|Helmut Kohl – Chancellor of Germany (1982–1998) and architect of German Reunification|
Helmut Josef Michael Kohl (German pronunciation: [ˈhɛlmuːt ˈkoːl]; born 3 April 1930) is a German conservative politician and statesman. He was Chancellor of Germany from 1982 to 1998 (of West Germany between 1982 and 1990 and of the reunited Germany between 1990 and 1998) and the chairman of the Christian Democratic Union (CDU) from 1973 to 1998. His 16-year tenure was the longest of any German chancellor since Otto von Bismarck and oversaw the end of the Cold War and the German reunification. Kohl is widely regarded as the main architect of the German reunification and, together with French president François Mitterrand, the Maastricht Treaty, which established the European Union.
Kohl and Mitterrand were the joint recipients of the Charlemagne Prize in 1988. In 1998, Kohl was named Honorary Citizen of Europe by the European heads of state or government for his extraordinary work for European integration and cooperation, an honour previously only bestowed on Jean Monnet. In 1996, he won the prestigious Prince of Asturias Award in International Cooperation.
Kohl has been described as “the greatest European leader of the second half of the 20th century” by former U.S. Presidents George H. W. Bush and Bill Clinton.
Kohl was born in Ludwigshafen am Rhein (at the time part of Bavaria, now in Rhineland-Palatinate) Germany, the third child of Cäcilie (née Schnur; 1890–1979) and her husband Hans Kohl (1887–1975), a civil servant. His family was conservative and Roman Catholic, and remained loyal to the Catholic Centre Party before and after 1933. His older brother died in the Second World War as a teenage soldier. In the last weeks of the war, Kohl was also drafted, but he was not involved in any combat.
Kohl attended the Ruprecht elementary school, and continued at the Max-Planck-Gymnasium. In 1946, he joined the recently founded CDU. In 1947, he was one of the co-founders of the Junge Union-branch in Ludwigshafen. After graduating in 1950, he began to study law in Frankfurt am Main. In 1951, he switched to the University of Heidelberg where he majored in History and Political Science. In 1953, he joined the board of the Rhineland-Palatinate branch of the CDU. In 1954, he became vice-chair of the Junge Union in Rhineland-Palatinate. In 1955, he returned to the board of the Rhineland-Palatinate branch of the CDU.
Life before politics
After graduating in 1956 he became fellow at the Alfred Weber Institute of the University of Heidelberg where he was an active member of the student society AIESEC. In 1958, he received his doctorate degree for his thesis “The Political Developments in the Palatinate and the Reconstruction of Political Parties after 1945”. After that, he entered business, first as an assistant to the director of a foundry in Ludwigshafen and, in 1959, as a manager for the Industrial Union for Chemistry in Ludwigshafen. In this year, he also became chair of the Ludwigshafen branch of the CDU. In the following year, he married Hannelore Renner, whom he had known since 1948, and they had two sons.
Early political career
In 1960, he was elected into the municipal council of Ludwigshafen where he served as leader of the CDU party until 1969. In 1963, he was also elected into the Landtag and served as leader of the CDU party in that legislature. From 1966 until 1973, he served as the chair of the CDU’s state branch, and he was also a member of the Federal CDU board. After his election as party-chair, he was named as the successor to Peter Altmeier, who was minister-president of Rhineland-Palatinate at the time. However, after the Landtag-election which followed, Altmeier remained minister-president.
The 1976 Bundestag election
In the 1976 federal election, Kohl was the CDU/CSU’s candidate for chancellor. The CDU/CSU coalition performed very well, winning 48.6% of the vote. However they were kept out of government by the centre-left cabinet formed by the Social Democratic Party of Germany and Free Democratic Party (Germany), led by Social Democrat Helmut Schmidt. Kohl then retired as minister-president of Rhineland-Palatinate to become the leader of the CDU/CSU in the Bundestag. He was succeeded by Bernhard Vogel.
Leader of the opposition
In the 1980 federal elections, Kohl had to play second fiddle, when CSU-leader Franz Josef Strauß became the CDU/CSU’s candidate for chancellor. Strauß was also unable to defeat the SPD/FDP alliance. Unlike Kohl, Strauß did not want to continue as the leader of the CDU/CSU and remained Minister-President of Bavaria. Kohl remained as leader of the opposition, under the third Schmidt cabinet (1980–82).
On 17 September 1982, a conflict of economic policy occurred between the governing SPD/FDP coalition partners. The FDP wanted to radically liberalise the labour market, while the SPD preferred to guarantee the employment of those who already had jobs. The FDP began talks with the CDU/CSU to form a new government.
Chancellor of West Germany
Rise to power
On 1 October 1982, the CDU proposed a constructive vote of no confidence which was supported by the FDP. The motion carried, and, on 4 October, the Bundestag voted in a new CDU/CSU-FDP coalition cabinet, with Kohl as the chancellor. Many of the important details of the new coalition had been hammered out on 20 September, though minor details were reportedly still being hammered out as the vote took place.
Though Kohl’s election was done according to the Basic Law, some voices criticized the move as the FDP had fought its 1980 campaign on the side of the SPD and even placed Chancellor Schmidt on some of their campaign posters. Some voices went as far as denying that the new government had the support of a majority of the people. To answer this question, the new government aimed at new elections at the earliest possible date.
Since the Basic Law is restrictive on the dissolution of parliament, Kohl had to take another controversial move: he called for a confidence vote only a month after being sworn in, in which members of his coalition abstained. The ostensibly negative result for Kohl then allowed President Karl Carstens to dissolve the Bundestag in January 1983.
The move was controversial as the coalition parties denied their votes to the same man they had elected Chancellor a month before and whom they wanted to re-elect after the parliamentary election. However, this step was condoned by the German Federal Constitutional Court as a legal instrument and was again applied (by SPD Chancellor Gerhard Schröder and his Green allies) in 2005.
The second cabinet
In the federal elections of March 1983, Kohl won a resounding victory. The CDU/CSU won 48.8%, while the FDP won 7.0%. Some opposition members of the Bundestag asked the Federal constitutional court to declare the whole proceedings unconstitutional. It denied their claim.
The second Kohl cabinet pushed through several controversial plans, including the stationing of NATO midrange missiles, against major opposition from the peace movement.
On 24 January 1984, Kohl spoke before the Israeli Knesset, as the first Chancellor of the post-war generation. In his speech, he used liberal journalist Günter Gaus’ famous sentence that he had “the mercy of a late birth” (“Gnade der späten Geburt”).
On 22 September 1984 Kohl met the French president François Mitterrand at Verdun, where the Battle of Verdun between France and Germany had taken place during World War I. Together, they commemorated the deaths of both World Wars. The photograph, which depicted their minutes long handshake became an important symbol of French-German reconciliation. Kohl and Mitterrand developed a close political relationship, forming an important motor for European integration. Together, they laid the foundations for European projects, like Eurocorps and Arte. This French-German cooperation also was vital for important European projects, like the Treaty of Maastricht and the Euro.
In 1985, Kohl and US President Ronald Reagan, as part of a plan to observe the 40th anniversary of V-E Day, saw an opportunity to demonstrate the strength of the friendship that existed between Germany and its former foe. During a November 1984 visit to the White House, Kohl appealed to Reagan to join him in symbolizing the reconciliation of their two countries at a German military cemetery. As Reagan visited Germany as part of the G6 conference in Bonn, the pair visited Bergen-Belsen concentration camp on 5 May, and more controversially the German military cemetery in Bitburg, discovered to hold 49 members of the Waffen-SS buried there.
In 1986, more controversy was caused by an essay published in the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung on 25 April 1986 entitled “Land Without A History” written by one of Kohl’s advisors, the historian Michael Stürmer, in which Stürmer argued that West Germany lacked a history to be proud of, and called for effort on the part of the government, historians and the media to build national pride in German history. Though Stürmer insisted that he was writing on behalf of himself and not in an official capacity as the Chancellor’s advisor, many left-wing intellectuals claimed that Stürmer’s essay also expressed Kohl’s views.
In international politics Kohl was committed to European integration, maintaining close relations with the French president Mitterrand. Parallel to this he was committed to German reunification. Although he continued the Ostpolitik of his social-democratic predecessor, Kohl also supported Reagan’s more aggressive policies in order to weaken the USSR.
Kohl faced stiff opposition from the West German political left and was as well mocked upon for his provincial background, physical stature and simple language. Similar to historical French cartoons of Louis-Philippe of France, Hans Traxler depicted Kohl as a pear in the left leaning satirical journal Titanic. The German expression Birne (“pear”) became a widespread nickname and symbol for the Chancellor. Kohl became one of the most popular politicians in some regions of Eastern Germany and a greatly respected European statesman.
In 1996, Kohl received the Prince of Asturias Award in International Cooperation
In 1996, he was made honorary doctor of the Catholic University of Louvain.
In 1996, Kohl received an award for his humanitarian achievements from the Jewish organisation B’nai B’rith.
In 1998, he was only the second person to be awarded the Grand Cross in Special Design of the Order of Merit of the Federal Republic of Germany, the other being Konrad Adenauer.
In 1999, Kohl received Presidential Medal of Freedom from U.S. president Clinton.
In 2007, he received the Gold Medal of the Jean Monnet Foundation for Europe for his contribution to the unity of Europe.