Twenty-five years ago, Helmut Kohl was chancellor when the Berlin Wall fell and he went on to lay the ground work for a reunited Germany and the joint currency, the euro. It is no surprise that the former German chancellor is still taking a paternal interest in how Europe is handling its current challenges, in particular the situation with Russia.
In 1998, Mr. Kohl saw to it that Russia was able to join what, until then, was the Group of Seven of the world’s leading industrialized nations. Now the perplexed ex-chancellor is speaking out about Moscow's exclusion from this exclusive circle.
In his new book, "For the Sake of Europe,"("Aus Sorge um Europa"), he wrote that he found it "drastic and oppressive” that the group met in June in Brussels without Russia for the first time in decades. He contends the West should have been wiser and has now unnecessarily isolated Moscow, according to excerpts published Sunday by the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung newspaper.
“As a result, the West must be just as careful as Russia and the Ukraine that we do not lose everything that we already achieved,” he wrote in the book, which Mr. Kohl and European Commission president, Jean-Claude Juncker, presented in Frankfurt on Monday. It was Mr. Juncker's first day in office – and what more symbolic way to begin than with praise from Mr. Kohl, the legendary German "chancellor of unity."
Mr. Kohl, who is now wheelchair-bound and speaks with difficulty, described his 119-page book as "an important book for difficult times."
In today's Europe, Mr. Kohl writes that be observes "timidity," "lack of foresight" and "anxiety."
Referring to the financial crisis, he asks: "Did we all go mad, and lose our minds and our responsibility?"
Mr. Kohl comes across in the book like grandfather, who must stand by and watch while his selfish and inept heirs gamble away their legacy. Although, it would appear that all is not completely lost in the eyes of the former chancellor; he advocates patience, saying "Europe was always about a process of small steps."
The book has triggered criticism, especially on the topic of how to deal with Russia.
“Russia was not shut out by the West, but rather, it has isolated itself,” Andreas Schockenhoff, a member of the Christian Democratic Union (CDU), told Handelsblatt. “Russia broke the European legal and peace order.” It is up to the Russian government to take the necessary steps to normalize relationships with other countries, he said.
Did we all go mad, and lose our minds and our responsibility? Helmut Kohl, Former German Chancellor
Over the weekend, Angela Merkel, Germany’s chancellor and CDU leader, also defended the sanctions imposed on Russia because of the Ukraine crisis. The Russian annexation of Crimea in the Ukranian peninsula, violated the European post-war order, Ms. Merkel – who is not mentioned at all in the book – said during an appearance at the Maria-Magdalena-Church in Templin, in the northeastern state of Brandenburg.
“If we question everything, what our rules are, what our values are, because we are being disadvantaged, then we will not be taken seriously,” she said.
The disadvantage to Germany is economic and has hit hard. German exports to Russia in August dropped about 26.3 percent, to €2.3 billion ($2.8 billion), compared with the same month a year ago. That is the largest decline since the global economic crisis in 2009. From January to August, the drop was 16.6 percent, to €20.3 billion.
Mr. Schockenhoff sympathized with the concerns of businesses but stressed they should also be interested in a reliable Russia. With the elections in eastern Ukraine, however, Moscow showed once again that it would not stick to agreements, he added, so it was important to continue with diplomatic and economic pressure, since a military response was not an option.
In contrast, at an event hosted by Die Zeit newspaper, Sigmar Gabriel, leader of the Social Democrats and economics minister in the ruling right-left coalition, urged that a balance be struck between sanctions and dealings with Russia, because without Moscow, we could not, for example, resolve conflicts in Syria and Iraq.
"For the Sake of Europe" is published by Droemer, and will have an initial print run of 15,000. Droemer have published six of the former chancellor's books, some of which he had to dictate rather than write. He also recently published the third part of his memoirs to coincide with the 25th anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall, and unsuccessfully sued his ghostwriter, Heribert Schwan, over the publication of an unauthorised biography.
Jan Hildebrand is Handelsblatt's deputy Berlin bureau chief, and covers politics and finance. Frank Specht reports from Berlin on the labor market and trade unions. To contact the authors: [email protected], [email protected].