IN Bonn, the subject of reunification of the two Germanys has moved from theoretical discussion to actual policy. In a speech before the Bundestag yesterday, West German Chancellor Helmut Kohl outlined a broad plan toward a confederation that would lead to an eventual federation of East and West Germany.
The plan calls first for democratic elections in East Germany. The next step would be a kind of ``confederation'' in which both countries retain their sovereignty and membership in their respective military alliances, but work closely together in all other areas. Chancellor Kohl said he wanted to strengthen the existing committees between the two countries and also build new ones. The final step is a unified German federation.
Areas of focus will be transportation, communications, the environment, and of course, the economy. Up until now, the committees have been oriented more to solving specific problems than to making policy. Apparently, the government in Bonn wants to change this.
An expert on East-West German relations in the Bonn government believes the ``timing'' of the ``confederation'' idea to be ``excellent.'' She says the chancellor's plan accomplishes three things:
It seizes a topic that has been favorably talked about in parties and political movements on both sides of the border.
It gives the East Germans the hope that through close West German cooperation, living standards in their country will increase. This wave of East Germans moving to West Germany will thus, it is hoped, decrease.
``It is compatible with international relations because it ensures the sovereignty of both nations'' and does not upset the military alliances, she says.
A recent trip through southern East Germany, which has been the most vocal pro-reform part of the country, showed that people there want a close relationship with West Germany, but aren't sure if they want it to go all the way to reunification. On Monday night at the regular demonstration in Leipzig, there were many more banners calling for German unity than the week before, when the subject first surfaced in public demonstrations.
East Germans on the street, members of the opposition groups, and Communist Party members say the renewed interest comes from the fact that millions of East Germans have now crossed the border and seen with their own eyes how well their brothers live. Their hearts have sunk as they've realized the extent of damage to their own economy and now think they can't recover without help from across the way.
In recent days, two of the small ``bloc'' parties in East Germany have supported the idea of a confederation.
In an interview with the Financial Times of London on Saturday, Communist Party General Secretary Egon Krenz conspicuously did not rule out eventual German unity, although East Germany's former Communist leaders opposed reunification.
``For the near future, I see the necessity for two independent German states,'' he said. ``Longer term, German reunification depends on ``the framework of the European home.''
The Soviets have been generally cool toward reunification. When Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev addressed a student congress on Nov. 15, he praised the reforms in East Germany but rejected any discussion of German reunification as interference in the affairs of both Germanies.
Less than a week earlier, Soviet Foreign Ministry spokesman Gennady Gerasimov had said, ``Let's disband the Warsaw Pact together, simultaneously, with NATO, then the situation is going to change and we can return to this subject [German unification].''
And Polish Prime Minister Tadeusz Mazowiecki, after meeting with Soviet President Mikhail Gorbachev in Moscow on Nov. 25, said, ``In our talks, we agreed that reunification was not a present-day issue.
``Poland is especially concerned that a clear attitude is taken on this issue, bearing in mind the stability of Europe and the security of our own borders.''
It now looks as though the ``confederation'' topic will be the main focus when Kohl visits Mr. Krenz, probably on Dec. 18 or 19.
Originally, Kohl had ruled out a December trip because of the chance that the Communist Party leadership could completely change with the coming special party congress scheduled for Dec. 15-17. But if he can squeeze in this trip, which would fall on the heels of a shortened trip to Hungary, Kohl would be able to beat French President Fran,cois Mitterrand to East Berlin. Mr. Mitterrand is expected in East Germany from Dec. 20-22.
Next week, Kohl is again sending an emissary to East Berlin where the discussion is expected to focus on East Germany's currency problems. It will also deal with the East German requirement that West Germans exchange a minimum amount of marks with every visit and that they must receive East German permission to visit people on the other side. Bonn has long fought to get rid of these requirements.
Kohl said clearly that unity is the eventual goal of his conservative party, the Christian Democrats. He did, not, however, lay out any kind of timetable for this.
Reunification would still require the approval of the four victorious powers of World War II, France, Britain, the United States, and the Soviet Union.
Kohl said he did not, at this stage, feel it's necessary to call an international meeting to discuss reunification.