Paris. -- Germany's national election this weekend can be expected to change little in the country's foreign policy, even if Chancellor Helmut Kohl's ruling Christian Democrats are forced into a "grand coalition" with the Social Democratic party.
Such a coalition would presumably result from a collapse of Mr. Kohl's present coalition partner, the Free Democratic party. There could also be a significant rise in support for the ex-Communist Party of Democratic Socialism in what used to be East Germany, where unification has proved a severe disappointment. The ex-Communists at best will better the 5 percent vote that would let them into the Bundestag, but their success in the polls has already created a politico-psychological shock, threatening what German commentators have called "the East's revenge."
However, foreign policy is unlikely to change, on German initiative at least, since no substantial alternative has been proposed to Germany's present commitment to Western alliance and European integration. But the choice may not lie with Germany. There's the rub.
Western alliance depends on the United States. In the next few years the evident and growing force of isolationist opinion in America may have no important practical consequences for NATO and Europe. It is likely to be another matter in the longer term; but sufficient to the day is the evil thereof. For the present, the German problem revolves around relations with France and the nature of Europe's continuing unification.
The German majority is committed to a form of unification that would see a European government assuming a substantial part of the sovereign authority now exercised by national governments. This is the official model for Europe's future integration, implicit in the Maastricht Treaty the West European governments signed in 1992.
Mr. Kohl's Christian Democratic partners, the Bavarian Christian Social Union, are hostile, preferring a "federal" model for Europe in which nations would cooperate but not cede sovereignty. And obviously the German nationalist right is against it.
But for the German majority, European unification has seemed a solution to the problems of German identity and German history. The individual kingdoms, duchies and cities of Germany -- united into one nation only a little more than a century ago, with disastrous consequences in two world wars and Nazism -- would find a new identity as elements in a new European union in which nations are abolished, or at least in which they yield economic sovereignty and abandon their individual war-making authority.
Will there be such a Europe? Can there be? Britain says no. The Tory Party rank and file, at the party's annual conference last week in Bournemouth, made plain its vociferous opposition to this kind of Europe. It is clear that the British public majority, while favoring Britain's membership in the European Community, unwilling to see a sovereign Europe.
In France this issue has yet to be seriously confronted. There is much double-language, and even double-thinking. The French believe that Europe must be built around Franco-German cooperation, and they understand that Germany wants (and needs) real integration.
And yet the French remain profoundly anchored in not only the concept of but the emotional need for national sovereignty and self-sufficiency; and this makes it extremely unlikely that France really would ever accept the kind of Europe the Germans say they want.
It thus is extremely hard to believe that Germany is going to have the Europe it says that it wants, at least during the foreseeable future. Germany is going to remain a sovereign and responsible nation, with all the tensions, griefs and dangers that implies. What another century will bring is another matter. The next decade is what now counts.
Germany's need is for security and reassurance that it is solidly anchored in a democratic community. It needs this above all as Germans realize that they are not going to have the kind of Europe in which their nation can lose itself and cut free from its history.
What is very urgent is to give Germany a secure eastern border -- to surround it with democracies committed to mutual security. That means bringing Poland and the Czech Republic into the European Community and under NATO protection as rapidly as possible.
Bringing them into "Europe" is resisted mainly because this threatens established commercial and corporate interests in the West. A serious NATO extension is held to threaten political evolution in Russia by provoking Russian nationalism. What about German nationalism?
Europe really cannot afford its present dawdling pace in integrating the East. NATO, under U.S. pressure, is equally on a dangerous course in attempting to turn itself into an open-membership forum for politico-military dialogue and cooperation -- a kind of armed CSCE (Conference on Security and Cooperation in Europe), in which NATO's strategic role and bite are sacrificed to political good intentions.
The democratic nations of Europe are not going to dissolve into some larger entity, by which dangers are caused to vanish. They need practical cooperation now, with political as well as military solidarity to secure their mutual security as well as that of their neighbors.
Germany above all needs this. If it does not get it, a decade from now the rest of Europe, and Russia and the United States, may all be very sorry -- and the Germans sorriest of all.
8, William Pfaff is a syndicated columnist.