Helmut Kohl

From New World Encyclopedia
Revision as of 16:08, 27 March 2018 by Jennifer Tanabe (talk | contribs)
(diff) ← Older revision | Latest revision (diff) | Newer revision → (diff)

Helmut Kohl
Helmut Kohl

Chancellor of Germany
In office
1 October 1982 – 27 October 1998
Preceded by Helmut Schmidt
Succeeded by Gerhard Schröder

Born April 3, 1930
Ludwigshafen am Rhein, Germany
Died June 16, 2017 (aged 87)
Ludwigshafen, Germany
Political party CDU
Spouse Hannelore Kohl
Profession Historian, Political scientist
Religion Roman Catholic

Helmut Josef Michael Kohl (April 3, 1930 – June 16, 2017) was a German conservative politician and statesman. He was Chancellor of Germany from 1982 to 1998 (West Germany between 1982 and 1990) and the chairman of the Christian Democratic Union (CDU) from 1973-1998. His 16 year tenure was the longest of any German chancellor since Otto von Bismarck. During his time in office, he was the architect of the German reunification and together with French President François Mitterrand the Maastricht Treaty which created the European Union. Kohl and François Mitterrand were the joint recipients of the Charlemagne Award in 1988.

In 1998, Kohl was named Honorary Citizen of Europe by the European heads of state or government for his extraordinary work for European integration and cooperation, an honor previously only bestowed on Jean Monnet. His life's work was motivated by a desire to establish enduring pan-European institutions to sustain peace based on economic prosperity and social justice. He situated Germany firmly within Europe as a partner with others, especially with France, perhaps pushing the European vision of unity further than some would or could tolerate (Great Britain under Margaret Thatcher opted out of the Social chapter of Maastricht, as her successors did out of the common currency.) He may claim more credit for re-unification than can properly be attributed to him. There is no doubt, however, that his commitment to making this happen was highly significant in enabling the dream to become a reality. With a doctorate degree in hand and a career in business, he could have had a successful life outside of politics. However, he chose instead to dedicate himself to the task of German and of European reconstruction following the devastation of World War II. An economically prosperous Germany, in his view, could maintain pride in German identity without military ambition.



Kohl was born in Ludwigshafen am Rhein, Palatinate, Germany, to Cäcilie (née Schnur; 1890–1979) and her husband Hans Kohl (1887–1975), a civil servant. He was the third child born into this conservative, Roman Catholic family which, before and after 1933, remained loyal to the Catholic Centre Party. His older brother died in the Second World War as a teenage soldier. In the last weeks of the war, Helmut Kohl was also drafted, but he was not involved in any combat.

Kohl attended the Ruprecht elementary school, and continued at the Max Planck Gymnasium. In 1946, he joined the recently founded CDU. In 1947, he was one of the co-founders of the Junge Union-branch in Ludwigshafen. After graduating in 1950, he began to study law in Frankfurt am Main. In 1951, he switched to the University of Heidelberg where he majored in History and Political Science. In 1953, he joined the board of the Rhineland-Palatinate branch of the CDU. In 1954, he became vice-chair of the Junge Union in Rhineland-Palatinate. In 1955, he returned to the board of the Rhineland-Palatinate branch of the CDU.

Life before politics

After graduating in 1956, he became a fellow at the Alfred Weber Institute of the University of Heidelberg. In 1958, he received his doctorate degree for his thesis, The Political Developments in the Palatinate and the Reconstruction of Political Parties after 1945. After that, he entered business, first as an assistant to the director of a foundry in Ludwigshafen and, in 1959, as a manager for the Industrial Union for Chemistry in Ludwigshafen. In this year, he also became chair of the Ludwigshafen branch of the CDU. In the following year, he married Hannelore Renner, whom he had known since 1948: They now have two sons.

Early political career

In 1960, he was elected into the municipal council of Ludwigshafen where he served as leader of the CDU party until 1969. In 1963, he was also elected into the Landtag of Rhineland-Palatinate and served as leader of the CDU party in that legislature. From 1966 until 1973, he served as the chair of the CDU, and he was also a member of the Federal CDU board. After his election as party-chair, he was named as the successor to Peter Altmeier, who was minister-president of Rhineland-Palatinate at the time. However, after the Landtag-election which followed, Altmeier remained minister-president.

Minister-president of Rhineland-Palatinate

On May 19, 1969, Kohl was elected minister-president of Rhineland-Palatinate, as the successor to Altmeier. During his term as minister-president, Kohl founded the University of Trier-Kaiserlautern and enacted territorial reform. Also in 1969, Kohl became the vice-chair of the federal CDU party.

In 1971, he was a candidate to become federal chairman, but was not elected. Rainer Barzel took the position instead. In 1972, Barzel attempted to force a cabinet crisis in the SPD/FDP government, which failed, leading him to step down. In 1973, Kohl succeeded him as federal chairman; he retained this position until 1998.

The 1976 Bundestag election

In the 1976 federal election, Kohl was the CDU/CSU's candidate for chancellor. The CDU/CSU coalition performed very well, winning 48.6 percent of the vote. However they were kept out of the center-left cabinet formed by the Social Democratic Party of Germany and Free Democratic Party, led by Social Democrat Helmut Schmidt. Kohl then retired as minister-president of Rhineland-Palatinate to become the leader of the CDU/CSU in the Bundestag. He was succeeded by Bernhard Vogel.

Leader of the opposition

In the 1980 federal elections, Kohl had to play second fiddle, when CSU-leader Franz Josef Strauß became the CDU/CSU's candidate for chancellor. Strauß was also kept out of government by the SPD/FDP alliance. Unlike Kohl, Strauß did not want to continue as the leader of the CDU/CSU and remained Minister-President of Bavaria. Kohl remained as leader of the opposition, under the third Schmidt cabinet (1980-82).

On September 17, 1982, a conflict of economic policy occurred between the governing SPD/FDP coalition partners. The FDP wanted to radically liberalize the labor market, while the SPD preferred to guarantee the employment of those who already had jobs. The FDP began talks with the CDU/CSU to form a new government.

Chancellor of West Germany

Rise to power

On October 1, 1982, the CDU proposed a constructive vote of no confidence which was supported by the FDP. Such a motion had been proposed once before, against Brandt in 1972. The motion carried, and, on October 3, the Bundestag voted in a new CDU/CSU-FDP coalition cabinet, with Kohl as the chancellor. Many of the important details of the new coalition had been hammered out on September 20, though minor details were reportedly still being hammered out as the vote took place.

The first cabinet

The foundation of this cabinet is still considered controversial. Although the new cabinet was legally legitimate according to the Basic Law, it was contentious because, during the 1980 elections, the FDP and CDU/CSU were not allied. To answer this problem, Kohl did something more controversial. He called a confidence vote only a month after being sworn in. Members of the coalition partners abstained from voting, thereby using a constitutional loophole to allow Federal President Karl Carstens to dissolve the Bundestag in January 1983, an act allowed only under exceptional circumstances by the German Basic Law. However, this step was approved by the German Federal Constitutional Court as a legitimate instrument to solve a current crisis.

The second cabinet

In the federal elections of March 1983, Kohl won a smashing victory. The CDU/CSU won 48.8 percent, while the FDP won 7.0 percent. Some opposition members of the Bundestag asked the Federal constitutional court to declare the whole proceedings unconstitutional. It denied their claim.

The second Kohl cabinet pushed through several controversial plans, including the stationing of NATO midrange missiles, against major opposition from the peace movement.

On January 24, 1984, Kohl spoke before the Israeli Knesset, as the first Chancellor of the post-war generation. In his speech, he used Günter Gaus' famous sentence, that he had "the mercy of a late birth."

On September 22, 1984, Kohl met the French president François Mitterrand at Verdun, where the Battle of Verdun between France and Germany had taken place during World War I. Together, they commemorated the deaths of both World Wars. The photograph, which depicted their minutes long handshake became an important symbol of French-German reconciliation. Kohl and Mitterrand developed a close political relationship, forming an important motor for European integration. Together, they laid the foundations for European projects, like Eurocorps and Arte. This French-German cooperation also was vital for important European projects, like the Treaty of Maastricht and the Euro.

In 1985, Kohl and U.S. President Ronald Reagan, as part of a plan to observe the 40th anniversary of V-E Day, saw an opportunity to demonstrate the strength of the friendship that existed between Germany and its former foe. During a November 1984 visit to the White House, Kohl appealed to Reagan to join him in symbolizing the reconciliation of their two countries at a German military cemetery. As Reagan visited Germany as part of the G6 conference in Bonn, the pair visited Bergen-Belsen concentration camp on May 5, and more controversially the German military cemetery in Bitburg, discovered to hold 49 members of the Waffen-SS buried there. Kohl emphasized that the two countries shared common values. In his farewell speech for President Reagan on June 12, 1987, Kohl noted that German-American relations were based on

…our commitment to freedom, the common heritage and civilization of our peoples, which rest upon the principles of democracy, individual freedom, and the rule of law.

Bilateral differences in opinions, he stated,

…only follow naturally from major differences in size, geography, and global significance8 and cannot shake the foundation of common values.

In 1986, much controversy was caused by an essay published in the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung on April 25, 1986, entitled "Land ohne geschichte" ("Land Without A History") written by one of Kohl's advisers, the historian Michael Stürmer, in which Stürmer argued that West Germans lacked a history to be proud of, and called for effort on the part of the government, historians, and the media to be build national pride in German history.[1] Through Stürmer insisted that he was writing on behalf of himself and not in an official capacity as the Chancellor's adviser, many left-wing intellectuals claimed that Stürmer's essay also expressed Kohl's views although his remarks to Reagan suggest that his view of German identity was that, after the Third Reich this required reconstructing to ensure that the principles of democracy and freedom could never again be sacrificed on the altar of German pride and territorial ambition. Kohl stressed that as the Federal Republic is constitutionally the heir of the Reich, it has not denied this legacy and has had to struggle with a collective feeling of guilt.

The third cabinet

After the federal elections of 1987 Kohl won a slightly reduced majority and formed his third cabinet. The SPD's candidate for chancellor was the Minister-President of North Rhine-Westphalia, Johannes Rau.

In 1987, Kohl received East German leader Erich Honecker—the first ever visit by an East German head of state to West Germany. This is generally seen as a sign that Kohl pursued Ostpolitik, a policy of detente between East and West. Following the breach of the Berlin Wall in 1989, Kohl's handling of the East German issue would become the turning point of his chancellorship.

The road to reunification

Helmut Kohl in Krzyżowa (Kreisau), Poland, 1989. The ethnic German inhabitants of Silesia were particularly happy to welcome him.

Taking advantage of the historic political changes occurring in East Germany, Kohl presented a ten point plan for "Overcoming of the division of Germany and Europe" without consulting his coalition partner, the FDP, or the Western Allies. In February 1990, he visited the Soviet Union seeking a guarantee from Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev that the USSR would allow German reunification to proceed. On May 18, 1990, he signed an economic and social union treaty with East Germany. Against the will of the president of the German federal bank, he allowed a 1:1 conversion course for wages, interest and rent between the West and East Marks. In the end, this policy would seriously hurt companies in the New Länder. Together with Foreign Minister Hans-Dietrich Genscher, Kohl was able to resolve talks with the former Allies of World War II to allow German reunification and the expansion of the NATO into the former East German state.

Convincing them that an enlarged Germany would not become a threat to the peace of the world was, perhaps, his most significant accomplishment. On October 3, 1990, the East German state was abolished and its territory reunified with West Germany. After the fall of the Berlin Wall Kohl, confirmed that historically German territories east of the Oder-Neisse line were definitively part of the Republic of Poland, thereby finally ending the West German territorial claims. In 1993, Kohl confirmed, in a treaty with the Czech Republic, that Germany would no longer bring forward territorial claims as to the pre-1945 ethnic German so-called Sudetenland. This was a disappointment for the German Heimatvertriebene, or displaced persons.

Chancellor of all Germany

After the 1990 elections—the first free, fair and democratic all-German elections since the Weimar Republic era—Kohl won by a landslide over opposition candidate and prime minister of Saarland, Oskar Lafontaine. He formed the Cabinet Kohl IV.

After the federal elections of 1994 Kohl was narrowly re-elected. He defeated the Minister-President of Rhineland-Palatinate Rudolf Scharping. The SPD was however able to win a majority in the Bundesrat, which significantly limited Kohl's power. In foreign politics, Kohl was more successful, for instance getting Frankfurt am Main as the seat for the European Central Bank.

By the late 1990s, the aura surrounding Kohl had largely worn off amid rising unemployment figures. He was heavily defeated in the 1998 federal elections by the minister-president of Lower Saxony, Gerhard Schröder.

Retirement and legal troubles

A red-green coalition government led by Schröder replaced Kohl's government on October 27, 1998. He immediately resigned as CDU leader and largely retired from politics. However, he remained a member of the Bundestag until he decided not to run for reelection in the 2002 election.


Kohl's life after politics was characterized by the CDU-party finance scandal and by developments in his personal life.

A party financing scandal became public in 1999, when it was discovered that the CDU had received and maintained illegal funding under his leadership.

Investigations by the Bundestag into the sources of illegal CDU funds, mainly stored in Geneva bank accounts, revealed two sources. One was the sale of German tanks to Saudi Arabia (kickback question), while the other was the privatization fraud in collusion with the late French President François Mitterrand who wanted 2,550 unused allotments in the former East Germany for the then French owned Elf Aquitaine. In December 1994, the CDU majority in the Bundestag enacted a law that nullified all rights of the current owners. Over 300 million DM in illegal funds were discovered in accounts in the canton Geneva. The fraudulently acquired allotments were then privatized as part of Elf Aquitaine and ended up with TotalFinaElf, now Total S.A., after amalgamation.

Kohl himself claimed that Elf Aquitaine had offered (and meanwhile made) a massive investment in East Germany's chemical industry together with the takeover of 2,000 gas stations in Germany which were formerly owned by national oil company Minol. Elf Aquitaine is supposed to have financed CDU illegally, as ordered by Mitterrand, as it was usual practice in African countries.

Kohl and other German and French politicians defended themselves that they were promoting reconciliation and cooperation between France and Germany for the sake of European integration and peace, and that they had no personal motives for accepting foreign party funding.

These scandal matters are still under investigation. The German-Canadian businessman Karlheinz Schreiber, a longtime associate of Kohl's late CDU political rival Franz Josef Strauss, is wanted by Bavarian prosecutors on charges of fraud and corruption, but Schreiber has been fighting extradition from Canada to Germany for more than eight years, since the summer of 1999. Schreiber is currently jailed in Canada, where he has in early November 2007, filed an affidavit implicating former Canadian Prime Minister Brian Mulroney, another business associate of his. The Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper called, on November 13, 2007, for a public inquiry to probe Schreiber's statements.

Life after politics

In 2002, Kohl left the Bundestag and officially retreated from politics. In recent years, Kohl has been largely rehabilitated by his party again. After taking office, Angela Merkel invited her former patron to the Chancellor's Office and Ronald Pofalla, the Secretary-General of the CDU, announced that the CDU will cooperate more closely with Kohl, "to take advantage of the experience of this great statesman," as Pofalla put it.

On July 5, 2001, Hannelore Kohl, his wife, committed suicide, after suffering from photodermatitis for years. On March 4, 2004, he published the first of his memoirs, called Memories 1930-1982, they contain memories from the period 1930 to 1982, when he became chancellor. The second part, published on November 3, 2005, included the first half of his chancellorship (from 1982 to 1990). On December 28, 2004, Kohl was air-lifted by the Sri Lankan Air Force, after having been stranded in a hotel by the 2004 Indian Ocean earthquake.

He was a member of the Club of Madrid.

Political views

Kohl had strong, although complex and somewhat ambiguous political views, focusing on economic matters and on international politics.

  • Economically, Kohl's political views and policies were influenced by Ronald Reagan's and Margaret Thatcher's neoliberalism (reform of the welfare state, lowering taxation to allow individual initiative) although Christian-Democracy traditionally includes elements drawn from social Catholicism.
  • In international politics Kohl was committed to European integration, maintaining close relations with the French president Mitterrand. Parallel to this he was committed to German Reunification. Although he continued the Ostpolitik of his social-democratic predecessor (designed to influence change in the East by rapprochement, not confrontation, avoiding some of the extremes of Cold War politics), Kohl also supported Reagan's more aggressive policies in order to weaken the USSR.
  • The thinking behind Maastricht, which he did much to mastermind, was that the economic convergence needed to create the common currency must be accompanied by a similar convergence on matters related to labor law and social justice, else convergence might be achieved at the cost of living standards and by exploitation rather than legitimate economic growth.

Public perception

During the earlier years of his tenure, Kohl faced stiff opposition from the West German political left. His adversaries frequently referred to him by the widely known and disparaging nickname of Birne (a German word for pear and slang in the south for "head;" after unflattering cartoons showing Kohl's head as a pear). This public ridicule subsided as Kohl's political star began to rise: As the leader of European integration and an important figure in the German reunification. Kohl became one of the most popular politicians in Germany and a greatly respected European statesman. Some criticize him for taking personal credit for German reunification, while without historical developments in the USSR and East Germany in the late 1980s, reunification would not have been possible. After his chancellorship, especially when the claims of corruption sprang up, Kohl fell in public perception. Kohl fought the release of his East German Secret Service files successfully through the courts, leaving people wondering what there was to hide.


In many respects, setting aside scandal, Kohl was a Cold War statesman on the side of democracy, peace and stability in Europe. His greatest achievement, German re-unification, fulfilled the aspirations of millions of Germans from the end of World War II until the dramatic events surrounding the collapse of the Soviet Empire. His commitment to European integration, to a commercially profitable enterprise but one that also respects human rights, labor rights and sets minimum standards of social welfare (all set out in the Maastricht Treaty) reflects his political ideology that combines fiscal conservatism with social justice in what many regard as a Catholic tradition. His desire to situate Germany within a strong European Union sees the success of the enterprise in terms of "war and peace." In his view, economic and monetary integration are an essential component of keeping Europe intact so that the conflict of previous centuries can be avoided. He points out that high inflation and economic collapse helped Adolf Hitler's rise to power; "From bitter historical experience, we know how quickly inflation destroys confidence in the reliability of political institutions and ends up endangering democracy," he said.[2] In 1999, accepting the Presidential Medal of Freedom on Kohl he referred to his desire to build peace in Europe and around the world:

And peace means more than just an absence of war. It has something to do with freedom, with justice, with being able to determine the way you wish to live, yourself, without any outside interference.

Commenting on the expansion of the European Union, he continued:

For many people in Washington, and in the United States, this may not have been an issue that they had a ready understanding for, and many, I think, did not really believe that the Europeans finally would get their act together, would forget about old divisions, about old hostilities, overcoming them. They probably would not have believed that Germans and French ... this image, this very vivid image of Verdun, where Francois Mitterrand and I held hands—that the Germans and the French together would embark on the road towards the future…we are repeating this exercise of what was possible with France with Poland; that not only across the Rhine, but also across the Oder, a new kind of relationship is burgeoning. Young people grow up on both sides of the border for whom one day it will be almost inconceivable that wars and hatred once divided their people. These will become, then, truly a thing of the past.[3]

This locates Kohl in the tradition of the founders of what evolved as the European Union, for whom economic cooperation was a strategy to keep the peace and to eventually abolish war as a means of solving disputes between states.


  • In 1988, Kohl and Mitterrand received the Karlspreis for his contribution to Franco-German friendship and European Union.
  • In 1996, Kohl received the Prince of Asturias Award in International Cooperation
  • In 1996, he was made honorary doctor of the Catholic University of Louvain.
  • In 1996, Kohl received an order for his humanitarian achievements from the Jewish organization B'nai B'rith.
  • In 1996, Kohl received a Doctor of Humanities, Honoris Causa from the Ateneo de Manila University in the Philippines, a Jesuit run institution.
  • In December 11, 1998, he was made honorary citizen of Europe, a title which only Jean Monnet had received before.
  • In 1998, he received an honorary doctor of laws degree from Brandeis University in Massachusetts.
  • He is one of two persons to be awarded the Grand Cross in Special Design of the Order of Merit of the Federal Republic of Germany, the other person being Konrad Adenauer.
  • In 1999, Kohl received Presidential Medal of Freedom from U.S. President Clinton.
  • Kohl was made an honorary citizen of both Frankfurt am Main and Berlin, and on September 2, 2005, he was made an honorary citizen of his home town, Ludwigshafen.


  1. Michael Stürmer, "Land ohne geschichte," Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung (April 1986).
  2. Alan Cowell, Kohl Casts Europe's Economic Union as War and Peace Issue, New York Times, October 17, 1995. Retrieved December 27, 2017.
  3. Presidential Medal of Freedom, Presidential Medal of Freedom Recipient Dr. Helmut Kohl. Retrieved December 27, 2017.

ISBN links support NWE through referral fees

  • Bering, H. Helmut Kohl: The Man who Reunited Germany, Rebuilt Europe, and Thwarted the Soviet Empire. Washington, DC: Regnery Pub., 1999. ISBN 978-3421051226.
  • Dreher, Klaus. Helmut Kohl: Leben mit Macht. Stuttgart, DE: Deutsche Verlags-Anstalt, 1998. ISBN 978-0895263254.
  • Hämäläinen, Pekka Kalevi. Uniting Germany: Actions and Reactions. Boulder, CO: Westview Press, 1994. ISBN 978-0813325361.
  • Kitchen, Martin. A History of Modern Germany, 1800-2000. Malden, MA: Blackwell Pub., 2006. ISBN 978-1405100403.
  • Rohr, Janelle. Eastern Europe: Opposing Viewpoints. San Diego: Greenhaven Press, 1990. ISBN 978-0899084800.
  • 2000. "The Disgracing of Helmut Kohl." London Economist. 39. ISSN 0013-0613

Political offices
Preceded by:
Helmut Schmidt
Chancellor of Germany
Succeeded by:
Gerhard Schröder
Preceded by:
Margaret Thatcher
Chair of the G8
Succeeded by:
Yasuhiro Nakasone
Preceded by:
John Major
Chair of the G8
Succeeded by:
Kiichi Miyazawa


New World Encyclopedia writers and editors rewrote and completed the Wikipedia article in accordance with New World Encyclopedia standards. This article abides by terms of the Creative Commons CC-by-sa 3.0 License (CC-by-sa), which may be used and disseminated with proper attribution. Credit is due under the terms of this license that can reference both the New World Encyclopedia contributors and the selfless volunteer contributors of the Wikimedia Foundation. To cite this article click here for a list of acceptable citing formats.The history of earlier contributions by wikipedians is accessible to researchers here:

The history of this article since it was imported to New World Encyclopedia:

Note: Some restrictions may apply to use of individual images which are separately licensed.