Germany's Great Challenge

A few observations in the aftermath of a socialist victory in Germany and the defeat of Helmut Kohl.

Kohl had been chancellor for 16 years, and most Germans were frankly tired of his Christian Democratic Party leadership. No matter that they felt grateful for his achievements.

Even Kohl's successor, Gerhard Schroeder, says he admires many of those achievements: unifying East and West Germany, and ensuring a strong role for Germany in the European Community and in NATO. However, members of Schroeder's party, the Social Democrats, and their coalition partners in the Green Party, disagree.

Germany's economy will be Schroeder's first challenge. Uniting West Germany, a powerhouse, and economically weak, East Germany has been expensive. Unemployment is up. And Germans expect a social safety net which no government will be able to provide any more.

Other European nations - with even higher unemployment and weaker economies - face the same dilemma: How to guarantee future prosperity without abandoning the social welfare policies of the past?

Many countries in Europe have tried austerity measures under conservative leadership-- but then balked and retrenched under center-left parties, who promise a return to prosperity without sacrifice.

Now Germany has made similar choices. Whether and how Germany maintains its economic superpower status is a story of importance to every American.

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