The Corner

The Original Sin

Margaret Thatcher has been criticized — and reasonably enough — for her hostility to the idea of German unification after the Wall came down. In the view of her critics, her obsession with the ghosts of the past (and memories of her own wartime youth) had blinded her to the peaceful reality of modern Germany. And her critics were right. In the end, however, Thatcher’s stance did no harm. German unification went ahead. But she wasn’t alone in being driven by fears of a revived “too large” Germany in the heart of Europe. Others, like French president Mitterand and, grotesquely, the architect of German unity himself, German chancellor Helmut Kohl, felt the same way. Their conclusion: Adopting a common currency would anchor Germany, reassure the neighbors and maintain the apparently fragile peace. The disastrous consequences of their shared delusion have been as tragic and destructive as they were entirely unnecessary.

And on that topic, here’s a story that ought to intrigue the euroskeptics of Alternative für Deutschland, EUObserver reports:

Berlin – Former German Chancellor Helmut Kohl – the architect of German reunification – admitted he would never have won a referendum on the adoption of the euro in his country and said he acted “like a dictator” to see the common currency introduced. In an interview from 2002 but published only recently as part of a PhD thesis written by journalist Jens Peter Paul, Kohl said that the idea behind the euro was to avoid another war in Europe.

“Nations with a common currency never went to war against each other. A common currency is more than the money you pay with,” he said.

Of which nations might he have been thinking? I suppose it is true, if a little obscurely so, of the nations of the late nineteenth century Latin Monetary Union, but not, perhaps, quite so true of the peoples of Yugoslavia, trapped in a union too close for their liking, somewhat like, well, you know…

Back to EUObserver:

He recalled French President Francois Mitterand – and other European leaders of the time – repeatedly urged him to push through the common currency idea, which was not very popular in Germany.  “They thought – and were right about it – that if Germany doesn’t adopt the euro, nobody will. And about the German situation they said: if Helmut Kohl doesn’t push it through, nobody else will. Decisions emerged out of this core attitude,” Kohl said….

Germany’s chancellor between 1982 and 1998, Kohl said it took him “years” to build the trust and negotiation skills to convince other European leaders of his ideas and push them through.

“And it paid off, for instance in the Frankfurt Bank,” Kohl said, in reference to the concession made by France and Great Britain to allow the European Central Bank to be based in Frankfurt. With political parties springing up in favour of keeping Deutsche Mark and his own Christian-Democrats lukewarm to the idea of the euro, Kohl said a referendum on the matter would have been a lost cause. “I knew that I could never have won a referendum here in Germany. We would have lost any plebiscite about the introduction of the euro. That is very clear. I would have lost it,” he said. The odds would have been about seven to three against the euro, Kohl recalled. The Social-Democratic opposition would not have come out against it, but also “not gone to the battlefield in favour of the euro, surely not.”

In addition, the freshly reunified East Germans, happy to finally have their Deutsche Mark back, would never have voted in favour of abandoning it again for a new European currency. “In the end, representative democracy can only be successful if someone stands up and says: this is how it is. I link my existence to this political project. Then you get a whole bunch of people in your own party who say: If he falls, I fall too. And then it is not about the euro – it is a life philosophy.”

Bizarre, but also disastrous. The lack of that original democratic buy-in for the single currency is something that has bedeviled Angela Merkel’s efforts to “fix” the euro in the only way that could conceivably work (albeit at terrible financial and democratic cost) by moving to some form of budgetary union. Whether she should be trying to keep it going in its current form is an entirely different question (spoiler: she shouldn’t).

Back to Kohl:

“I wanted to bring the euro because to me it meant the irreversibility of European development… for me the euro was a synonym for Europe going further,” Kohl said.

But he admitted that in bringing this idea to life he “was like a dictator.”

Not a good word that, Mr. Kohl.

Asked if he had to accept the euro in return for French support for German reunification, Kohl replied:

“No more war – that was the first message. That was the point for men like Mitterand and Kohl, who in 1984 held hands on the Verdun battlefield. It wasn’t about German reunification first and foremost.”

Worthy sentiments. But which EU members were supposed to be in danger of fighting each other was, perhaps wisely, left unexplored : there would have been no sense in provoking mighty, ambitious and restless Luxembourg, the North Korea of the Ardennes.

The irony, of course, is that nothing — nothing — has done more to stir up old hatreds within the EU than the euro, the vampire currency that continues to drain the nations that so recklessly allowed it in.

Put a stake through it, Angela.

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