It is a strong measure of the grip Germany has on the imagination of its Western partners that there are suddenly so many worries about Chancellor Helmut Kohl's ability to keep the German economic locomotive chugging. In the first major German labor trouble in 18 years, 2.8 million public-service workers have called work stoppages in pursuit of a 5.4% pay raise. Germans, suddenly aware that their cherished mark will be devalued by currency union with the rest of Europe, have developed cold feet about Kohl's beloved Maastricht Treaty, which provides for the integration of European Community currencies as well as social and foreign policies by 1999. And the co-author of that treaty, Hans-Dietrich Genscher, resigned after 17 years as the Federal Republic's Foreign Minister--leaving Kohl without a persuasive and effective domestic ally in the advocacy of a unified Europe.
Kohl is left to grapple with the unexpectedly difficult problems of a unified Germany. The decision to give east German workers pay parity, which seems to be at the root of the west German labor unrest, has proved a disastrously costly miscalculation. So has the decision to give the Ostmark parity with the German mark. The result is that the unification of the two Germanies has been far more costly than anyone in the West dreamed, and public resentment has fueled protest votes for extremist fringe parties on the right and the left.
Kohl has been underestimated during his 10 years as chancellor--indeed, throughout his career in politics. But he has a proven instinct for the political jugular. His decision to take a stand with the public-service workers is right. If he can extract a settlement from them close to his 4.8% pay-raise offer, he will have taken a giant first step toward restoring the confidence of Germany's shaken business community. That, in turn, is what's needed to restore the confidence of his allies that the German locomotive is not stuck in the Bahnhof.