|Chancellor of Germany|
1 October 1982 – 27 October 1998
Richard von Weizsäcker
|Preceded by||Helmut Schmidt|
|Succeeded by||Gerhard Schröder|
|Minister-President of Rhineland-Palatinate|
19 May 1969 – 2 December 1976
|Preceded by||Peter Altmeier|
|Succeeded by||Bernhard Vogel|
Helmut Josef Michael Kohl|
3 April 1930
|Political party||Christian Democratic Union (1946–present)|
Hannelore Renner (1960–2001)|
Maike Richter (2008–present)
|Alma mater||Heidelberg University|
Helmut Josef Michael Kohl (German: [ˈhɛlmuːt ˈjoːzɛf 'mɪçaʔeːl ˈkoːl]; born 3 April 1930) is a German statesman, who served as Chancellor of Germany from 1982 to 1998 (of West Germany 1982–90 and of the reunited Germany 1990–98) and as the chairman of the Christian Democratic Union (CDU) from 1973 to 1998. From 1969 to 1976, Kohl was the 3rd Minister President of Rhineland-Palatinate.
Kohl's 16-year tenure was the longest of any German Chancellor since Otto von Bismarck, and by far the longest of any democratically elected Chancellor. Kohl oversaw the end of the Cold War, and is widely regarded as the main architect of the German reunification. Together with French President François Mitterrand, Kohl is also considered to be the architect of the Maastricht Treaty, which established the European Union (EU).
Youth and education
Helmut Kohl was born on 3 April 1930 in Ludwigshafen am Rhein (at the time part of Bavaria, now in Rhineland-Palatinate), Germany, the third child of Hans Kohl (1887–1975), a civil servant, and his wife, Cäcilie (née Schnur; 1890–1979).
Kohl's family was conservative and Roman Catholic, and remained loyal to the Catholic Centre Party before and after 1933. His older brother died in the Second World War as a teenage soldier. At the age of ten, Kohl was obliged, like any child in Germany at the time, to join the Deutsches Jungvolk, a section of the Hitler Youth. Aged 15, on 20 April 1945, Adolf Hitler's birthday, Kohl was sworn in to the Hitler Youth by leader Artur Axmann at Berchtesgaden, just days before the end of the war. Kohl was also drafted for military service in 1945; however, he was not involved in any combat, a fact he later referred to as the "mercy of late birth" (German: Gnade der späten Geburt).
Kohl attended the Ruprecht Elementary School, and continued at the Max-Planck-Gymnasium. After graduating in 1950, Kohl began to study law in Frankfurt am Main, spending two semesters commuting between Ludwigshafen and Frankfurt. Here, Kohl heard lectures from Carlo Schmid and Walter Hallstein among others. In 1951, Kohl switched to the University of Heidelberg, where he majored in History and Political Science. Kohl was the first in his family to attend university.
Life before politics
After graduating in 1956, Kohl became a fellow at the Alfred Weber Institute of the University of Heidelberg under Dolf Sternberger where he was an active member of the student society AIESEC. In 1958, Kohl received his doctorate degree for his thesis "The Political Developments in the Palatinate and the Reconstruction of Political Parties after 1945". After that, Kohl entered business, first as an assistant to the director of a foundry in Ludwigshafen and, in April 1960, as a manager for the Industrial Union for Chemistry in Ludwigshafen.
In 1960, Kohl married Hannelore Renner, after he had already asked for her hand in marriage in 1953, waiting with the ceremony until he was financially stable. Both had known each other since 1948, when they met in a dancing class. They had two sons, born in 1963 and 1965.
Early political career
In 1946, Kohl joined the recently founded CDU, becoming a full member once he turned 18 in 1948. In 1947, Kohl was one of the co-founders of the Junge Union-branch in Ludwigshafen, the CDU youth organisation. In 1953, Kohl joined the board of the Palatinate branch of the CDU. In 1954, Kohl became vice-chair of the Junge Union in Rhineland-Palatinate, being a member of the board until 1961.
In January 1955, Kohl ran for a seat on the board of the Rhineland-Palatinate CDU, losing just narrowly to the state's Minister of Family Affairs, Franz-Josef Wuermeling. Kohl was however still able to take up a seat on the board, being sent there by his local party branch as a delegate. During his early years in the party, Kohl aimed to open it towards the young generation, turning away from a close relationship with the churches.
In early 1959, Kohl was elected chairman of the Ludwigshafen district branch of the CDU, as well as candidate for the upcoming state elections. On 19 April 1959, Kohl was elected as the youngest member of the state diet, the Landtag of Rhineland-Palatinate. In 1960, he was also elected into the municipal council of Ludwigshafen where he served as leader of the CDU party until 1969. When the chairman of the CDU parliamentary group in the Landtag, Wilhelm Boden, died in the fall of 1961, Kohl moved up into a deputy position. Following the next state election in 1963, he took over as chairman, a position he held until he became Minister-President in 1969. In 1966, Kohl and the incumbent minister-president and state party chairman, Peter Altmeier, agreed to share duties. In March 1966, Kohl was elected as chairman of the party in Rhineland-Palatinate, while Altmeier once again ran for minister-president in the state elections in 1967, agreeing to hand the post over to Kohl after two years, halfway into the legislative period.
Minister-President of Rhineland-Palatinate
On 19 May 1969, Kohl was elected minister-president of Rhineland-Palatinate, as the successor to Peter Altmeier. As of 2015, he is the youngest person ever to be elected as head of government in a German Bundesland. Just a few days after his election as minister-president, Kohl also became vice-chair of the federal CDU party. While in office, Kohl acted as a reformer, focusing on school and education. His government abolished school corporal punishment and the parochial school, topics that had been controversial with the conservative wing of his party. During his term, Kohl founded the University of Trier-Kaiserslautern and enacted territorial reform. He established two new ministries, one for economy and transportation and one for social matters, with the latter going to Heiner Geißler, who would work closely with Kohl for the next twenty years.
Federal party level, election as chairman of the CDU
Kohl moved up into the federal board (Vorstand) of the CDU in 1964. Two years later, shortly before his election as chairman of the party in Rhineland-Palatinate, he failed at an attempt to be voted into the executive committee (Präsidium) of the party. After the CDU lost its involvement in the federal government for the first time since the end of World War II in the 1969 election, Kohl was elected into the committee. While former chancellor Kurt Georg Kiesinger remained chairman of the CDU until 1971, it was now parliamentary chairmen Rainer Barzel who led the opposition against the newly formed social-liberal coalition of Willy Brandt.
As a member of the board and the executive committee, Kohl pushed towards a party reform, supporting liberal stances in education and social policies, including employee participation. However, when a proposal by the board was put to vote at a party convention in early 1971 in Düsseldorf, Kohl was unable to prevail against protest coming from the conservative wing of the party around Alfred Dregger and the sister party CSU, costing him support at the liberal wing of the party. To make matters worse, in a mistake during the voting process, Kohl himself voted against the proposal, further angering his supporters, such as party treasurer Walther Leisler Kiep.
Nevertheless, when Kiesinger stepped down as party chairman in 1971, Kohl was a candidate for his succession. He was unsuccessful, losing the vote to Barzel 344 to 174. In April 1972, in the light of Brandt's Ostpolitik, the CDU aimed to dispose Brandt and his government in a constructive vote of no confidence, replacing him with Barzel. The attempt failed, as two members of the opposition voted against Barzel. After Barzel also lost the general election later that year, the path was free for Kohl to take over. After Barzel announced on 10 May 1973 that he would not run for the post of party chairman again, Kohl succeeded him at a party convention in Saarbrücken on 12 June 1973, amassing 520 of 600 votes, with him as the only candidate. He would hold the 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% of the vote. However they were kept out of government by the centre-left cabinet formed by the Social Democratic Party of Germany and Free Democratic Party (Germany), 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 unable to defeat the coalition of the Social Democratic Party of Germany (SDP) and the Free Democratic Party (FDP). 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 17 September 1982, a conflict of economic policy occurred between the governing SPD/FDP coalition partners. The FDP wanted to radically liberalise the labour market, while the SPD preferred greater job security. The FDP began talks with the CDU/CSU to form a new government.
Chancellor of West Germany
Rise to power
On 1 October 1982, the CDU proposed a constructive vote of no confidence which was supported by the FDP. The motion carried. Three days later, the Bundestag voted in a new CDU/CSU-FDP coalition cabinet, with Kohl as chancellor. Many of the important details of the new coalition had been hammered out on 20 September, though minor details were reportedly still being hammered out as the vote took place. Though Kohl's election was done according to the Basic Law, it came amid some controversy. The FDP had fought its 1980 campaign on the side of the SPD and even placed Chancellor Schmidt on some of their campaign posters. There were also doubts that the new government had the support of a majority of the people. In answer, the new government aimed at new elections at the earliest possible date. Polls suggested that a clear majority was indeed in reach. As the Basic Law only allows the dissolution of parliament after an unsuccessful confidence motion, Kohl had to take another controversial move: he called for a confidence vote only a month after being sworn in, in which members of his coalition abstained. President Karl Carstens then dissolved the Bundestag and called new elections.
The move was controversial, as the coalition parties denied their votes to the same man they had elected Chancellor a month before and whom they wanted to re-elect after the parliamentary election. However, this step was condoned by the German Federal Constitutional Court as a legal instrument and was again applied (by SPD Chancellor Gerhard Schröder and his Green allies) in 2005.
In the federal elections of March 1983, Kohl won a resounding victory. The CDU/CSU won 48.8%, while the FDP won 7.0%. Some opposition members of the Bundestag asked the Federal Constitutional Court to declare the whole proceeding unconstitutional. It denied their claim, but did set restrictions on a similar move in the future. The second Kohl cabinet pushed through several controversial plans, including the stationing of NATO midrange missiles, against major opposition from the peace movement. On 24 January 1984, Kohl spoke before the Israeli Knesset, as the first Chancellor of the post-war generation. In his speech, he used liberal journalist Günter Gaus' famous sentence that he had "the mercy of a late birth" ("Gnade der späten Geburt").
On 22 September 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 US 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 5 May, and more controversially, the German military cemetery at Bitburg, discovered to hold 49 members of the Waffen-SS.
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 détente between East and West that had been begun by the SPD-led governments (and strongly opposed by Kohl's own CDU) during the 1970s.
Kohl's chancellorship presided over a number of innovative policy measures. Extensions in unemployment benefit for older claimants were introduced, while the benefit for the young unemployed was extended to age 21. In 1986, a child-rearing allowance was introduced to benefit parents when at least one was employed. Informal carers were offered an attendance allowance together with tax incentives, both of which were established with the tax reforms of 1990, and were also guaranteed up to 25 hours a month of professional support, which was supplemented by four weeks of annual holiday relief. In 1984, an early retirement scheme was introduced that offered incentives to employers to replace elderly workers with applicants off the unemployment register. In 1989 a partial retirement plan was introduced under which elderly employees could work half-time and receive 70% of their former salary “and be credited with 90 per cent of the full social insurance entitlement.” In 1984, a Mother and Child Fund was established, providing discretionary grants “to forestall abortions on grounds of material hardship,” and in 1986 a 10 Mrd DM package of Erziehungsgeld (childcare allowance) was introduced, although according to various studies, this latter initiative was heavily counterbalanced by cuts. In 1989, special provisions were introduced for the older unemployed.
Kohl's time as Chancellor, however, also saw some controversial decisions in the field of social policy. Student aid was made reimbursable to the state while the Health Care Reform Act of 1989 introduced the concept by which patients pay up front and are reimbursed, while increasing patient co-payments for hospitalisation, spa visits, dental prostheses, and prescription drugs. In addition, while a 1986 Baby-Year Pensions reform granted women born after 1921 one year of work-credit per child, lawmakers were forced by public protest to phase in supplementary pension benefits for mothers who were born before the cut-off year.
Road to reunification
Following the breach of the Berlin Wall and the collapse of the East German Communist regime in 1989, Kohl's handling of the East German issue would become the turning point of his chancellorship. Kohl, like most West Germans, was initially caught unaware when the Socialist Unity Party was toppled in late 1989. However, well aware of his constitutional mandate to seek German unity, he immediately moved to make it a reality. 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 Mikhail Gorbachev that the USSR would allow German reunification to proceed. One month later, the Party of Democratic Socialism — the renamed SED — was roundly defeated by a grand coalition headed by the East German counterpart of Kohl's CDU, which ran on a platform of speedy reunification.
On 18 May 1990, Kohl signed an economic and social union treaty with East Germany. This treaty stipulated that when reunification took place, it would be under the quicker provisions of Article 23 of the Basic Law. That article stated that any new states could adhere to the Basic Law by a simple majority vote. The alternative would have been the more protracted route of drafting a completely new constitution for the newly reunified country, as provided by Article 146 of the Basic Law. However, an Article 146 reunification would have opened up contentious issues in West Germany, and would have been impractical in any case since by then East Germany was in a state of utter collapse. In contrast, an Article 23 reunification could be completed in as little as six months.
Over the objections of Bundesbank president Karl Otto Pöhl, he allowed a 1:1 exchange rate for wages, interest and rent between the West and East Marks. In the end, this policy would seriously hurt companies in the new federal states. 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. He received assurances from Gorbachev that a reunified Germany would be able to choose which international alliance it wanted to join, although Kohl made no secret that he wanted the reunified Germany to inherit West Germany's seats at NATO and the EC.
A reunification treaty was signed on 31 August 1990, and was overwhelmingly approved by both parliaments on 20 September 1990. On 3 October 1990, East Germany officially ceased to exist, and its territory joined the Federal Republic as the five states of Brandenburg, Mecklenburg-Vorpommern, Saxony, Saxony-Anhalt and Thuringia. These states had been the original five states of East Germany before being abolished in 1952, and had been reconstituted in August. East and West Berlin were reunited as the capital of the enlarged Federal Republic. After the fall of the Berlin Wall, Kohl confirmed that historically German territories east of the Oder-Neisse line were definitively part of Poland, thereby relinquishing any claim Germany had to them. In 1993, Kohl confirmed, via 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 treaty was a disappointment for the German Heimatvertriebene ("displaced persons").
Chancellor of reunified Germany
Reunification placed Kohl in a momentarily unassailable position. In 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 Minister-President of Saarland, Oskar Lafontaine. He then formed his fourth cabinet.
After the federal elections of 1994 Kohl was reelected with a somewhat reduced majority, defeating 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. In 1997, Kohl received the Vision for Europe Award for his efforts in the unification of Europe.
By the late 1990s, the aura surrounding Kohl had largely worn off amid rising unemployment. 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 27 October 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.
CDU finance affair
Kohl's life after political office in the beginning was dominated by the CDU-party finance scandal. The party financing scandal became public in 1999, when it was discovered that the CDU had received and kept illegal donations during Kohl's leadership.
Life after politics
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In 2002, Kohl left the Bundestag and officially retired 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 5 July 2001, his wife, Hannelore, committed suicide, due to suffering from photodermatitis for many years. On 4 March 2004, he published the first of his memoirs, called "Memories 1930–1982", covering the period 1930 to 1982, when he became chancellor. The second part, published on 3 November 2005, included the first half of his chancellorship (from 1982–90). On 28 December 2004, he was air-lifted by the Sri Lankan Air Force, after having been stranded in a hotel by the 2004 Indian Ocean earthquake. Kohl is a member of the Club of Madrid.
As reported in the German press, he also gave his name to the soon-to-be launched Helmut Kohl Centre for European Studies (currently Centre for European Studies), which is the new political foundation of the European People's Party. In late February 2008, Kohl suffered a stroke in combination with a fall which caused serious head injuries and required his hospitalization, since when he has been reported as bound to a wheelchair due to partial paralysis and with difficulty speaking. He has remained in intensive care since, marrying his 43-year-old partner, Maike Richter, on 8 May 2008, while still in hospital. In 2010, he had a gall bladder operation in Heidelberg, and heart surgery in 2012. He was reportedly in "critical condition" in June 2015, following intestinal surgery following a hip-replacement procedure.
In 2011, Kohl, in spite of his frail health, began giving a number of interviews and issued statements in which he sharply condemned his successor Angela Merkel, whom he had formerly mentored, on her policies in favor of strict austerity in the European debt crisis and later also towards Russia in the Ukrainian crisis, which he sees as opposed to his politics of peaceful bi-lateral European integration during his time as chancellor. He has published the book Aus Sorge um Europa ("Out of Concern for Europe") outlining these criticisms of Merkel (while also attacking his immediate successor Gerhard Schröder's Euro policy) and was widely quoted in the press as saying, "Die macht mir mein Europa kaputt." ("She's destroying the Europe that I have built."). Kohl thus joined former German chancellors Gerhard Schröder and Helmut Schmidt in their similar criticisms of Merkel's policies in these two fields. On 19 April 2016, Kohl was visited in his Oggersheim residence by Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orbán. The two had a one-hour conversation and released a joint press statement regarding the European migrant crisis, saying that both doubted that Europe was capable of continuing to absorb refugees indefinitely. Before the meeting, it had widely been interpreted as criticism of Angela Merkel's handling of the crisis, but eventually, Kohl and Orban refrained from attacking the chancellor directly, writing: "It is about a good future for Europe and peace in the world. The efforts of [Merkel] point in the same direction."
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 predecessors, Kohl supported Reagan's more aggressive policies in order to weaken the USSR.
Kohl faced stiff opposition from the West German political left, and mocked for his provincial background, physical stature and simple language. Similar to historical French cartoons of Louis-Philippe of France, Hans Traxler depicted Kohl as a pear in the left-leaning satirical journal Titanic. The German word "Birne" ("pear") became a widespread nickname and symbol for the Chancellor.
Honors and awards
Helmut Kohl has received numerous awards and accolades, as well as honorary titles such as doctorates and citizenships. Among others, he was joint recipient of the Charlemagne Prize with French President François Mitterrand for their contribution to Franco-German friendship and European Union. In 1996, Kohl received the Prince of Asturias Award in International Cooperation from Felipe of Spain. 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.
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- Köhler, Henning: Helmut Kohl. Ein Leben für die Politik. Quadriga Verlag, Köln 2014, ISBN 978-3-86995-076-1.
- Wilsford, David, ed. Political leaders of contemporary Western Europe: a biographical dictionary (Greenwood, 1995) pp. 245-253
- Wicke, Christian (2015). Helmut Kohl's Quest for Normality: His Representation of the German Nation and Himself. New York: Berghahn Books. ISBN 978-1-78238-573-8.
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|Chancellor of West Germany
| Succeeded by|
as Chancellor of Germany
Lothar de Maizière
as Prime Minister of East Germany
|Chancellor of Germany
| Succeeded by|
as Chancellor of West Germany
|Minister-President of Rhineland-Palatinate
| Succeeded by|
|Chairperson of the Group of 7
| Succeeded by|
|Chairperson of the Group of 7
| Succeeded by|