In this new column in the DEBAT Magazine, we will discuss multiple aspects of the (political) life of influential people over the years. In this edition we will pay attention to Helmut Kohl, who passed away in June of this year. The German ex-chancellor became known as a big proponent of European integration and was a vital actor in the reunification of Germany after the Cold War. In this article we will examine several important events that shaped Kohl and which were influential on his decisions as a leader, which shaped Germany and Europe as a whole.
In this new column in the
Kohl was born in April of 1930 to Catholic parents. During the second World War, Kohl lost his brother, who died on the battlefield. Subsequently, Kohl narrowly avoided fighting in the war himself – it ended before he finished his military training. The war had a huge impact on Kohl, who was later quoted as saying: “Like many of my generation, I was motivated by the desire to prevent another war at any price.”
This sentiment would return in his later efforts for a united Europe.
After the War, Kohl finished both high school and university (Kohl studied Political Science and History). His political life, which had started when Kohl was still in high school, developed and he was quickly elected CDU Chairman and later Prime Minister in Rheinland-Pfalz. Kohl, who was a rising star in the CDU party, was elected chairman of the National CDU party in 1972. His rise to the top was not uncontested though, and multiple fellow party members opposed his leadership. Der Spiegel quoted Franz Jozef Strauss, chairman of the CDUs sister party CSU, criticising Kohl’s character: “Kohl will never become chancellor. He is characteristically unfit”. Kohl eventually did become chancellor in 1983, proving Strauss wrong.
The early years of Kohl’s chancellorship of Western-Germany, are sometimes characterized as controversial. For example, Kohl’s government stationed NATO missiles (which was heavily opposed by the peace movement) and also made several controversial decisions in the social policy area, which were met with criticism. Kohl, however, remained reasonably popular and was re-elected. In 1989, Kohl had to deal with one of the most important moments in his chancellorship: unruliness in Eastern Germany (which arrived at the right time for Kohl, whose approval ratings were quickly diminishing), which led to the fall of the Berlin Wall. Kohl announced a ten-point plan towards German reunification. Quickly after, Eastern Germany’s socialist party was defeated in the first free elections in Eastern Germany. Additionally, Eastern Germany’s economy was in slumps, which eventually sparked negotiations of reunification between Eastern and Western Germany and in which Kohl could ‘shine’, quickly gaining him newfound respect and popularity. Kohl became the first chancellor of the now reunited Germany.
Strides towards European integration
In the years after, Kohl made great strides towards European integration and the introduction of the euro along with his French colleague François Mitterrand. Kohl claimed that countries that share a currency do not go to war with each other, and up until now he appears to be right. The efforts Kohl made towards integration still remain today. The European Union has suffered several hits since this initial enlargement and is met with a lot of criticism (Eurozone crisis, Greek crisis, Brexit). Kohl remained an avid supporter of European integration though up until his death. At his funeral, his coffin was draped with a flag of the European Union.
After an election defeat in 1998, Kohl stepped down as leader of the CDU. Afterwards, he was quickly met with a scandal concerning illegal donations received during his chancellorship. This impacted his reputation within Germany. Politically, his legacy is still seen clearly today in European regard, and he will thus be remembered as a sculptor of European integration for years to come.
Helmut Kohl, obituary: The man who reunified Germany and encouraged European integration – 16 June 2017 – Independent (http://www.independent.co.uk/news/obituaries/helmut-kohl-dead-life-career-german-chancellor-unite-europe-87-a7793916.html)
De dood van een Europese reus – 17 June 1017 – NRC https://www.nrc.nl/nieuws/2017/06/17/de-dood-van-een-europese-reus-11124170-a1563478
Kohl was een machtsvirtuoos met gevoel voor juist moment – 16 June 2017 – NRC https://www.nrc.nl/nieuws/2017/06/16/kohl-was-een-machtsvirtuoos-met-gevoel-voor-juiste-moment-a1526378
Dictator die de Euro afdwong – 16 June 2017 – NRC https://www.nrc.nl/nieuws/2017/06/16/dictator-die-de-euro-afdwong-11126740-a1563441
German Chancellor Helmut Kohl Nearly Outlived the Europe He Created – 17 June 2017 – TIME http://time.com/4822651/germany-helmut-kohl-europe-union-obituary/
Helmut Kohl, Chancellor Who Reunited Germany, Dies at 87, 16 June 2017 – New York Times https://www.nytimes.com/2017/06/16/world/europe/helmut-kohl-german-chancellor-dead.html
Helmut Kohl, architect van het nieuwe Europa op 87 jarige leeftijd overleden – 16 June 2017 – Volkskrant https://www.volkskrant.nl/buitenland/helmut-kohl-architect-van-het-nieuwe-europa-op-87-jarige-leeftijd-overleden~a4501293/
Helmut Kohl – Wikipedia https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Helmut_Kohl
German Reunification – Wikipedia https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/German_reunification