``CARPE diem.'' Seize the day. This seems to have become West German Chancellor Helmut Kohl's motto.
Under increasing pressure to act now or suffer the consequences, Mr. Kohl is considering calling for an all-German national election in either December (when a West German vote is scheduled) or January. Until this week, he had targeted the second half of next year as the appropriate time for an all-German vote.
Things changed drastically on May 13, when Kohl's right-of-center Christian Democratic Union lost two key state elections in West Germany. His opposition, the left-of-center Social Democrats (SPD), said the results reflect citizen concern about the cost and hurried pace of reunification. They challenge him to lay out the expected cost to the public.
But rather than slow down and reassess, as the Social Democrats want, Kohl and his coalition partners in Bonn appear ready to speed things up.
``There is a growing conviction in the chancellor's office that the longer you delay unification, the more clear it will become to the people of this country how expensive it's going to be,'' says a Western diplomat in Bonn.
Although some estimates range much higher, the common figures cited put the bill at 40 billion deutsche marks ($24.4 billion) for the first year of reunification and 60 to 70 billion for the second. The finance ministers from both Germanys are still trying to get a handle on basic statistics, such as the extent of East Germany's foreign debt.
But other sparks besides the Sunday elections have lit a fire under Kohl. Soviet wavering on security aspects of German reunification is a worrisome topic here.
``Anyone who understands anything about international developments advises me, `Act soon,''' Kohl said at a press conference on Monday.
There are also East German voters to consider. So far, Kohl's party, the right-of-center Christian Democratic Union, is the clear favorite in East Germany. Better to cash in on those votes now, the party reasons, before massive unemployment sends East Germans rushing to the arms of the Social Democrats, who traditionally appeal to disadvantaged workers.
But advancing an all-German election would take all the diplomatic and technical skill the chancellor can muster.
Presumably, he stands by his conviction that the external and internal aspects of reunification must be resolved before the two countries officially join. That means getting the four allied powers of World War II to sign over their rights in Germany by September, in time for presentation at a summit of the 35-nation Conference on Security and Cooperation in Europe. Considering Soviet insecurities and apprehensions, this seems a lot to ask.
The Social Democrats in both Germanys are unlikely to agree to an earlier date without a fight. With their state election victories Sunday, they will have the majority in the Bundesrat, the upper house of the legislature in Bonn. ``The SPD will use every bit of leverage it has in the Bundesrat,'' the Western diplomat says.
Both East and West German SPD leaders yesterday rejected the idea of an all-German election at the turn of the year.
``We've all learned that the [talks with the four powers] are not exactly an easy stroll,'' says Dagmar Wiebusch, spokeswoman for the SPD in Bonn. Moving up an all-German election ``puts too much pressure on everybody.''
Technically speaking, fielding new East German candidates and redrawing districts by Jan. 13, 1991 (the last possible date, according to West German law), could be a challenge, says a spokesman for the West German Justice Ministry. He said both Germanys must negotiate the ``5 percent clause,'' for instance, which restricts representation in the West German Bundestag to parties that draw at least 5 percent of the vote. East Germany has no such restriction.