With Mikhail Gorbachev down, Margaret Thatcher out and Francois Mitterrand presiding over a shell of a French government, Germany's Chancellor Helmut Kohl reigns as the most secure and influential political leader of Europe. After handily winning the first free all-German election since Hitler, Mr. Kohl is expected to push hard for European unity as a follow-on to the German reunification he achieved at lightning speed.
His first international task, however, will be to pay off the Bush administration for assiduous support of the German reunion drive that proved Mr. Kohl's re-election ticket. Whether he comes through will be determined at this week's showdown meeting on a new world trade pact under the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade.
Before Germans went to the polls Sunday, Mr. Kohl had to cater to German farmers whose legendary inefficiency is nourished by the high government subsidies and import restrictions of the European Community. If the German chancellor now liberalizes his agricultural policies and prevails on President Mitterrand to do the same, a trade agreement could still emerge.
President Bush may also get more German economic help in the Gulf crisis, but Mr. Kohl is going slow on a constitutional amendment that would permit German troops to serve under the United Nations command outside the NATO area. Like Japan, Germany is loath to scare its neighbors.
Despite a need for Persian Gulf oil, Germany sees its destiny where it has always been -- in the heart of Europe. The greater the degree of political and economic union under the EC banner, according to Kohl government theory, the smaller the need to worry about an expansionist German nationalism. Yet critics bTC often reverse this argument, saying the more powerful the European Community grows, the more powerful Germany becomes.
For Chancellor Kohl, policy toward Eastern Europe is as vital as policy toward Western Europe. Not only is he unleashing massive funds to revive and clean up the former East German territories, but he has made Germany the leading provider of loans, grants and emergency food aid for the Soviet Union and its former allies. In future years, Germany could emerge as primary champion of Eastern European integration with the West European economy, a development that again would underscore Germany's pivotal position.
Fortunately, all these important matters will be pursued by two German statesman with proven dependability -- Chancellor Kohl and Foreign Minister Hans Dietrich Genscher. Had a united Germany come under the sway of Social Democrats who balked at unification, the United States and other NATO allies would have been faced with still another element of uncertainty.