Don't Choose Gridlock, Germany

Now that Germany's Socialists have chosen Gerhard Schroder as their candidate to run against Helmut Kohl in parliamentary elections next September, talk has begun that the next government should be a "grand coalition" formed by Schroder's Social Democrats and Kohl's ruling Christian Democrats. Only such a powerful combination, the argument goes, could push through the tax, pension, and other reforms Germany urgently needs. This is a bad idea. A grand coalition would only formalize political gridlock.

History hasn't been kind to German grand coalitions. The last attempt at such a government, from 1966-69, was paralyzed by squabbling. It would be worse this time. Unlike Tony Blair in Britain or Lionel Jospin in France, Schroder has little control over his own party. Discipline is enforced by party chief Oskar Lafontaine, who is an unreconstructed socialist of the old school. Schroder would be constantly caught in the middle, subject to sniping both from the opposition on the right and from the leftist mainstream of his own party.

German voters should stop pretending and realize they must make a choice. Early rumblings are that Schroder, prodded by Lafontaine, will emphasize preserving Germany's vast social safety net. Kohl will favor more business-oriented tax and spending cuts. Voters should set aside any thought that the two will cooperate and make it clear which way they want to go. Only a clear mandate for one side or the other will break Germany's gridlock. The decision could well set the agenda for all of Europe.

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