Germans must think about redefining themselves

Taken from a speech given by Gisela Stuart, the German-born Labour MP, at the Goethe Institut, in London

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I spent my formative adult years in England and represent not only a creation of a plurality of cultures, but a bridge between them - particularly now that we have a sister social democratic government in Germany.

I spent my formative adult years in England and represent not only a creation of a plurality of cultures, but a bridge between them - particularly now that we have a sister social democratic government in Germany.

To take an example illustrating common purpose, Germany and Britain face similar problems concerning pension provision. Both countries must find a way to finance pensions, but because of the differences between the fundamental structures of social insurance, the solutions will not be generic. If a common purpose is admitted, there are many possibilities for constructive co-operation.

The same goes for the nationality and immigration. In Germany, nationality has always followed the principle of jus sanguinis, the primacy of bloodline, which makes my children German because I am German, irrespective of the fact that I lost my German nationality when I applied for British citizenship. Children of Turkish descent will never become German, irrespective of how many generations of their family have been born and have lived in Germany. The new government has attempted to address this issue, and I applaud it. But it is a controversial issue.

I would suggest the time has come for Germany and the Germans to think seriously about redefining themselves by territorial boundaries and their institutions, rather than bloodline. It is perhaps slightly paradoxical that the German national identity that has developed since the war is one that is inextricably linked to the development of democratic and inclusive institutions bound by a written constitution. Yet legal citizenship still turns on a seemingly archaic notion.

Historians have spent a long time pondering the question of whether history is cyclical or linear. Looking at the past 50 years of the Federal Republic, the Germany we are analysing today is fundamentally different from the political formations that have made up the German past. For the first time, the German nation state is fulfilled. The events of 3 October 1990 have written the final chapter to Germany's anomalous century. Before that, there were always unanswered questions as to how and where the German state would evolve. Germany has resolved its territorial anxieties, and so it would now appear that the question that remains is that concerning the identity of those living within its borders.

For the first time in its history, the German population can have a full measure of both unity and freedom. According to the Treaty on German Unity of 1990, the preamble to the Basic Law will be altered in such a way that the sentence calling for "completion" of Germany will be replaced with one that reads, "The Basic Law is hereby valid for the entire German people." The old debates as to whether German identity is determined by national tradition or commitment to a constitution have been resolved. The German nation state will be the structure created by the democratic institutions of the Basic Law. The two have become identical.

For the first time in history, the Germans have formed a union not in the face of opposition from their neighbours but based on their consent. The newly reunified Germany is no longer perceived as a threat to peace in Europe. Integration on an economic, military and political level means that this cannot be reversed.

Finally, and this is most significant for me and my situation, for the first time in its history the German nation state is irrevocably tied to the West. It took a revolution to make this intention clear. It took a revolution in the truest sense from a people who wanted to share in the liberal values of Western order.

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