WITH the East German Communist Party in chaos, the course of the country could very well be set at round-table talks which begin here Dec. 7. This week, most of the small established parties here broke their alliance with the communists and put their hopes on the talks. Round-table participants include opposition groups, the Protestant and Roman Catholic Churches, and top leaders in the communist and four smaller parties. The Protestant Church, which has played a key role in the development of the opposition movement by sheltering its activities, will host the meeting.
Representatives from seven opposition groups will present a common list of demands. A major demand is that consultation with the round table take place before any new laws are enacted, says Wolfgang "Ullmann, representing the opposition group Democracy Now at the talks.
Two of the smaller parties back this agenda, he said in an interview, ``and the Communist Party doesn't have much choice.''
Some observers are already saying that the round table will become a ``shadow cabinet'' with a significant role in policymaking. It could even lead to a coalition government, they say. In today's climate, ``everything is possible,'' Mr. "Ullmann says.
He says the first demands of the opposition groups will be:
That the government unveil the economic state of the country so that economic reforms can proceed from correct information.
That the Department of National Security (formerly the Ministry for State Security) be dismantled and that true military functions (police, Army, etc.) be placed under the control of the government not the Communist Party. (The Ministry for National Security was responsible for public control through secret police.)
That a new election law be drafted and parliamentary elections be set for no later than May 6. A New Forum spokesman, Uwe Radloff, said new media and party laws must accompany this to make election reform meaningful.
Many details about the talks must be decided by today's round-table discussion, says Rolf-Bieter G"unther, spokesman for the East German Protestant Church.
The church provides the room for the discussion and the opening remarks, but after that, the rest of the ``playing rules are completely open,'' the spokesman said. How long the talks will continue, what the role of the round table will be, and whether decisions will be based on majority or unanimous rule are undecided.
The talks are considered important enough to be represented by key, albeit new, leaders from the communists.
On Monday, the 25-member committee set up to prepare the Communist Party for its party congress next week announced that its round-table representatives would include Hans Modrow, the reform-minded prime minister, and Herbert Kroker, the new committee's chairman. The committee was set up over the weekend to fill the vacuum left when the ruling Politburo and Central Committee resigned. The small parties are sending their chairmen to the talks.
``Further discussions are meaningful only in round-table talks,'' said Lothar de Mazi`ere, chairman of the Christian Democratic Party, which severed its ties from the communists this week.
Even though pressure from the people on the streets is obviously keeping the reform ball rolling, ``demonstrations don't make policy,'' says Mr. Radloff, of New Forum, explaining why round-table talks are necessary at all.
Simply put, ``We need a third power,'' says "Ullmann of the round table. The parliament and Cabinet are being run by old players who ``have no concept'' of the significance such burning issues as the economy, German reunification, and changes in the Constitution.