hopes of the SPD to take over the government after 16 years. The scenario was for a completely left government in Europe from Bonn via Paris and London right to Rome. Following the victory of the CSU in its stronghold and the disappointing results for the SPD, that became less probable. The CSU's results boost the chancellor's confidence in his desperate fight for a fifth term of office."

LA TRIBUNA: Victory gave Kohl a fresh motive

Paris' La Tribune concurs. It says: "The clear victory of the CSU could give a fresh motive to Helmut Kohl's troops."

LIBERATION: The elections in Bavaria are too special

Liberation (Paris) disagrees. It says: "The elections in Bavaria are too special to prophecy results on a nationwide level."

DE VOLKSRANT: Bavaria is not impressed by Gerhard Schroeder

The Dutch newspaper De Volksrant, published in Amsterdam, editorializes bluntly: "Bavaria has not let itself be impressed by Gerhard Schroeder."

TAGES-ANZEIGER: The Bavarians have sent a warning signal

Tages-Anzeiger in Zurich says: "CDU and CSU are drawing on the last drops of hope. They would like to make people think that the results of the election are still completely open." The Swiss newspaper adds: "The Bavarians have sent a warning signal to the SPD. Their hopes that the anti-Kohl mood will pay off automatically have been deeply disappointed."

NEW YORK TIMES: Ideology has lost its primacy

The New York Times' Alan Cowell, looking ahead to the federal elections, wrote this weekend in an analysis, that what is going on in Germany is as much about international big business as it is about domestic politics. Cowell says: "This country's most important election in decades will take place two weeks from Sunday and the striking thing is this: Whoever wins will inherit a land where the pace has already been set for them, not so much by politicians as by the barons of big business.

"Almost nine years after the fall of the Berlin Wall, that is not entirely a surprise: As in the United States or Britain, ideology has lost its primacy, yielding to a contest among rival politicians to define and capture the post-ideological center. But in Germany, there is another departure as well. This has long been the land of the cartel, of compacts and consensus that brought workers into the boardrooms and, at the same time, bound banks and businesses and politicians of all stripes in a sheltered covenant of enormous prosperity."

Cowell writes: "Another way to look at the change is through the lens of European unity. This goal began as a politicians' dream, but today the vision is being realized by the money men. A vast single market is in place, and its moves towards a single currency in particular are inspiring German companies to seek economies of scale on a Europe-wide platform. This, in turn, has led them to take a sometimes vocal stake in their new hosts' business -- and politics."