BONN, JUNE 17 -- The East German parliament, in a gesture underlining the headlong pace of German reunification, voted today to consider using a provision in West Germany's constitution to accelerate a merger of the two nations.
The East German resolution, although it still must be debated in committee and introduced as a law, was approved by an overwhelming 267 to 92, providing the two-thirds majority needed to pass constitutional issues in the 400-seat East Berlin parliament, the Volkskammer.
The vote, with Chancellor Helmut Kohl of West Germany looking on, had a largely symbolic value, in effect declaring that parliament will formally take up an issue that already has been widely discussed. But it also was another demonstration that both Germanys have embraced an accelerating tempo for reunification, turning what was a dream until only eight months ago into a goal German leaders now have vowed to reach before the end of the year.
Parliaments of both Germanys are scheduled to approve by the end of this week a treaty for monetary union, a far-reaching practical step designed to create a single German economy beginning July 2. In a sign that political merger will not be far behind, Kohl and other leaders of the major German parties have said in recent days that the West German elections scheduled for December are likely to evolve into all-German elections to choose a government for a reunified Germany.
Kohl was in East Berlin for a special joint session of the East German and West German parliaments marking the anniversary of an East German revolt in 1953 against the Stalinist government of the time. The anniversary traditionally has been celebrated in West Germany as German Unity Day, an occasion to denounce the country's division and the Communist system set up in the East, but it was being observed publicly for the first time in East Germany.
The West German constitution, in Article 23, long has provided for absorption into the West German federation of areas considered to be part of historic Germany. Under the measure considered in East Berlin today, the five former German states that make up what is now East Germany could vote to join the federation directly, creating a smoother and faster merger than government-to-government negotiations between Bonn and East Berlin.
This suggestion has raised some problems, however. For example, the former states were redrawn into different administrative districts under the Communist governments and thus do not have elected representations parallel to those of West German state governments.
East German Prime Minister Lothar de Maiziere today endorsed the use of Article 23 as the best way for German unification, but cautioned that East Germany must first set up federal states like those in West Germany and negotiate a political treaty with Bonn to provide a framework for the merger.
Some East Germans have expressed fear that social guarantees under the Communist system could be diminished once West German economic and political laws extend to all Germany. Students demonstrated in East Berlin 10 days ago over the prospect of reduced buying power of their scholarships, for example, and anti-unity protesters pelted Kohl with eggs as he arrived for today's joint parliaments session.
Some of East Germany's new leaders also have been reluctant to see their democratically elected central government cede so much power only a few months after its election. Today's resolution was supported by most of the broad coalition that underpins de Maiziere, but the voting was to some extent a tactical maneuver to head off a proposed law that would have put the merger process into effect even sooner.
In any case, the resolution's symbolic weight seemed to strengthen the hand of Foreign Minister Hans-Dietrich Genscher of West Germany for talks scheduled Monday with his Soviet counterpart, Eduard Shevardnadze, in the West German city of Muenster.
Soviet opposition to seeing a united Germany retain full membership in the U.S.-led NATO has emerged as the major hurdle of the two Germanys' march toward unity. As discussions on the Soviet reservations have proceeded, however, so have practical steps toward reunification.
De Maiziere, alluding to the Soviet objections, told reporters in East Berlin that the external aspects of unification must be studied "very carefully" along with intra-German issues.
Genscher and Shevardnadze, who also conferred on the NATO dispute last Monday in the Byelorussian city of Brest, have been seeking a formula for the next round of Two-Plus-Four talks on German reunification. Foreign ministers of the two Germanys and the World War II Allies are scheduled to meet Friday in East Berlin.