Helmut Kohl

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Economic recovery

Chancellor Helmut Kohl on board a new ICE train on its way from Bonn Main Station to Koblenz

Helmut Kohl in 1985

Photo: Bundesregierung/Schaack

Helmut Kohl (CDU) was Federal Chancellor of the Federal Republic of Germany for 16 years. Many people remember him as the “Chancellor of Unity” because it was during his term in office that West and East Germany were reunified.

Helmut Kohl came to power in 1982 following a constructive vote of no confidence. The FDP/SPD coalition had fallen apart and the FDP Members of the Bundestag plus the CDU and CSU Members of the Bundestag voted him in as Chancellor. It was the first change in government and chancellor in the history of West Germany that did not come about as the result of elections.

During the early elections to the Bundestag in March 1983, voters confirmed the coalition comprising the CDU/CSU and the FDP in office. Since those elections the Green Party has also been represented in the Bundestag.

In its first years in government, Helmut Kohl’s coalition introduced tax reforms to ensure that the people of Germany had more money in their pockets.

Chancellor Helmut Kohl (left) and US President Bill Clinton exchanging ties before a dinner in the Botanical Gardens

Helmut Kohl and US President Bill Clinton

Photo: Bundesregierung/Fassbender

It also reduced the country’s national debt. The result was strong economic recovery. This sound economic basis was to make it easier to tackle the enormous task of redeveloping the former eastern federal states after 1989.

The introduction of parental leave and the Child and Youth Services Act were hugely significant for families. In 1994 Helmut Kohl’s government introduced long-term nursing care insurance, on the basis of which those requiring long-term nursing care and their relatives are entitled to financial assistance.

As regards foreign policy, Helmut Kohl continued the policy of détente with the Eastern bloc countries and deepened transatlantic relations in the 1980s.

German reunification

People entering Germany from the GDR in their Trabant cars are greeted at the Helmstedt/Marienborn border crossing

The Fall of the Wall in 1989

Photo: Bundesregierung/Specht

The new Secretary-General of the Communist Party in the Soviet Union, Mikhail Gorbachev, introduced a policy of reform in his country. It will always be associated with two terms: “Glasnost” (openness) and “Perestroika” (renewal). It was not long before people in East Germany were also organising mass demonstrations and calling for more freedoms. They even continued after the East German leadership opened the country’s borders after 28 years on 9 November 1989.

Calls for German reunification got louder and louder. This led to the historic opportunity to reinstate Germany’s unity. And Helmut Kohl grasped the opportunity. He put forward a 10-point plan in the Bundestag whose ultimate goal was Germany’s reunification.

Germany’s neighbours had mixed reactions to its upcoming rapid unification . But Kohl made it clear that in his eyes a unified Germany could only be firmly embedded within the European Union. For him German unity and European unity were inextricably linked.

Chancellor Helmut Kohl , the President of the USSR, Mikhail Gorbachev (centre), and the Federal Foreign Minister, Hans-Dietrich Genscher, taking a rest during a walk

Helmut Kohl promoting unification in the Caucasus

Photo: Bundesregierung/Pfeil

Helmut Kohl put all his efforts within the group of Western allies and in dealings with the then Soviet Union into bringing about rapid reunification. In July 1990 he met Mikhail Gorbachev for what would be crucial talks.

Kohl’s policies also ensured than smaller neighbours in the East such as Poland and the Czech Republic gained trust in a German state that was growing together and thus getting larger.

The two parts of Germany were reunited on 3 October 1990. Monetary, economic and social union meant that people living in the former East Germany were able to share in the success of the social market economy model. Through the “solidarity pact” the people of Germany have since been providing the funding to ensure that living conditions in the eastern German federal states are brought more and more into line with those in the western federal states.

European Union

It was on account of the fact that Germany was able to reunite after 40 years of division with the consent of all its foreign policy partners and allies in peace and freedom that Helmut Kohl has become known as the “Chancellor of Unity”.

In the 1990s Helmut Kohl worked hard to ensure the European Union expanded and deepened. His services to Europe and his role as one of the “fathers” of the euro, Europe’s common currency, led to him being made a “Freeman of Europe”.