Germany and Europe in the Second Half of the 20th Century

German translation, Italian translation

By Edmund Ohlendorf of IWB Radolfzell e.V., GERMANY, 1997

(English translation of the German original by Gillian Johnson, I.T.C.G. "L.B. Alberti", Abano Terme, ITALY, 1998)

Contribution to the EDUVINET "European Identity" subject

I. Why were Europe-oriented politics so important for Germany for forty years?

The Third Reich had tried to occupy large areas or Europe and bring them under its own rule. That would have ended in a Europe under the swastika, a horrific idea that, thank heaven, was stopped by Germany's defeat. The opposite happened with Germany losing all influence on European history in 1945 and becoming the object of the Allies policies.

Understandably feelings of hate and revenge influenced the thinking of many who had been under German occupation and people wanted above all to ensure that Germany would never again pose a threat.

This was why the Allies started discussing various proposals for defining German territorial limits while the war was still in progress. France was obviously by far the most interested in a divided Germany, while for various reasons the other three Allies backed away from their original plans to divide the country after the end of the war.

In World War II about fifty million people were killed, many once flourishing cities were reduced to ruins and about 20m refugees in Europe alone were looking for a new home. In 1945 and 1946 much of the population of Europe was struggling to survive. It was in this period of misery and hopelessness that Winston Churchill held a remarkable speech on the future role of Europe as well as of Germany and France. ( Source: Churchill's speech in Zürich, 19. 9. 1946)

In this speech he said, " We must build a kind of United States of Europe ". He saw this as the only way to overcome the horrors of the past and give the peoples of Europe a chance of reconstruction in freedom, peace and security. He continued," The first step in the reconstruction of a European family must bring together France and Germany". These two states were to take over the leadership on the continent.

This, however, remained only a vision at first. In reality World War II had so weakened the peoples of Europe that the two new world powers, the USA and the Soviet Union, were able to share the spoils. The new order resulting from this, with the Soviet threat on the one hand and American protection on the other, determined world politics for 40 years.

The Iron Curtain split Germany as well as Europe in two halves, one a democracy in the west, the other dominated by Moscow in the east. It was clear to Germans that the question of reunification from now on was closely bound up with the development of Europe. This was also written into the introduction to the constitution as the aim of all policies. ( Source: Introduction to the Constitution 1949, 1990).

At the beginning, however, an active German foreign policy aimed at reunification had practically no chance at all. Even a policy of creating more European co-operation was extremely limited, although there were attempts to make Churchill's suggestion reality. (Source: Adenauer's proposal of complete union between France and Germany, 7. 3. 1950).

The real feelings of the French and probably of most Germans were not yet ready for such prospects five years after the end of World War II.

The French fear of the potential arms factory of the Germans in the Ruhr was deep -seated and when on 9th. May, 1950 the French Foreign Secretary Robert Schumann moved a resolution to put the German and French coal and steel industries under joint Franco-German control, Chancellor Adenauer welcomed the idea immediately, as any step towards European co-operation was in line with his vision of a United Europe. As he explained on 21st. May 1950, this would on the one hand with the inclusion of Great Britain never be so strong as to be seen as a threat to one of the two world powers ( USA and USSR), but on the other hand would be strong enough to tip the balance effectively in favour of peace.

But it was only the outbreak of the Korean War on 25th. June,1950 that prepared the ground in Europe for new European thinking on security, although this was strongly influenced by American interests. France was in a predicament. On the one hand it was under pressure from America to agree to a German contribution to European defence, which was unacceptable to a large proportion of the French population. All were looking for solutions that avoided subjecting France to America's will, or which at least counteracted the American tendency to make decisions in its own interests in western Europe. The Schumann and Pleven plans were worked out to prevent the Anglo-Saxons dictating in important matters of German development and to guarantee France a preferential position in all matters of European development and new scope in her diplomacy (I). (Source: Pleven Plan, 24. 10. 1950, European Common Defence).

While efforts were made to create a political superstructure to remove German development from an exclusively American dimension, nobody lost sight of the tough reality of France's expectations of US loans to cover a budget deficit of 270 billion francs for 1951. This sum represented more than a third of the defence budget that had swelled to 850 billions or 12% of the gross national product because of the Indo-China involvement alone with the commitment to extra expenses for European defence. All these factors added fuel to the discussion on foreign policy which was now in full swing in France and ended three years later with a clear stop to the road that Schumann, Pleven and Monnet had started on.(2)

The decisive debate (30th.August,1954) in the National Assembly followed a huge campaign with Gaullists and communists occasionally united and with the old props of anti-German feeling, from the Prussian jack-boot crushing all to the caricature of the "boche" with bull-neck and low forehead.But in the battle of arguments that the opponents of the treaty carried on to the field objections were raised that had to be taken more seriously and also impressed the more thoughtful: "How can we ally ourselves for better for worse with a Federal Republic that is hampered by an enormous territorial problem and an unsolved national question? And how are we to rely on a defence system which would have its hands tied if Germany were to be reunified?" (3)

As we have now seen, this was not the case in 1990.

But let us go back to 1954. This was the year of destiny for France, Germany and also for Europe, the year when France had not only lost its political influence in Indo-China but also to a large extent in Europe where it had had to leave it to the Americans - as we now know - for more than 40 years, until President Mitterand.

But there were other considerations for our neighbours in the north and west, especially the Danes and Belgians. Because of the German problem the Belgian foreign secretary Paul Henri Spaak supported a European federation and a European army. He challenged the members of his own party to adopt a "policy of bold trust" towards the young West German state and not to repeat the mistakes of western politics after 1918, "whereby they later handed Hitler on a plate what they had refused to give the friendly Weimar Republic." The only possible solution to the German problem would be "to incorporate Germany on an equal rights basis in a European federation". Spaak's words and similar ideas of his contemporaries' reflect the experiences of history with the Europeans of the centre. In the Western European, or European, integration of Germany they saw the key to a lasting solution to the German question. This concept was far more likely to be successful than an attempt to resist the political, economic and military inclusion of West Germany or the whole of Germany in the states of (western) Europe. Spaak emphasised repeatedly in debates on security and European policy in the Belgian parliament that nobody could guarantee neutralisation and demilitarisation of Germany for ever. There could be no long-term guarantee of security with a neutral or neutralised Germany that was not integrated into Europe but was left to its own devices. Germany, therefore, as a "military vacuum" in the heart of Europe, as was argued in the debate on Germany and Europe in the Danish Folketing, would be a danger to peace and stability in Europe.(4)

1954 was a very successful year for Germany, because in the Paris Treaty of 23. 10. 1954 the Federal Republic

(Source: The Treaty of Paris: Geschichte in Quellen pp. 408-410)

Chancellor Adenauer had fulfilled his aim:

  1. of setting the Federal Republic firmly within the West European Community against his own temptations of seesaw politics between east and west.
  2. of obtaining maximum security for the freedom of West Berlin and
  3. the assurance of the western powers that they would work together towards German reunification.

The price Germany paid for this was arming half a million soldiers against a possible Soviet attack on Western Europe.

But this did not fundamentally remove our European neighbours' deep-seated distrust of a strengthened Germany. As both close military as well as political co-operation at European level had failed in 1954, an effort was made with so-called partial integration in the economic field. (Source: Adenauer sieht Teilintegration nur als ersten Schritt zur Gesamtintegration an 29.4.1954)

The fundamental idea that economic integration successes must needs be followed by political ones has been the strategy of leading European politicians to the present day and has remained behind Chancellor Helmut Kohl's thinking. This policy will - if successful - come to a kind of conclusion with the introduction of a single currency. It must be borne in mind that the long-term aim was always political union of Europe as a means of preventing war in the region. The way to achieve this was by economic steps towards partial integration.

I do not wish, however, to describe here the very successful European economic policies, but to return to my initial question:

Why were European-oriented politics so important for Germany for forty years

Eventual reunification of both parts of Germany was always of course the goal of West German policy. But all knew only too well that this goal could only be reached through a complete change in the situation of the whole of Europe. Timothy Garton Ash describes this most aptly in his book "In the Name of Europe":

While the Bonn government declared itself in favour of and worked towards an all-European solution, it was also thinking and working for an all-German one. Through a demonstratively peaceful, co-operative and "European" attitude everywhere the Federal Republic built up "Vertrauenskapital" – "capital of trust" –as Genscher put it. These reserves of trust were used like Deutschmark reserves - and this "Vertrauenskapital" also meant trust in German capital – powerfully and successfully to obtain German unification. When Genscher said, " Our foreign policy is all the more national the more European it is", he was describing an apparent paradox – and a true ambiguity.

This is a clear echo of Stresemann. If one looks for parallels in the earlier history of German foreign policy, one finds that the blend of Adenauer and Bismarck tradition, as identified by Waldemar Besson in 1970 had come closer to Stresemann's tradition in the 80's - a model that Kohl and Genscher were glad to confirm. As with Stresemann there was now another attempt to fulfil national and revisionist aims through the patient but active rehabilitation of Germany within the international community, through peaceful negotiations, harmonising participation in Europe and reconciliation on all sides - although there remained large qualitative differences between the east and west Locarnos. As with Stresemann , there was again a mixture of real interest in Europe and genuine nationalism which was difficult to analyse, a more or less simulated European interest in outside affairs, but also a more or less simulated nationalism for certain groups in one's own country, such as the Germans in the regions lost in the east (5).

The comparison with Stresemann policy is hardly relevant to the 80's, as Chancellor Helmut Kohl had pledged himself with all his might and main to a vision of a united Europe within the bounds of the European community. Extending this to the southwest and strengthening its institutions had greater priority than a policy directed towards the east. This was, however, never lost sight of by Foreign Minister Genscher.

There were several reasons for a policy of closer Western European collaboration:

When this - with other factors - happened in the Soviet Union, the GDR's days were numbered.

II. Will Europe continue to be important for a reunified Germany?

To begin with, we Germans were to realise in the years following 1990 that actually only the Americans in 1954 as in 1989, were not afraid of Germany and persuaded with their resolution both the Soviet Union as well as Great Britain and France that German reunification was more advantageous to Europe than continued division.

In particular Mrs. Thatcher and a "great friend" of Germany, François Mitterand, showed in 1990 that their thinking was strongly rooted in the nineteenth century and Germans can only hope that their thinking is meanwhile largely outdated in the British and French populations.

In his essay "The international settlement on reunification" Ulrich Albrecht, who took part in the 2 + 4 negotiations, summarised some thought-provoking concepts in Germany.

The British and French attitude is easy to understand. People had counted on the Soviet veto. At least they staked all on time. The American Robert Blackwill on repeating American priorities: "If Great Britain and France had had the choice the option of bringing about German unification in the interest of German membership of the Atlantic Alliance and the option of exercising their four-power-rights to unite the two German states in a prolonged evolutionary process, then they would certainly have opted for the second, procrastining possibility." François Mitterand was furious at the first concession of the Soviet President in 1990. "What is Gorbachev thinking of? He assured me he would remain firm and is giving in on everything! What did Kohl give him? How many million marks?" Months later on the occasion of a journey to Moscow at the end of May,1990, the 2+4 negotiations were in full swing. Mitterand again said,"Gorbachev will require me to oppose German reunification. I would do it gladly if I thought that he would remain steadfast. But why should I fall out with Kohl if Gorbachev leaves me in the lurch three days later?"

Margaret Thatcher writes very candidly:"If there is a case where a foreign policy of mine has quite clearly failed, then that was my policy on German reunification." "The problem was", Mrs. Thatcher went on,referring to a conversation with Mitterand, "that there was in reality no power in Europe to stop reunification." Mrs. Thatcher also wrongly thought that Gorbachev had beed "bought" by Kohl: "The quid pro quo was soon to become clear. At the Crimea meeting in July the West German Chancellor agreed to give a sum of money that would seem enormous to the Soviets, although they would in fact have been able to obtain more:"

The details in the about-turn in British and French policy on reunification can be found in American sources. Robert D. Blackwill gives the second half of April,1990 immediately before the beginning of the 2+4 negotiations at ministerial level, as the turning point:"The President met Prime Minister Thatcher in the Bermudas on 13th. April and President Mitterand in Key Largo on 19th. April. On 25th. April he had a long telephone conversation with Kohl. After these intensive efforts of the President's the British and French governments finally abandoned their delaying tactics and for the first time declared their willingness to end their four-power-rights on reunification ."

The veto-coalition was not only untenable for reasons of power politics. It would have failed the test also because the three powers could not openly oppose a great principle of international politics, that of self-determination of nations, particularly the reinforced respect of the principle had marked the universal political changes of 1998/90 .Thus it was the rare parallelism of power interests with a fundamental political principle, and not the diplomatic skills of just a few political figures that quickly led to the general agreement to a new reunification of the Germans (6).

It is regrettable that only the power of events and Helmut Kohl's avowal to make President Mitterand change his mind could produce a new concept on Germany's further role in Europe.

In April,1990 Mitterand presented his vision of the "three circles" in a meeting with Kohl - a geometrical figure that reminded the historian of an earlier usage against a very different background: Churchill had drawn one in 19953 for Adenauer on the back of a menu. (Source: Winston Churchill's Drawings).

Whereas Churchill's three circles - the US, Great Britain and the Commonwealth, and a united Europe - were polycentric and overlapping, Mitterand's were concentric. The inner circle was France and Germany. The next was the rest of the then EEC. In the third circle was the whole continent of Europe. One could call it the concept of a "Little Europe":. It originated in the (or at least "a") tradition of the original European community of the early 50's, and even more so from the period after the Elysée Treaty between France and the Federal Republic. It was a vision of Europe that coincided greatly with Helmut Kohl's (7).

The question whether Europe will continue to be important for Germany depends greatly on France, for without close co-operation between Germany and France - as Winston Churchill had already said in 1946 - there would be no revival of Europe as an independent force in world politics.

All European states are too weak today to change things alone on the world stage. Therefore they can only choose between ever closer co-operation in Europe or more less becoming tools or auxiliaries of American interests.

This development is for example well under way in NATO or in the electronics industry and in the developing computer society or in global movement of capital. A critical attitude to this phenomenon does not mean anti-American feeling, but raises the question of what values we Europeans want to live with in the future.We Germans have no cause to complain of American politics over the last fifty years, for they have given us more than France's "classe politique" (8) was prepared to, not to speak of Great Britain here.

III. "European Identity - a future test for Germany in Europe?

Germany's pro-European politics in the second half of the twentieth century had essentially three motives:

  1. To regain national sovereignty, which was only possible through identification with western European and US interests.
  2. The partial task of national rights in favour of European institutions was a chance to eliminate revival of national rivalry in Europe and to change hegemonic ways of thinking among Germans to more co-operative solutions (restraining German expansionist hankerings).
  3. Only through identification with an all-Europe peace order was reunification of both parts of Germany feasible.

None might think that Germany's Europe-oriented politics up into the 1990's were only an instrument of purely national interests. This is not the whole truth. And since all three above-mentioned motives cease to exist in the twenty-first century , the question must again be asked: What is Europe to mean to Germany and all other European nations in future? That is, in concrete terms:

Is the European Union a supra or transnational form of organisation that can do more for its citizens than the classic national state of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries and what are we prepared to sacrifice for it?

The increased efficiency would mean an increase in

Once it is recognised that the European Union can bring this about, the problem of there being no European identity will disappear. But obviously there are large sections of the German and European population that are not convinced of such possibilities and are not yet able to see that identification with all-European interests can promote their own welfare in the medium and long term better than going it alone, whatever short-term advantages this might have.

Certainly no country in Europe will get European increased value at zero cost, it will depend very much on what price people are prepared to pay for what increased value.

It is in this very context that all educational institutions have an important and responsible task before them.

  1. WEISENFELD, Ernst: Frankreichs Geschichte seit dem Krieg. Von De Gaulle bis Mitterand (Storia francese dopo la guerra. Da De Gaulle a Mitterand). (2· edizione rivista e aggiornata, Beck'sche Schwarze Reihe, vol.218, München, 1982) p.81 sgg.
  2. WEISENFELD, Ernst: Storia francese dopo la guerra. op. cit. p.72 sgg.
  3. WEISENFELD, Ernst: Storia francese dopo la guerra. op. cit. p.83
  4. 4. GRUNER, Wolf D.: Die deutsche Frage in Europa 1800-1990 (La questione tedesca in Europa 1800-1900). (Serie Piper, vol. 1680, München 1993), p.271
  5. GARTON ASH, Timothy: Im Namen Europas. Deutschland und der geteilte Kontinent (In nome dell'Europa. La Germania e il continente diviso). (Fischer tascabili 13514, Frankfurt 1996), p.523 sgg.
  6. ALBRECHT, Ulrich: Die internationale Regelung der Wiedervereinugung. Von einer "No-win" Situation zum raschen Erfolg (Il regolamento internazionale della riunificazione. Da una situazione di "No-win" al successo rapido). in: Aus Politik und Zeitgeschichte (dalla politica e dalla storia contemporanea), inserto al settimanale "Das Parlament"(Il Parlamento) B 40/96, Bonn, 27 settembre 1996), p.10 sgg.
  7. GARTON ASH, Timothy: In nome dell'Europa op. cit. p.572
  8. FRITSCH-BOURNAZEL, Renata: Europa und die deutsche Einheit (L'Europa e l'unità tedesca) (ed. Bonn aktuell, München, 1990), p.242

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