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

AP

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Part 4: A Moment of Great Pride


From then on things moved very quickly. In the summer of 1990, representatives of East and West Germany signed the unification treaty, and on Oct. 3, the eastern states that had previously made up the communist German Democratic Republic joined those of the Federal Republic of Germany. In December, EEC heads of state and government met in Rome for the start of the intergovernmental conference on European monetary union. When, in February 1992, they signed the Maastricht Treaty on the introduction of the euro, it was a moment of great pride for Hans-Dietrich Genscher. "For me this act symbolized the fulfillment of the promises I had made during the reunification process that a united Germany would continue to pursue the politics of European integration in a determined and no less dedicated manner," Genscher wrote in his memoirs.

So was relinquishing the deutsche mark the price of reunification?

This question is not easy to answer definitively, not least because important decisions about the euro were only taken at a later date -- for instance in 1992, when only a wafer-thin majority of the French electorate approved the Maastricht Treaty in a referendum.

Nevertheless it is hard to deny that the collapse of the communist regime in East Germany represented a decisive step toward the adoption of the common European currency. Before the fall of the wall, European monetary union had been an ambitious EEC project like so many others. Afterward it was the central political tool with which to bind the expanded Germany to the European community.

"European monetary union may not have come about had it not been for Germany's reunification," says former Bundesbank President Karl Otto Pöhl. "Kohl knew that he had to promote European interests in order to make reunification acceptable," says former Mitterand advisor Hubert Védrine. Bernd Pfaffenbach, then a high-ranking Chancellery official under Kohl, adds, "The German position had previously been that European political union must precede monetary union. But the German government sacrificed that position in the course of the negotiations."

In the end it was a concession that primarily benefited the two leaders. By permitting Germany to expand eastwards, Mitterand helped Kohl become the "Chancellor of Unity," as he would later be dubbed. This in turn put Kohl in a position to relieve Germany of its dearly held currency, one of the greatest triumphs of the Mitterand presidency.

'There's Nothing to Support This Theory'

Although there is much evidence to back this theory up, the members of the German government at the time still insist this was not the case.

Theodor Waigel walks through the wood-paneled foyer of the International Club in Berlin. In his hand he carries a black briefcase. Waigel was Germany's finance minister when the wall came down and when the euro was conceived. Both were big decisions, and he is convinced that they were the correct ones.

Waigel is about to give a speech to a group of Berlin businessmen. He doesn't have much time. And yet he can't resist the temptation to comment on what he sees as the muddled theory that Germany relinquished the mark in exchange for being permitted to reunify. He says former German President Richard von Weizsäcker asked him about it when the two men met on a TV talk show a few years earlier. Waigel had therefore explained what had really happened.

"There's nothing to support this theory," Waigel says. "The euro was introduced exactly according to the timetable envisaged." But hadn't reunification considerably contributed to the launch of the euro? Alluding to concerns by Britain, France, the United States and Russia that the Germany they had defeated in World War II could one day be a threat again, Waigel says, "Perhaps monetary union helped allay some of the Allies' fears."

Translated from the German by Jan Libelt

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