Berlin: German Chancellor Angela Merkel reunited with her former mentor Helmut Kohl Thursday to mark 30 years since he became chancellor, hailing his achievements for German unity and European integration.
Merkel told around 800 guests who had gathered in central Berlin to honour the 82-year-old colossus of German politics that Europeans were “united in our luck” and for much of that, they had Kohl to thank.
While referring to Kohl’s role in shepherding Germany’s peaceful unification after the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989, she took the opportunity to stress the current importance of a unified Europe.
“Europe is our fate and our future,” she said at the evening event held in a glass-roofed square within the German Historic Museum to celebrate the 30th anniversary of Kohl’s election on October 1, 1982.
Merkel said Kohl had recognised early on the value of European countries using one currency which, she said, represented much more than just a currency, and vowed to do everything to ensure a stable euro.
But she also listed his domestic accomplishments in fields such as the economy, social and family policy, as well as his steps to forge a strong German-French partnership and alliance with the United States.
World leaders sent messages via a large video screen, including former US president George Bush senior, who praised Kohl’s “uncommon vision and courage” in working for Germany’s reunification.
Kohl was Merkel’s political mentor until they fell out over a party slush fund affair in 1999.
It was her bid to sideline Kohl, who governed Germany for a record 16 years and ran their conservative Christian Democratic Union (CDU) for a quarter-century, over the scandal that catapulted her to power.
The rapprochement between Kohl and the woman he had previously nicknamed his “girl” has progressed in fits and starts, with the eurozone crisis laying bare both their differences and their shared principles.
Kohl, who is now confined to a wheelchair and whose speech has been severely impaired, exited active politics in 2002.
But his influence is still palpable in Berlin’s corridors of power, where he is revered as the “chancellor of German unity” despite the taint from scandals in later years in power.
“We want to continue with Europe’s unification,” he said after a new German stamp of him was unveiled at the event, which was organised by the Konrad Adenauer Foundation, a think tank with close ties to Kohl and Merkel’s conservative CDU party.
Merkel, 58, is Germany’s most popular politician and is widely expected to win a third term in elections next year but she has been criticised for lacking a “vision” to lead the 17-nation eurozone out of its worst crisis.
Kohl reportedly criticised Merkel for having “no compass” in her European policy and even charging that she was “destroying my Europe” — an allegation that his aides later denied.
Despite their differences, Europe is what links Merkel and Kohl’s chancellorships together, the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung said Thursday.
Merkel has to contend with both sides of Kohl’s legacy — his imposing shadow as “one of the last great Europeans of conviction from the war generation” as well as the mistakes in Europe’s design, the paper said.
But it added that Europe has also become the topic which will decide whether Merkel will count among the “great political figures of this republic”.
Merkel biographer Gerd Langguth said that while there was little love lost between Merkel and Kohl, her leadership style bore many of his hallmarks.
“Merkel, in a certain way, imitates Kohl’s style in the way she practices politics,” Langguth said.
But he noted that while Kohl was a dyed-in-the-wool conservative, Merkel was a pragmatic centrist who had a tendency to co-opt the winning positions of the opposition when it suited her.