MANY West Germans are predicting that East Germany will be more or less absorbed by West Germany, in the end conforming to Bonn's economic and legal system. One challenge in this process, however, is for West Germany to avoid the appearance that it is simply gobbling up its weak neighbor.
``East Germany will fulfill practically all of Bonn's wishes,'' says Eberhard Schulz, a professor at Bonn University. But West German Chancellor Helmut Kohl ``will have to be careful to avoid giving this impression.''
As the Germans take up unification details - including the possibility of a new constitution - West Germany's way of doing things is bound to be the model, simply because of its successful record.
But the East Germans are sensitive to the negative image this can convey: that of the rich, wise big brother deciding everything for the poor relation.
An example of this is Mr. Kohl's offer of monetary union, a stabilizing measure that would mean replacing the East German mark with the strong West German mark. East German leaders welcomed the idea as a way to send a strong signal of hope to East Germans, of whom 85,000 have moved West so far this year. But the leaders didn't like the fact that the plan became known last week via the press rather than diplomatic channels.
When East German Prime Minister Hans Modrow visited Bonn on Tuesday, he voiced his irritation. At a joint press conference with Kohl, he went to considerable lengths to present East Germany as a partner with something to contribute to unification. There are ``spiritual and cultural values that, despite the decades, have grown'' in East Germany, he said.
The upshot of the meeting was a decision to immediately form a joint panel to prepare for monetary and economic union - an event that would not occur until after East German elections on March 18.
The chancellor wants legal and economic reforms in East Germany that would support such a move. Modrow, meanwhile, was concerned by the social costs that could result, such as a drop in income for pensioners. (See box.)
East Berlin reacted Wednesday with disappointment that it did not receive up to 15 billion West German marks (US$9 billion) in ``solidarity aid'' to meet its economic crisis. But Bonn is not willing to throw such sums into a system that has not yet reformed.
Though East Germany has portrayed Kohl as being pushy about reunification, diplomats here say he is just trying to head off near catastrophe. ``The [Bonn] government does not want to give the impression that it is just going to take over,'' said a Western diplomat in Bonn who asked not to be named.
One example of this, says the diplomat, is Kohl's comment over the weekend that he favors a new constitution that would incorporate some of the values of East Germany.
The West German Constitution provides for unification in two ways.
Under Article 23, East Germany could simply decide it wants to become part of the Federal Republic of West Germany. The decision would mean accepting West Germany's Constitution.
The slower way is Article 146, which allows the West German Constitution to be replaced by a new one approved by the German people. The two ways aren't mutually exclusive, however. Germans could decide to come in under Article 23, and change the Constitution later.
The two leaders discussed both provisions on Tuesday, says a government spokesman here. Two ministries in Bonn are reportedly already working on a new constitution that would, for instance, draw the final boundary of ``Deutschland'' at the Oder and Neisse rivers along Poland and make the ecology a basic concern of German society. On Tuesday, Poland demanded a role in the six-power group that would oversee German reunification.
Kohl doesn't want to scrap the West German Constitution, just make a few changes, says the government spokesman. The strategy has two advantages. First, it would slow the incredible pace of unification. Second, it would show sensitivity to East German concerns.
Robert Leicht, senior political editor for the news weekly Die Zeit, points out that the method of reunification may not be controllable by Kohl.
``The majority of people may want to come in by Article 23,'' says Mr. Leicht, because it would be the easiest and quickest way.