Germany after Schmidt

Many of West Germany's friends abroad will worry about the departure of the redoubtable Helmut Schmidt from the political scene. There are not so many statesmen about these days that the world can afford to lose the few it has. Yet the fall of the center-left coalition after 13 years of rule ought to be seen as a positive development - not only because it ends the political confusion which had almost paralyzed the Bonn government but because periodic change is healthy for any democracy. It makes possible an injection of new ideas and a strengthening of the old.

In a certain sense, the Federal Republic of Germany now enters an era of political normality after a period of some 35 years in which it had to face up to the fundamental challenges posed by the collapse of the Third Reich. Its leaders have acquitted themselves well. Christian Democratic Chancellor Konrad Adenauer nurtured the reconstruction of a shattered Germany after World War II and firmly tied Germany to the West. Social Democratic Chancellor Willy Brandt pursued the integration of Germany into the Western community but also launched the policy of ''Ostpolitik'' which ultimately finalized the postwar borders and disposed of the political problems with the Soviet Union. Under Mr. Schmidt, the German economy continued to flourish and Germany once again came to play the dominant role in Europe.

But that much-admired German economic miracle has come to a halt, casting a shadow on Social Democratic policies and causing Germans to look for new ways to ensure their continued well-being and prosperity. It might puzzle outsiders that the German people should be so traumatized by an unemployment rate of 7.4 percent and an inflation rate of only 5 or 6 percent. Conditions are worse in the United States, say, or in Great Britain. But Germans can never forget the ravages of inflation after the first world war and how uncontrolled deficit spending led to economic collapse. Hence the conservative calls now for a reduction of social expenditures, tax benefits for industry, and a freeing up of the private sector - prescriptions which perhaps even the Social Democrats might have pursued had they stayed in power.

While Germany's new Christian Democratic chancellor, Helmut Kohl, is expected to be cooler to the welfare state and warmer to big business, there is likely to be little change in foreign policy. The public rhetoric may become more pro-American and therefore the atmospherics of US-German relations may improve. But Mr. Kohl will clearly continue to oppose President Reagan's efforts to delay West European participation in the Soviet pipeline project. The German conservatives do not like the idea of Western economic sanctions on the Soviet bloc any more than did the Social Democrats. The Kohl government - with Free Democratic Party leader Hans-Dietrich Genscher expected to remain as foreign minister - will also pursue some measure of detente with the East even while backing a strong NATO alliance and the deployment of American nuclear missiles in Germany.

If there are any dangers on the horizon, they may lie in the political uncertainties raised by the downfall of Mr. Schmidt. With the Social Democrats moving farther left, with the emergence of the so-called ''Green Party'' - a hodgepodge alliance of ecologists, far-leftists, and antinuclear protestors - and with the latter's ability to tip the political balance, it cannot be ruled out that the country will become polarized.

But after the political and economic accomplishments of the past three decades - and the demonstrated capabilities of its leaders - there is reason to hope that the German penchant for stability will continue to prevail. If a democracy cannot absorb a national debate on such vital issues as nuclear disarmament, after all, how strong a democracy is it?

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