German reunification and the new Europe

DISCLAIMER: All opinions in this column reflect the views of the author(s), not of EURACTIV Media network.

Germany is not primarily responsible for killing off the vision of a political Europe, writes Michel Rocard, a former prime minister of France and a former leader of the Socialist Party.

The following contribution is authored by Michel Rocard, a former prime minister of France and a former leader of the Socialist Party.

"I began writing this column shortly after a remarkable anniversary. 3 October 1990 was the effective date for the implementation of a stunning decision taken barely a month earlier.

On 23 August, East Germany's House of Representatives, the Volkskammer, voted for unilateral adherence by the East German Länder to West Germany's Constitution. Article 23 of the West German Basic Law permitted this, but neither West Germany's government nor its parliament had been consulted!

Reunification terms were subsequently defined in a Treaty signed in Berlin on 31 August 1990, and ratified by both the East and West German parliaments on 20 September. The Peace Treaty between the two German states and the four victorious Allies was signed in Moscow on the same day, and reunification was officially proclaimed on 3 October.

These events, accomplished by three actors, shook the world – and changed it forever. The first actor was Mikhail Gorbachev, who approved the act – the opening of the border between Austria and Hungary – that triggered the chain of events leading to reunification.

And it was Gorbachev who proclaimed that Soviet forces would not intervene to support troubled communist regimes against the will of their people – a declaration aimed directly at East Germany.

The second key figure was West German Chancellor Helmut Kohl, who rushed into the opened breach, overriding his Allies' caution, while the third actor was the East German people, who rushed into the streets, regardless of the risks, to demonstrate and push reunification forward.

These events had a profound impact on relations between Germany and its allies. The United States, Great Britain, and France all seemed to think that everything was happening too fast, that international security was at risk should the new Germany not confirm its membership in NATO (which Germany finally did). But for a few months, there were fears that Russia would demand Germany's withdrawal from the Alliance as a condition of its agreement to reunification.

While the US masked its doubts, Great Britain and France were less at ease. British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher limited herself to worried public statements, but French President François Mitterrand felt it necessary to improvise a visit to East Berlin, against the opinion of his Foreign Ministry and despite the French people's great enthusiasm for German reunification.

Mitterrand hoped to slow the process and to link negotiations to some international guarantees. His effort was a fiasco, remembered in Berlin to this day."

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(Published in partnership with Project Syndicate.)

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