Assess the short-term impact of Helmut Kohl on Germany's role in Europe

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Introduction

Dr. Helmut Kohl was Germany’s chancellor from 1982 to 1998 during a very defining period in the history of Germany and the whole of Europe. This period was marked by the end of the Cold War and the rise of a new multi-polar world order (Henrik, 1999). Kohl became a towering personality of the post-war period by making Germany to be the heart of Europe in almost all spheres of life. He controlled all the major developments in Europe and was consulted before any key issue could be dealt with. In fact, Kohl was consulted before any significant decision could be made in Europe, and virtually, no significant decision could be made without approaching him. During his tenure as a chancellor, Germany reached an unrivaled level of political and economic power that had never been witnessed in its history. Nevertheless, Germany gave up much of its national dominion to supranational organizations such as the European Union during Kohl’s tenure as a chancellor. Germany’s global role and national identity was therefore seen as Europeanized. Kohl’s agenda was to enhance the process of European integration which he supported as a key political player.

According to Ludwigshafen (2010), one of the major legacies that Kohl left behind was the establishment of the euro, which is the common currency that is used in the European nations. This currency has offered the prospect of enhanced trade in the European Common Market and continues to serve as an economic vehicle for political union. Nevertheless, it may as well increase tensions amongst the European nations which continue to feel and act like nation states, and between European countries and other countries of the world (Ludwigshafen, 2010). The occurrence of such a phenomenon may lead to the collapse of the structurally unstable and artificially built European house. This is because not all the members of this house are knowledgeable and enthusiastic about Europe, and so this might be dangerous in times of crisis. In his interview with Dr. Kai Alexander, Dr. Kohl expressed his optimism on the massive and quite expensive economic project that would decisively influence the destinies of Germany and the entire European continent in the twenty first century and beyond (Nicosia, 2000). Kohl is also remembered for his active role in the events that led to the fall of the Berlin wall in 1989 and the reunification of Germany the following year.

During the early years of his tenure as a chancellor, Kohl was faced with very stiff opposition from the left wing of the West German politicians. He faced a lot of ridicule from his adversaries who often called him by a disparaging nickname and depicted him in cartoon pictures which showed his head looking as a pear. Nevertheless, this open ridicule ended gradually when his political star began to shine as he grew to become the leader of European integration and cooperation and the key figure in the reunification of Germany.

Germany’s role in Europe

There is virtually no doubt that Germany is the central power in the European continent.  Geographically, it is located at the center of Europe, with a very strong economic power and a significantly larger population than the Great Britain, Italy, France or Spain. The expansion of the European Union towards the East has also been of predominant advantage to the German industries and its economy at large. In addition, the introduction of the Euro cemented the influence that Germany had over the other Western European countries. All these characteristics are attributed to Dr. Helmut Kohl who was the chancellor of Germany between 1982 and 1998 (Schulze, 1996).

Despite the fact that Germany is European’s central power, its elites have realized that the country sails well under the flag of Europe. This is indeed true for the reunified Germany, whose intrinsic power within the European continent is recognized more by people from the other Western European nations other than the Germans themselves (Manuela, 2003). However, Germans should realize that their leadership would be highly appreciated by their neighbors only if it is moderate, restrained and entrenched in the concept of fair cooperation and integration. As such, their official foreign policy must guard against the open expression of Germany as the central power in Europe even though its economic power is definitely the main vehicle for European integration. In deed, this was the dream of Dr, Helmut Kohl when he pursued for European integration with other great personalities like the one time French President, Francois Mitterrand.

Helmut Kohl’s Impact on Germany’s Role in Europe

Dr. Helmut Kohl, who is regarded as a great statesman of the twentieth century, was born in 1930. His sixteen year old tenure as a chancellor, which lasted between 1982 and 1998 was the second longest that any German chancellor has ever served after that of Otto von Bismarck. As a chancellor, he engineered for the reunification of Germany in 1990 and for the formation of the European Union alongside the French President Francois Mitterrand (Nicosia, 2000). The two were jointly given the Charlemagne Award in the year 1988. In 1998, Dr. Kohl was given the Honorary Citizen of Europe Award by the European heads of governments or states for his amazing contribution in the search for European integration and cooperation.

Dr. Kohl met with Francois Mitterrand, the French president, at Verdun in 1984 at the place where the Battle of Verdun between Germany and France took place during the First World War so that they could commemorate the deaths of both World Wars (Henrik, 1999). During this event, they shook hands for several minutes and their photograph became a significant symbol of the French-German reunion. Dr. Kohl and President Mitterrand developed an intimate political relationship thereafter, which later on led to the arrangement of the European integration. They jointly laid the foundations for several European projects such as Arte and Eurocorps. Their political relationship was also vital in the formation of other European projects such as the establishment of the Euro and the formation of the Maastricht Treaty (Schwartz, 2005).

In 1985, Dr. Kohl and the then US President Ronald Reagan found it necessary to reveal the strength of the relationship that existed between Germany and the U.S. which was formerly its antagonist. In November 1984, Kohl visited President Reagan at the White House where he appealed to President Reagan to join him in his pursuit of symbolizing the reconciliation of Germany and the U.S at a military cemetery in Germany. President Reagan honored this appeal when he visited the Germany military cemetery in Bitburg, Germany with Kohl (Schwartz, 2005).

In 1989, Helmut Kohl visited Poland where he was welcomed happily by the ethnic German inhabitants who were living there. He took advantage of the historic political changes that were stirring in East Germany to present a ten point plan that would be used to overcome that division of Germany and the whole of Europe without having any consultations with his coalition partners and their Western allies. In 1990, he made a trip to the Soviet Union to seek an assurance from their leader Mikhail Gorbachev that Germany’s reconciliation with USSR would progress. On the eighteenth of May, 1990, he signed a social and economic unification treaty with East Germany. He then went ahead to allow for a one to one conversion course for rent,  interest and wages between the East and West Marks against the advice of the Germany’s federal bank president. This policy eventually led to serious consequences in the New Lander companies (Berg, 2005).

Kohl also joined hands with his Foreign Minister Hans-Dietrich Genscher to so as to meet a consensus with their former allies during the Second World War and to allow for the reunification of Germany and the extension of NATO to the previous East German state (Berg, 2005). On the third of October, 1990, the East German state was disbanded and its territories were merged with West Germany. Following the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989, Kohl verified that the German territories that were at the East of the Oder-Neisse line were historically supposed to belong to the Republic of Poland. This assertion ultimately ended the territorial claims of West Germany that were previously in existence. In 1993, Kohl verified by signing a treaty with the Czech Republic that Germany would never again produce territorial claims concerning the Sudetenland. However, this move disappointed the German Heimatvertriebene, displaced individuals (Fulbrook, 1991). The 1990 German election was the first democratic, free and fair election to be ever carried out in Germany after the era of Weimer Republic. Kohl went ahead to win this election with a landslide victory against his opposition candidate.

After the 1994 federal elections, Kohl was re-elected with a very narrow margin. He managed to defeat Rudolf Scharping who was the Rhinelan-Palatinate Minister-President. However, Kohl’s power was significantly limited due to the fact that the opposition had a majority of seats in the Bundesrat (Nicholas, 2009).  Nevertheless, Kohl was very successful and powerful in foreign politics. For example, he made the Frankfurt am Main to be the seat for the European Central Bank. The aura that was surrounding Kohl largely wore off from 1990 onwards due to increased unemployment rates in Germany. As a result, he was seriously defeated in the federal elections of 1998 by Gerhard Schroder who was the former Minister-President for Lower Saxony. His life after politics was characterized by a financial scandal that is still under investigation and other developments in his personal life (Nicholas, 2009).

In 1999, a party financing saga went public when it was established that Kohl’s party which was known as Christian Democratic Union (CDU), had received and retained illegal funds under his leadership. Investigations revealed that much of this money was kept in Geneva bank accounts and it came from two different sources i.e. from the sale of German tanks to Saudi Arabia and from privatization fraud that involved him and President Francois Mitterrand who wanted the French owned Elf Aquitaine to be given two thousand, five hundred and fifty unused allotments from the then East Germany. The illegally attained allotments were then privatized and made to be part of Elf Aquitaine. Nevertheless, Kohl and other French and German politicians claimed that they did not have any personal interests from these actions. They claimed that their actions were meant to enhance the reconciliation and cooperation process between Germany and France so as to promote peace and European integration. This scandal is still under investigation at the moment. Kohl officially retreated from active politics in 2002. Nevertheless, he has been recently rehabilitated by his former party into politics, which claims that it wants to utilize his experience as a great statesman (Norris, 2010).

Conclusion

It is important to note that Kohl possessed strong, complex and fairly ambiguous political views which focused on international and economic matters. His economic and political views and policies were greatly borrowed from Margaret Thatcher’s and Ronald Reagan’s neoliberalism views such as the lowering of taxes so as to allow for personal initiative and welfare state reformation (Norris, 2010). In international matters, Kohl was committed to the achievement of European integration and maintaining his intimate political relationship with French President Francois Mitterrand. He was also committed to the reunification of Germany. During the early years of his tenure as a chancellor, Kohl was faced with very stiff opposition from the left wing of the West German politicians. He faced a lot of ridicule from his adversaries who often called him by a disparaging nickname and depicted him in cartoon pictures which showed his head looking as a pear. Nevertheless, this open ridicule ended gradually when his political star began to shine when he grew to become the leader of European integration and cooperation and the key figure in the reunification of Germany. Kohl rose to become one of the most popular and influential politicians in the history of Germany and a very respectable European Statesman of the twentieth century.  Even though some people criticize him for boasting of individual credit in the reunification of Germany, it is important to note that the reunification of Germany would not have been possible without the historical developments that took place in East Germany and the USSR in the late 1980’s. After his term expired as a chancellor, and the claims of his involvement in corruption arose, he fell in public perception. This is in deed one of his failures during his tenure as a chancellor.

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