The Price of Unity Was the Deutsche Mark Sacrificed for Reunification?

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Part 3: A Mitterrand Temper Tantrum That Lasted Several Hours


Germany's Western allies, who hadn't been consulted on the issue, were therefore all the more critical of Kohl's plans. Was the German chancellor plotting behind their backs to take Germany off on a course of its own? Did he intend to set up a new German behemoth at the heart of Europe?

When Mitterrand heard about Kohl's declaration, he "threw a small temper tantrum lasting several hours," as his advisers smugly noted. The French president imagined a new superpower rising up on the eastern border of his country, a force whose currency would dominate the entire continent, and whose political might would shatter postwar harmony in Europe.

It soon became clear to what extent France's head of state felt he had been betrayed. German Foreign Minister Hans-Dietrich Genscher rushed to Paris to explain Bonn's new domestic policy.

It would be a memorable meeting. For three-quarters of an hour, from 5:45 p.m. to 6:30 p.m., Mitterrand beseeched his guest to such an extent that the man whose job it was to take notes of the encounter, German Ambassador Franz Pfeffer, chose to adopt an unusual stance. "On account of the significance of the discussion," Pfeffer wrote in the introduction to his minutes, he had "not summarized the topics addressed." Instead, "an account of the insistent repetition will highlight the main thrusts of the argument particularly clearly."

That is certainly no exaggeration. Pfeffer's protocol, classified "strictly confidential," shows more clearly than almost any other historical document how closely Mitterrand's approval of Germany's reunification was linked to German concessions on monetary union.

'Germany Is Currently Dragging Its Heels'

"Germany can only hope for reunification if it is part of a strong community," Mitterand declared. However, Mitterrand complained, Germany did not seem to be especially community-minded at that time. "You don't have to be a psychologist to recognize that Germany is currently dragging its heels on economic and monetary union," he lamented. In Mitterand's eyes, all Germany's arguments on the issue clearly suggested its attitude was "We're in no hurry."

In view of the forthcoming European summit, Mitterrand insisted Bonn make concessions. And he followed up his demand with a thinly veiled threat: "If, having swallowed up the communist eastern half of the country, Germany begins flexing its muscles within the overall European project, it will find that fellow member states in the (EEC) will be less friends than partners with their own reflexes," Mitterrand said. For this reason, he said, Germany faced a "very important choice" at the summit in Strasbourg.

German Foreign Minister Hans-Dietrich Genscher immediately understood what the dire insinuations meant: Mitterrand was threatening to veto Germany's reunification. If push came to shove, Bonn would find itself opposed not only by British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher, who made no bones about her dislike for a greater Germany, but also by Mitterrand.

Preparing for Economic and Monetary Union

Genscher was therefore at pains to appear reasonable. He flatteringly said he had had the honor of having had "a series of talks with the French president" in the past. But, he added, he considered this one to be "the most important." He then made Mitterand a not insignificant promise: "What we need to do in Strasbourg," Genscher said, "is to decide on the intergovernmental conference to prepare for economic and monetary union."

Over the next few days, frantic negotiations were conducted between the Chancellery in Bonn and the French government in Paris. Letters were exchanged, calls were made, timetables were amended and possible wordings were discussed. In the end, the Germans agreed to hold the planned conference at the end of 1990, as France desired. At the same time they scaled back their demands for political union. Two days before the summit in Strasbourg, the chancellery told the French government, "It is OK."

That may have been what their staff believed, but it was certainly not the case. When Kohl and Genscher entered the conference room in Strasbourg on Dec. 8, 1989, the atmosphere was more than icy. One head of state after another rejected Germany's appeal for speedier unity.

The Germans had a hard time convincing their EEC partners to bless German reunification, and when it came the lukewarm approval was riddled with reservations and conditions. By contrast, the French timetable for monetary union was given the nod in principle. There was no discussion of the issue of political union.

But Kohl was still not sure whether he had the French president's endorsement of German reunification. In early January, the two statesman met at Mitterrand's country retreat of Latché in southwestern France. The two men spent several hours wandering along the Atlantic coast. Afterward, it was clear that they had reached an agreement about the principles of the two forthcoming unification projects. "Mitterand stopped opposing Germany's reunification after Latché," says Joachim Bitterlich, Kohl's advisor at the time.

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