BONN — Johannes Rau, the newly designated Social Democratic candidate for the West German chancellorship, opened his campaign Monday with a pledge to take a more critical approach to U.S. policy in Europe.
Rau, 54, the premier of North Rhine-Westphalia, Germany's largest state, was designated the Social Democratic challenger to Chancellor Helmut Kohl, a Christian Democrat, at an executive board meeting late Sunday.
While he reaffirmed his commitment to the North Atlantic Treaty Organization, he also said he would seek a reduction in the nuclear arms race. He said a tougher approach to U.S. policy within the alliance should be acceptable to Washington.
Would Break 'Vicious Circle'
"As chancellor," he said, "I would immediately launch an initiative in our alliance and toward the Soviet Union in order to break through the vicious circle of rearmament in Europe."
The Social Democratic Party has opposed deployment of U.S. Pershing 2 missiles in West Germany. However, Rau did not mention the Pershings and said he would try to negotiate the removal of both U.S. and Soviet nuclear weapons targeted on Europe.
"The Christian Democratic Union has lost the will for compromise and moderation," he added. "I see in this the political obligation and chance to offer a new home to those who can no longer feel at home with the Christian Democrats."
Rau, promising the voters a better society, added that he would seek moderation in West German society and always remain open to compromise and dialogue.
Jobless First Priority
He said he would address the problem of unemployment first.
In seeking to reduce German unemployment, now running at about 9%, Rau said he would call for a new income tax on those earning more than $24,000 a year to set up job-producing programs. He also recommended that the working week be reduced in order to produce more jobs.
The Christian Democrats have been in power since 1982, when the Free Democrats dropped their parliamentary support of then-Chancellor Helmut Schmidt. In 1983, Kohl's coalition of Christian Democrats and Free Democrats swept the national election.
Earlier this year, Kohl's standing in the public opinion polls was lagging badly--giving hope to the Social Democrats that they could win the 1987 general election, possibly in a coalition with the Greens, the environment-oriented, radical party which has polled about 5% of the vote.
Won in Landslide
Rau came to national prominence when he swept back into office in North Rhine-Westphalia in a landslide vote last spring.
Hans-Jochen Vogel, the Social Democrats' leader in Parliament, decided to step aside and allow Rau to run unopposed within the party for the nomination to the chancellorship. Rau must still be approved by a party congress next summer, but he is expected to be easily nominated officially then.
Rau is an easy-going politician who likes getting out on the hustings to chat with the voters, and, in that way, he resembles Kohl.
Off-Cuff Comments Hurt
But, like Kohl, he has a tendency to make off-the-cuff statements that get him into political trouble. He once promised to restore all the spending cuts made by the Kohl government and had to back off that promise because it was quickly apparent that it was not popular with most voters.
Rau also has a problem with the militant wing of his party, which wants West Germany to distance itself from Washington and to forge closer links to the Soviet Union and the East Bloc. He opposes any alliance between the Social Democrats and the Greens on the grounds that the Greens are too radical and too undependable.
But that would mean the Social Democrats would have to gain an absolute majority in the next general election, a feat most political observers consider highly unlikely.
The West Germany economy is starting to pick up, moving toward 3% growth next year and a prosperity that is bound to help Kohl, the incumbent, political observers say.