A decade on, united Germany lays old ghosts to rest

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The Independent Online

Who now remembers the waspish pronouncement of François Mauriac, the great French novelist, to the effect that "I love Germany so much, I am delighted there are two of them"? Exactly 10 years ago, the two Germanys were reunited, to the thinly concealed dismay of Margaret Thatcher and almost every other European leader. A genie had been loosed from the dark bottle of 20th-century European history, they believed; a single Germany would seek anew to impose its will, dominating and destabilising the Continent.

Who now remembers the waspish pronouncement of François Mauriac, the great French novelist, to the effect that "I love Germany so much, I am delighted there are two of them"? Exactly 10 years ago, the two Germanys were reunited, to the thinly concealed dismay of Margaret Thatcher and almost every other European leader. A genie had been loosed from the dark bottle of 20th-century European history, they believed; a single Germany would seek anew to impose its will, dominating and destabilising the Continent.

How different the reality has been. Today's Germany is behaving much as did the old West Germany. Inevitably, national energies have been devoted to the absorption of former East Germany. Given the previous 60 unbroken years of totalitarian rule in the East, it is hardly surprising that the process is not yet complete. The capital may have moved from the Rhineland to a wall-less Berlin - but the other wall between East and West, of prosperity and self-esteem, is only gradually disappearing.

Just how far-fetched is the notion of a threatening Germany may be divined from British media coverage, confined in the main to an obsession with Nazis old and new, Eurosceptic mockery of some federalist vision of Europe emanating from a German minister, and the two countries' rivalry on the football field and over loungers at Mediterranean swimming-pools. Of sinister German designs to regain a vanished empire, not a word.

To be sure, reunification moved Germany into a different population league from Italy, Britain and France. But the most tangible evidence of that difference is likely to be a revamped weighting of the EU's majority voting system, and an increase in the number of German MEPs at Strasbourg - changes both modest and long overdue.

In fact, the description of the old West Germany as an economic giant but a political dwarf remains largely true. Neither Helmut Kohl nor Gerhard Schröder has been entirely willing, nor able, to overcome the inhibitions imposed by German history. These will not disappear even when reunification has been completed and when Germany refocuses on its traditional hinterlands to the East.

So much for the nightmares that were being bandied about 10 years ago. Nothing so far has given the lie to the Kohl vision of "a European Germany, not a German Europe". This anniversary of reunification is a moment not for irrational apprehension, but for reassurance and hope.

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