History of Germany

The Social Democratic-Free Democratic Coalition, 1969-82

In the West German Bundestag elections of September 1969, the CDU/CSU remained the largest political group, holding eighteen more seats than the SPD. With the help of the FDP, which had earlier supported the candidacy of the SPD minister of justice Gustav Heinemann for the federal presidency, Willy Brandt was able to form an SPD-FDP coalition government, with himself as federal chancellor. The SPD-FDP coalition lasted until late 1982 and was noted for its accomplishments in the area of foreign policy. The formation of this new coalition forced the CDU/CSU into opposition for the first time in the history of West Germany.

Willy Brandt

Willy Brandt became the first democratically elected Social Democrat to hold the chancellorship. Born in Lübeck in 1913, Brandt first joined the SPD in 1930 and later joined a smaller leftist grouping, the Socialist Workers Party (Sozialistiche Arbeiterpartei--SAP). After Hitler came to power, Brandt emigrated to Norway, where he became a citizen and worked as a journalist. After Germany occupied Norway in 1940, he fled to Sweden. Brandt returned to Germany after the war as a news correspondent and later as a Norwegian diplomat in Berlin. After he had again assumed German citizenship, Brandt rejoined the SPD in 1947. He became mayor of Berlin in 1957 and was the SPD candidate for the chancellorship in 1961. In the late 1950s, Brandt was a principal architect of the SPD's rejection of its Marxist past and adoption of the Bad Godesburg Program, in which the party accepted the free-market principle. The triumph of the CDU/CSU in the 1957 national elections and widespread and increasing prosperity made such a step necessary if the SPD were to win the electorate's favor. In 1964 Brandt became the chairman of the SPD. From 1966 to 1969, he served as minister for foreign affairs and vice chancellor in the Grand Coalition.

When Brandt became chancellor in 1969, he proposed a new policy toward the communist states of Eastern Europe; this policy later became known as Ostpolitik (policy toward the East). In recognition of his efforts toward détente in Europe, he received the Nobel Prize for Peace in 1971. In the early 1970s, Brandt also engineered a package of treaties that normalized the FRG's relations with the Soviet Union and with Poland, the GDR, and other Soviet-bloc nations. He successfully withstood a vote of no-confidence in the Bundestag in April 1972 and won the Bundestag elections in November 1972 with an impressive relative majority of nearly 45 percent. Brandt resigned in May 1974, shocked by the discovery that one of his personal assistants, Günter Guillaume, was a spy for the GDR.

In domestic policy, Brandt and his FDP coalition partners initiated legal reforms, including the passage of more liberal laws regarding divorce and abortion, the latter reform generating intense public discussion. Education reforms calling for new types of schools and for overhauling administration of the universities were only partially carried out. Brandt and his coalition partners were more successful in realizing their foreign policy goals than in achieving their domestic aims.


West Germany's relations with the East European states had virtually stagnated since the establishment of the Hallstein Doctrine in the mid-1950s. In 1970, in an attempt to lessen tensions in Europe, Brandt and his FDP minister for foreign affairs, Walter Scheel, agreed to negotiate with the communist bloc. For the first time since 1948, the top politicians of the FRG and the GDR held talks, with Brandt and the East German prime minister, Willi Stoph, meeting in Erfurt in East Germany and Kassel in West Germany. Although the talks produced no concrete results because Brandt refused to recognize the GDR as a sovereign state, communication lines were reopened.

After coordinating policy goals with the United States, the FRG also entered negotiations with the Soviet Union on a treaty normalizing relations, in which both countries renounced the use of force. The FRG agreed to make no territorial claims, and it recognized de facto the Oder-Neisse border and the border between the FRG and the GDR. FRG negotiators, however, insisted that such agreements did not alter the West German position on future reunification of the country and that the responsibilities of the Four Powers in Germany remained unchanged by the treaty. They also linked the signing of the treaty to a Soviet promise to open talks on normalizing the Berlin situation. After the Soviet Union had agreed to these conditions, the Treaty of Moscow was signed in August 1970. The agreement opened the road to negotiations with other countries of the Soviet bloc.

In December 1970, after ten months of complicated negotiations, the FRG and Poland signed the Treaty of Warsaw. The treaty contained essentially the same points as the Treaty of Moscow on the question of Poland's western border, the renunciation of territorial claims by the FRG, and the ongoing responsibilities of the Four Powers. In return, Poland agreed to allow ethnic Germans still in Poland to emigrate to the FRG. During the subsequent debates on the ratification of the two treaties, the CDU/CSU and part of the FDP made their consent contingent on the formulation of a strong statement by the Bundestag underscoring Germany's right to reunification in self-determination and of the Allies' responsibilities for Germany and Berlin.

Concurrent with the negotiations on the treaties of Moscow and Warsaw, the Four Powers undertook to end disagreement about the status of Berlin in talks that ultimately led to the Four Power Agreement (also known as the Quadripartite Agreement) of September 1971. The talks, which began in March 1970, got off to a difficult start because the Western Allies and the Soviet Union were deeply divided over their basic interpretation of the "status of Berlin." After they "agreed to disagree" on this point, progress was finally made, and all sides concurred that the status quo of Berlin should not be changed unilaterally.

The Soviet Union made two very important concessions: traffic to and from West Berlin would be unimpeded in the future, and the existing ties of West Berlin to the FRG were given de facto recognition. Soviet officials, however, insisted that West Berlin was not to be considered a territory belonging to the FRG and therefore was not to be governed by it. Furthermore, the Soviet Union made the conclusion of the agreement among the Four Powers contingent on the signing of the Treaty of Moscow between the FRG and the Soviet Union, which was still under negotiation. They thereby established the same linkage that the FRG had demanded, but in reverse.

The Four Power Agreement charged the governments of West Berlin and the GDR with negotiating an accord that would regulate access to and from West Berlin from the FRG and secure the right of West Berliners to visit East Berlin and the GDR. The Transit Agreement of May 1972 arranged these matters and also secured the rights of GDR citizens to visit the FRG, but only in cases of family emergency.

Following the negotiations on traffic between the FRG and the GDR, both sides recognized the feasibility of arriving at a more comprehensive treaty between the two German states. Talks began in August 1972 and culminated in December 1972 with the signing of the Basic Treaty. In the treaty, both states committed themselves to developing normal relations on the basis of equality, guaranteeing their mutual territorial integrity as well as the border between them, and recognizing each other's independence and sovereignty. They also agreed to the exchange of "permanent missions" in Bonn and East Berlin to further relations.

After the bitterly contested approval of the Basic Treaty by the SPD-FDP-controlled Bundestag in May 1973, a political decision that the CDU/CSU had warned against for decades became a reality: West Germany's de facto recognition of East Germany as a separate state. To many conservatives, the Basic Treaty represented the failure of the Hallstein Doctrine and a final blow to the possibility of Germany's reunification. Bavaria filed a suit in the Federal Constitutional Court in Karlsruhe to prevent the treaty's implementation, but the court held the treaty to be compatible with the provisions of the Basic Law. As a result of the treaty, the FRG and the GDR became members of the UN in June 1973.

Among the states to the east, Czechoslovakia remained the only neighbor with which West Germany had not yet normalized diplomatic relations. Negotiations with this country proved to be considerably more difficult than those with the Soviet Union or Poland. The main obstacle was a difference in interpreting the Munich Agreement of September 1938. On the one hand, the FRG maintained that the accord itself had to be considered legally valid but that the occupation of Czechoslovakia in March 1939 had voided its provisions. Czechoslovakia, on the other hand, insisted that the accord be considered void from the very beginning. Both sides finally agreed that the accord was to be considered void, but that all legal proceedings in the occupied territory between 1938 and 1945 were to be upheld. Once this basic understanding had been reached, the treaty with Czechoslovakia, known as the Treaty of Prague, similar in content to the Treaty of Warsaw, was signed in December 1973, and diplomatic relations were established. Shortly thereafter, West Germany exchanged ambassadors with Hungary and Bulgaria.

Helmut Schmidt

Following Brandt's resignation in May 1974, the SPD-FDP coalition partners unanimously agreed that Minister of Finance Helmut Schmidt should head the new government. At fifty-five, Schmidt became the youngest chancellor of the FRG. Born in Hamburg in 1918, he served as an officer in World War II. After the war, he joined the SPD and served in Hamburg's municipal government, where he acquired a national reputation as a top-notch manager because of his competence in dealing with a severe flood in 1962. He was the SPD faction leader in the Bundestag and minister of defense in the first SPD-FDP cabinet. Schmidt gradually became recognized at home and abroad as a pragmatic politician and an expert in economic and defense matters. His first cabinet included the FDP's Hans-Dietrich Genscher as minister of foreign affairs. Genscher replaced Walter Scheel, who had been elected federal president in 1974.

Schmidt was confronted with a number of serious problems. The economic turbulence caused by the oil crisis of 1973 had affected the FRG, and a ban on the use of automobiles on Sundays had been introduced to preserve scarce fuel reserves. Perhaps as a result of the crisis, Germans began to recognize limitations to economic growth and simultaneously to become aware of ecological dangers to the environment inherent in their lifestyle. As a result, environmental movements sprang up throughout the FRG.

Worries about the environment and about long-term economic growth became widespread in the next few years, and the almost limitless optimism of the postwar period began to give way to a mood of uncertainty about the future. Unemployment was also on the rise, and labor unions, traditionally reliable allies of the SPD, began to depart from their position of solidarity with the SPD-FDP government. In this increasingly difficult economic and political environment, Schmidt tried to steer a steady course, one often too conservative for his party and from which necessary support was at times lacking.

The Student Movement and Terrorism

In addition to troubling economic and environmental problems for which no easy solutions were available, West Germany and its politicians had to contend with two new sources of social unrest: the student movement of the late 1960s and early 1970s, and left-wing terrorism, which originated in the late 1960s, but which had its greatest impact in the 1970s.

Inspired by the student movement in the United States and by the international movement opposing the war in Vietnam, as well as by rising opposition to the traditional administration of German universities, students organized protest movements at a number of German universities in the late 1960s. Sit-ins, disruption of lectures, and attacks against buildings housing major publishing companies, such as the Axel Springer Group, were staged by a minority of student groups, primarily those with Marxist ties. Protesters claimed that an "extra-parliamentary opposition" was needed to ensure representation of the people in a state that was governed largely by two major parties. The student protest movement had little support among the population, however, and was finally absorbed by the established parties.

Terrorism was also a concern during this period. A few radical student elements sought to realize their aims through political terrorism. Small groups launched violent attacks against "symbols of capitalism." They fire-bombed department stores in several cities, broke into police stations, robbed banks, and attacked United States military installations.

One terrorist group, notorious for its brutality, became known as the Baader-Meinhof Gang, named after its leaders, Andreas Baader and Ulrike Meinhof. Calling themselves the Red Army Faction (Rote Armee Fraktion--RAF), their aim was to assassinate the "levers of the imperialist power structure," thereby provoking the state to abandon lawful methods of fighting terrorism. The arrest and imprisonment in 1972 of the main RAF leaders led to an intensification of terrorist acts by the group, which culminated in 1977 in the kidnapping of Hanns-Martin Schleyer, the president of the Federation of German Employers' Associations (Bundesvereinigung der Deutschen Arbeitgeberverbände--BDA) and in the hijacking six weeks later of a Lufthansa passenger airplane to Mogadishu, Somalia.

The aim of both these terrorist actions was the release of Baader and the other RAF prisoners. In a spectacular rescue action, the Lufthansa airplane was stormed by a special unit of the West German Federal Border Force, ending a five-day odyssey through the Middle East. Failing in their coup, Baader and three other RAF leaders committed suicide in their prison cells, and Schleyer was subsequently murdered by his kidnappers. The police had been successful in discovering hideouts, strategy papers, and caches of weapons, however, which led to the severe weakening of the organization of the RAF.

Nevertheless, supported by various international terrorist groups, including the GDR's Stasi, the RAF maintained a small network committed to assassinating prominent public figures. In 1989 they were responsible for the murder of Alfred Herrhausen, a top executive of the Deutsche Bank in Frankfurt, and in 1991 for the murder of Detlev Karsten Rohwedder, president of the Treuhandanstalt, the agency that managed the privatization of property in the former GDR.

The Greens

In the aftermath of the oil crisis of 1973, regional political groups concerned with environmental issues began to put up candidates in communal and regional elections. In 1980 a number of ecological groups, alternative action movements, and various women's rights organizations banded together on the national level to form the political party that came to be called the Greens (Die Grünen).

Although the political views of the various groups in the new party were widely diverse, all agreed that the continuous expansion of the economy was detrimental to the environment and that disarmament was imperative if mankind were to survive. The Greens' support for radical peace movements and their demand that the FRG withdraw from NATO prevented many West Germans from taking the Greens seriously as a political force. In the Bundestag elections of 1980, they could muster only 1.5 percent of the vote, not enough to win any parliamentary seats. In the 1983 elections, however, they broke the 5 percent barrier and won twenty-seven seats in the Bundestag.

Differing ideological orientations within the Greens soon began to undermine the party's effectiveness in the political process. Two different factions emerged: the dogmatic fundamentalists (Fundis), who were unwilling to make any compromises on policy in order to win political allies; and the realists (Realos), who were ready to enter into a coalition with the SPD on the communal and Land level in order to put environmentalist ideas into practice.

Another cause of disagreement within the party organization of the Greens was the principle of rotation of seats in the Bundestag and in Land diets. This policy required deputies to give up their seats after only half a term so that other Green candidates would have an opportunity to participate in the political process. As a result, experienced representatives who understood the workings of parliament were forced to relinquish their seats and were relegated to subordinate work in the party. Such unrealistic policies persuaded numerous talented Green politicians to withdraw from active politics, or to leave the party altogether. In 1984 a party leadership consisting only of women was elected, giving the Greens an image of practicing reverse discrimination.

Although the Realos among the Greens subsequently participated in Land governments as cabinet members, the party remained on the periphery of politics during the remainder of the 1980s. Nevertheless, the Greens positively influenced the views of the traditional political parties concerning the ecology and the preservation of natural resources.

Germany History Contents

SOURCE: Area Handbook of the US Library of Congress