East-West tensions, a slumping economy, political party squabbles, a disturbed nation --all add up to make 1982 a test year for West German Chancellor Helmut Schmidt.
Some hurdles ahead for the chancellor already are clearly marked, including a national congress of his Social Democratic Party in April and four regional elections spaced from March to October. If Schmidt and the left-center coalition government he heads can clear these and inevitable unforeseen challenges, then, according to the consensus view here, all the talk about the Bonn government coming unraveled may be stilled until the scheduled general elections in 1984.
But that is a shaky "if."
The 12-year-old partnership between Schmidt's Social Democrats and the Free Democrats spent an enormous amount of political energy last year just keeping itself together.
Many of the factors that caused the strain remain--including left-wing challenges in both governing parties to Bonn's support for new European-based U.S. nuclear missiles, contention between the parties on how to manage a rising unemployment level, and general distress about what to do about the neutralist drift and protesting behavior here, particularly among the youth.
For the moment, the Social Democrats and Free Democrats appear to be getting along more harmoniously --less out of any new-found affinity than out of heightened nervousness in the face of scarier developments.
On the foreign front, the Polish crisis has brought Bonn's detente policy into sharp question in the West, encouraging the coalition parties here to reaffirm the bonds between them that made the launching of West Germany's ostpolitik, or policy to develop better ties with Eastern Europe, possible in the late 1960s.
On the domestic front, an unemployment level that is threatening to top 2 million as a result of a stubborn recession also seems to have nudged the Free Democrats closer to their senior coalition partner. The Social Democrats, over the objections of Free Democrats, have been pressing for a program to create jobs, and government spokesmen have indicated that some kind of employment scheme can be expected soon.
The conservative opposition Christian Democratic Union apparently has given up hope of wooing the Free Democrats away into a new coalition by taking a more moderate line. At least, the party's tougher line on detente would suggest as much.
But still far from ruled out is the chance that internal party squabbling will bring down the Social Democrats' government.
Party members generally fall into one of two schools on plotting a strategy for the 1980s. One school, led by the Social Democratic chairman, former chancellor Willy Brandt, wants to adjust party policy to accommodate the idealism and leftist views of younger members.
The other school, led by Schmidt, would continue to tailor policy to the moderate, pragmatic views of the party's traditional, trade-union-based membership.
The tension between these approaches has left all factions dissatisfied. Today, Manfred Coppik, 38, a leading left-wing parliament deputy, called a press conference to announce that he was quitting the party in protest against Schmidt's defense and environmental policies.
Coppik said he and another left-wing deputy, Karl-Heinz Hansen, who was expelled from the party in December, would organize a "conference of democratic socialists" in March to discuss the possible formation of a new party that would draw from West Germany's antinuclear and environmentalist campaigns.
While a new party is unlikely to have great pull, Coppik's move is at least a sign of the disenchantment among the Social Democrats. The party leadership is worried about an open challenge to NATO's nuclear missile plans coming at the party's national congress in Munich in April. An approved draft resolution for the congress, made public yesterday, calls for postponing a review of the alliance plan until another party congress in August 1983, shortly before the new U.S. Pershing II and cruise missiles are due for initial deployment in Western Europe. By then, the draft statement notes, the missile plans can be judged in light of whatever results have come of U.S.-Soviet negotiations on limiting mid-range nuclear weapons.
The Social Democrats' national popularity appears to have bottomed out in opinion polls at about 32 percent several months ago, gaining a couple of percentage points since. The Christian Democrats, meanwhile, continue to score slightly more than 50 percent.
These figures will be tested in four regional elections this year. Two of the contests--in the city-state of Hamburg in June and in the state of Hesse in September--involve governments where the Social Democrats are in power and so will be especially critical for the party.
A victory by the Christian Democrats in either case would give them a two-thirds majority in the Bundesrat, or upper house of parliament--enough to block legislation.
Compounding the West German political picture are allegations of an enormous fund-raising scandal, news of which has begun to leak into the press here.
No formal charges have been issued yet, but more than 700 individuals and corporations are reported under investigation for evading taxes on party donations by funneling millions of dollars through tax-exempt foundations and foreign banks.
Schmidt has not been targeted, but his economics minister--Free Democrat Count Otto Lambsdorff-- reportedly is under investigation.
While some parliamentary consideration has been given to legislating an amnesty for any who may have done wrong, other political leaders have advised riding out any charges on the assumption that the impact will likely cancel out, since they appear to touch all the political parties.