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Analysis
Kohl settles score with Schröder

Kohl settles score with Schröder

Former chancellor puts finger on European malaise 

by David Marsh

Tue 4 Nov 2014

Helmut Kohl, the former German chancellor, has chosen the 25th anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall to attack his Social Democratic successor Gerhard Schröder for alleged economic failures leading to the present parlous state of Europe’s single currency.

Kohl, 84, rarely seen in public after a bout of health problems, has re-emerged into the limelight with a new book, Aus Sorge um Europa – Ein Appell (Worrying about Europe – An Appeal.) It will become an instant best-seller in Germany not because of what it says (very little of which is either new or, probably, written by the man himself) but because its author commands abiding curiosity value.

Wheelchair-bound Kohl, who governed between 1982 and 1998, still cuts a physically imposing figure, but politically and intellectually is only a shadow of his former self. At a press conference in Frankfurt on Monday to introduce the book, Kohl spoke only haltingly, leaving the presentation mainly to Jean-Claude Juncker, the European Commission president, an old ally and sparring partner of Kohl as the former Luxembourg prime minister.

Presiding over the largely unexpected reunification of the formerly divided nation in October 1990, just 11 months after the wall crumbled, Kohl once more could play court to the world’s most influential nations. Relationships of mutual confidence built up with George Bush snr, the US president, and with Mikhail Gorbachev, the Soviet leader, proved invaluable in allowing the two halves of Germany to come together again as part of Nato and the European Community, fulfilling a pledge on reunification made in the 1950s that many Germans believed would never be redeemed.

Although he criticises Schröder, who was in power between 1998 and 2005, over shortcomings in budgetary policies, Kohl wades into another current controversy by backing his successor’s pro-Russian stance. Schröder has attracted considerable ire, particularly from the US, over his support for Russian President Vladimir Putin. But Kohl’s book takes a highly ambivalent line over Chancellor Angela Merkel’s backing for western sanctions against Moscow, saying it is a mistake to isolate Moscow over Ukraine.

Kohl reserves his strongest invective for Schröder’s failure to keep to the letter of the Stability and Growth pact agreed in 1997 to provide guidelines on euro member states’ budgetary policies, which was suspended in 2003-05 by both France and Germany during their phase of economic weakness. Kohl labels the act as ‘infamy’ and a ‘betrayal’ of cooperation between Germany and France.

The book does not mention that the overshooting by both countries was relatively minor and, in Germany’s case, was an essential bargaining chip used by Schröder to win compliance from trade unions for labour market reforms that paved the way for a revival of Germany’s competitiveness later in the 2000s.

Kohl has been in the news in recent weeks in a lawsuit he has brought over words attributed to him by two German journalists citing from unpublished tape recordings, in which he issues a stream of ribald or mildly defamatory judgements over former or serving German politicians, including Angela Merkel. His book will not go down as a triumph of historical or political analysis. But in his choice of subject matter, and the various diatribes he launches in myriad directions, Kohl inadvertently puts his finger on a substantial reason for Europe’s current malaise: rightly or wrongly, Germany is often seen as marching out of line with the rest of the continent.

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