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Western Press Review: West Europe Looks At The Potential New Germany

  • Don Hill
  • Dora Slaba

Prague, 29 September 1998 (RFE/RL) -- Western commentators continue today to examine Sunday's stunning victory in Germany of Gerhard Schroeder's Social Democrats and their leftist allies. Some commentary laments, more celebrates, and all marvels at the clarion call for change.

SUEDDEUTSCHE ZEITUNG: Germany voted against the man who would be king forever

Sueddeutsche Zeitung editorial page editor Josef Joffe writes in a commentary published by the International Herald Tribune, that outgoing German Chancellor Helmut Kohl simply wore out his welcome. Joffe writes: "Boredom kills. After 16 years at the helm, (Kohl) has suffered the fate that felled John Major after 18 years of Thatcherism and George Bush after 12 years of Reaganism. Germany voted not so much for (Schroeder) as against the man who would be king forever."

FINANCIAL TIMES: Voters in Eastern Germany dropped Helmut Kohl

But the most tired of all were the East Germans, says Frederick Stuedemann from Berlin in an analysis in the British newspaper Financial Times: He writes: "When the history of the 1998 German election is written, it will be recorded that voters in Eastern Germany dropped Helmut Kohl, the man who eight years previously had engineered unification of the formerly communist region with the West."


Kohl didn't wake up alone to astonishment at the SPD triumph. Roderich Reifenrath writes in the Frankfurter Rundschau: "'You will be surprised,' (Kohl) said in a recent interview (and) on Sunday evening we were surprised, although not in the way the Chancellor had in mind." The writer says: "Few believed the German voters would give the Social Democrats and Greens such a comfortable majority over the present coalition."

NEW YORK TIMES: The euphoria could quickly turn to grumbling

The New York Times's Roger Cohen writes in a news analysis that the German voters' readiness for a new look is profound but subject to second thoughts. He writes: "The vote suggested a country in profound transition, one changed utterly by unification and the end of the Cold War. A wave of enthusiasm was palpable Monday, marked by an almost physical sense of relief that the Kohl era was over. But the euphoria could quickly turn to grumbling if Schroeder does not show that he can act as well as talk, and Germany's 4.1 million unemployed do not start to find work."

DIE WELT: There are two conceivable models

Thomas Schmid comments in the German newspaper Die Welt that the election leaves Germany's new direction unclear. He contends: "If the virtual certainty of a Red-Green coalition in Germany does indeed come to pass, which elements in each of the parties will have the upper hand? And what future would such a government entail? There are two conceivable models: a social conservative one, leading back to the welfare state of old, or an innovative one that would see the Social Democratic Party and the Greens united in a modernization phase which is still barely conceivable."

WASHINGTON POST: Schroeder may confront serious difficulties in securing cooperation

Whatever Schroeder's goals, they won't be easy to achieve, The Washington Post's William Drozdiak writes in an analysis. Drozdiak warns: "Besides trying to placate his party's rank-and-file labor sympathizers and the country's business interests, Schroeder may confront serious difficulties in securing cooperation from his prospective coalition partners. The Greens are split between realists who are prepared to moderate demands in order to wield power and fundamentalists who are viscerally opposed to compromise, especially on environmental issues."

TAGES ANZEIGER: Germany is in actual fact a democracy

From Zurich, the Tages Anzeiger editorializes that for conservative Germany, the elections result is both a sea change and a reassuring sign of democratic maturity. The newspaper says: "This borders on a revolution. And the matter-of-course manner in which this has occurred should reassure all the neighbors who are regarding with some mistrust the possible red-green coalition they will meet in Bonn and later in Berlin. They should acknowledge respectfully that Germany is in actual fact a democracy."

CORRIERA DELLA SERA: 'Thank you Helmut, that's enough'

The Corriera della Sera, Milan, pounces upon a zoological metaphor. In an editorial, it says: "In choosing between the versatile panther and the dependable elephant, Germany has chosen the former. The slogan, 'Thank you Helmut, that's enough,' has steered the voters to part, after 16 years, from the father of unification."

LA REPUBBLICA: The left have won

Rome's La Repubblica framed it in left-right terms: "The left have won over the leading country in Europe."

TRYBUNA: Kohl's name is also linked with unemployment ...

From Warsaw, the leftist Trybuna remembered Kohl's triumphs while it noted his failures. Its editorial said: "True, Kohl's name is linked with the fall of the Berlin Wall and the unification of the country, but also with unemployment, stagnation and disappointed hopes of many East Germans."

LE SOIR: The Germans have murdered their father

An editorial in Le Soir, Brussels invokes an oedipal image: "The Germans have murdered their father (who) has fulfilled his mission. He established Germany solidly in a democratic Europe."

LA STAMPA: We will miss him

La Stampa in Rome plants its editorial feet firmly among the mourners. It comments: "We will miss Helmut Kohl, the giant, not only because of his physical appearance, which made him unique among all the world leaders. We will miss him whatever the political assessment of his defeat and the victory of his rival, Gerhard Schroeder. For a good 16 years he was a comforting, even though caution-inducing, image of a democratic and European Germany. And as far as his appearance goes, it did not seem to be so huge, but rather corresponding to the geopolitical corpulence of a united Germany."

EL PAIS: His was an historic period

So does Madrid's El Pais "Few leaders of his thinking and with such a career have been separated so unequivocally from their power as he has. (His was) an historic period. (Now, in defeat,) at the moment of his farewell, Kohl deserves the respect of all European democrats. It is regrettable that his reflexes failed to function in reversing his decision not to stand again."

DE TELEGRAAF: A rather insecure period lies ahead

Netherlands' De Telegraaf, Amsterdam, editorializes a caution: "A rather insecure period lies ahead for Germany. At any rate it is preferable to a grand SPD-CDU coalition. It is better to try out a red-green experiment."

GUARDIAN: Three cheers for Germany

And at least two British newspapers, their country having not long ago gone through much the same, find cause for celebration. The Guardian says is an editorial: "Three cheers for Germany. It has forthrightly declared itself ready for a period of rule by the center-left."

DAILY TELEGRAPH: A gentler man would have decided years ago that the game was up

Says long-time Kohl critic, commentator Andrew Gimson in The Daily Telegraph : "German democracy is deeply indebted to Helmut Kohl for his rudeness, his love of power and his aggression. A gentler man would have decided years ago that the game was up."