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Germany: Chances Dim For A Grand Coalition

Munich, 21 August 1998 (RFE/RL -- German political experts believe the final program unveiled by the challengers in next month's federal election has virtually ruled out the possibility of a "grand coalition" of conservatives and social-democrats..

Such a possibility has been a matter of speculation in Germany since early in the summer. Some polls said that as many as 51 per cent of the population would support such an outcome of the September 27 election. Neither of the two major parties appears to have sufficient support to rule alone and the minor parties which could be brought into a coalition are not very popular.

The Allensbach polling institute says that if an election had been held this week the Social Democrats would have obtained 43.6 percent of the vote and the Christian Democrats 36.4 percent. The votes of minor parties would have allowed the SPD to forma Government.

The speculation about the "grand coalition" appears to have crashed after the SPD unveiled its final pre-election program in Berlin yesterday. Its essence is a pledge to combat unemployment with every possible means.

There is no problem with that -- it is also a key issue for Helmut Kohl, who has been in power for 16 years and has watched unemployment grow to more than four million in the last three of them. But SPD's Gerhard Schroeder also pledged that if the Social Democrats came to power they would insist on reversing several key economic policies of the Kohl government.

A spokesman for Kohl said the CDU would never accept a reversal of policies which it considered essential for a stable economy well into the next century. The spokesman said the program "removed any basis" for speculation on a grand coalition and the idea should now be considered dead.

The policies which Schroeder has pledged to reverse include cuts in pension and health insurance benefits, cuts in the right of the sick to continue receiving full pay and a weakening of the present protection against dismissal. All of them were hotly opposed by trade unions and social institutions when they were introduced over the last year.

Some political analysts say that the "grand coalition" could still resurface after the election if neither of the big parties wins an overwhelming majority. The next few years could be critical ones for the German economy and a coalition of the two "giants" could be the best way to handle it. Many analysts believe a massive restructuring of the Germany economy is essential if the country is to compete successfully in the new world of "globalization." It is also believed that next year's introduction of the common European currency, the "Euro" could cause problems.

A "grand coalition" would almost certainly bring new faces to the top in the CDU. Helmut Kohl has said he definitely would n-o-t serve in a coalition with the social democrats and so have some of his leading ministers. Kohl has also said he would step down as leader of his party if it does not win in the elections.

Many analysts have said publicly that it might be better for his party if Kohl stepped-down anyway. Polls show that his personal popularity after 16 years in power is low. Many voters would prefer the CDU to be led by the parliamentary leader of the party, Wolfgang Schauble, although he is confined to a wheelchair.

Some of Europe's political intellectuals also believe it is time for Kohl to seek retirement. Among them is the former French culture minister Jack Lang, who attended an SPD rally in Berlin this week. Lang told reporters he had the greatest respect for Kohl and his political achievements, particularly the reunification of Germany and Kohl's role in helping build a more united Europe. But he also said that it was time for new leaders to take over and meet the new Europe with a new vitality.

There has been no response from Kohl's party. The voters will give their opinion in just five weeks from now.