Tribune leader, 20 April 1990
The victory of the right in the East German general election shows that East Germans want rapid unifica­tion and, crucially,  a currency agreement which allows them to exchange their East German Marks for the same number of Deutschmarks. Many East Germans voted right for the simple pragmatic reason that the sister parties of those currently governing in Bonn will be better able to negotiate the transition in East Germany’s status than the sister parties of those in opposition.
It would be wrong for the left to carp: this is the very stuff of democratic politics. How transient can be 20-point leads in opinion polls! Moreover, the election result does not necessarily demonstrate that East Germany is irre­vocably conservative: it could all be very different next time round, particularly if, as seems very likely, the right fails to deliver on its more extravagant promises. The timetables for currency union and political unification put forward by Lothar de Maiziere’s coalition are unrealistic, and the shock of exposing the East German economy to market forces could well damage the right’s credibility.
Nevertheless, the result is a serious setback to the left, not just in East Germany but throughout Europe. At one level, it is a blow to expectations that a social-democratic “third way” would prove popular in post-communist societies. More important in terms of Realpolitik because of the pivotal role of West Germany in Europe, it has major implications for West German politics. The Federal Chancellor, Helmut Kohl, is now riding a wave of popularity. That makes it unlikely that his Foreign Minister, Hans Dietrich Genscher, a liberal, will abandon coalition with the right. And that makes it very difficult for the West German Social Democrats to win power after the West German election later this year – even though their candidate for the chancellorship, Oskar Lafontaine, is the best they have had since Willy Brandt.
If the SPD does not enter government, the balance of  power in western Europe will remain firmly to the Atlanticist right. The pace of demilitarisation will be slower, and moves towards a new European system of common security to replace NATO and the Warsaw Pact more tentative (or even non-existent). The likelihood of the European Community’s social charter being given real teeth will diminish,  and so will the chances of western Europe acting in concert to ensure the Germany is not the only part of eastern Europe to the fate of becoming merely a source of cheap labour. European  strategies  to  encourage  sustainable world development will be less of a priority. And so on.
This should give the British Labour Party pause for thought. Since 1987, it has increasingly meshed its foreign and defence policies (and to some extent its economic  policies) with those of the West German SPD. Although this marks a welcome change from the Little Englander  assumptions of old, it has also led to a tendency blithely to assume that all Labour’s problems will be solved by a shift to the left in West Germany in 1990. The events of the past week suggest that it might not be a bad idea to start considering what to do if that shift doesn’t happen.
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