The former Chancellor's message—commitment to Europe above party interests—is needed today more than everby Daniela Schwarzer / November 12, 2015 / Leave a comment
At a time when Germany is struggling to find its European and international role, we will dearly miss the late former Chancellor Helmut Schmidt’s demanding and, at times, uncomfortable voice in the foreign policy debate.
Helmut Schmidt, who served as Chancellor from 1974-1982, was part of a political generation which rebuilt Germany as a true democracy, driven by the concern that everything should be done to prevent Germany from falling back into dictatorship and war. Important parts of this engagement were Schmidt’s efforts to anchor Germany in the European Communities, which, as he saw it, had to develop far beyond a single market. Reconciliation, friendship and trust with Germany’s European neighbours were at the heart of his European engagement. He was one of Germany’s Chancellors who built a solid friendship with his French counterpart, in his case Valéry Giscard d’Estaing, and devoted a lot of energy to a good relationship with the US.
With his training as an economist and experience as Defense and Finance Minister before he became Chancellor, Helmut Schmidt combined an appetite for economic thinking with his strategic view of the future of Germany in Europe and the West more broadly. Schmidt, who himself had worked in Jean Monnet’s Committee “For the United States of Europe” in 1955, understood Europe’s move towards integration as a gradual one.
The anecdote of Schmidt sitting in his modest home in Hamburg with Giscard d’Estaing in the mid-1970s, pencelling the architecture of the European Monetary System on papers scattered over the kitchen table, give a sense of his approach not only to policy making, but also much later to journalism as a publisher of the weekly paper Die Zeit. In appetite for detail, combined with grand, strategic thinking, he was unrivalled by his successors.
Well after his time as German Chancellor, Schmidt remained strongly involved in European and international issues, on security as much as on economic matters. In the 1980s, once again together with his friend Giscard, he backed efforts to push for further integration of the single market, engaging the private sector in efforts to help make the single currency happen. It was then carried forward on the highest political level by Francois Mitterrand and Helmut Kohl. The introduction of a European single currency, for…