Leading Article: Let's raise a glass to Kohl, a man who played the game

Related Topics
BY their enemies, ye shall know them. By the time Helmut Kohl arrived at Guildhall last night to receive the Freedom of the City of London, a fearsome opposition - of pen-pushers and last-ditchers - had formed. It consisted of the United Kingdom Stop-the-World-I-Want-to-Get- Off Party, a junior lecturer from that home of lost causes, the University of Oxford, and a whey-faced jokesmith from a Tory newspaper whose idea of humour is that Germans would throw the Chancellor out of the window if only they could find one big enough (sidesplitting, ja?). Anti-German sentiment is these days confined to a band of malcontents, reactionaries, hack writers for foreign-owned newspapers, Jingoes and little Englanders. They are boorish yes, but would be worth apologising for only if Helmut Kohl were not seasoned in the occasional discomforts of democratic politics. To his country's credit, he is.

The war, let's not forget, finished 53 years ago; Britain has been a fellow member with Germany of the European Union (Community as was) for the past 23. There are - as long as the liberal world order lasts - profound convergences of interest between our two countries. Among the differences is justifiable British caution over membership of the European Monetary Union. But relations with Germany are in pretty good nick and even if he were not a figure of historic dimensions, the German Chancellor would be an honoured and welcome visitor.

We can, let's hope, dispense with grandiose talk about competing "models". The idea, propagated by a Labour Prime Minister as well as Tory predecessors, that there is a shining and exportable British path to economic salvation is nonsense. British macroeconomic circumstances are currently favourable; beyond that it would be tempting fate to go. Germany meanwhile has 5 million unemployed, which at this stage in the economic cycle is dismaying. A friendly but objective analyst would fault the Chancellor and his Christian Democrats for a failure of imagination, together with the sclerosis in the policy process imposed by German's federal constitution. That same friendly analyst would also register the maturity of German political conversation and the way all parties are seeking a way forward and respect Germany's determination not to throw out the baby of social peace with the bathwater of economic stagnation. When Germans, on all sides, say their country has no appetite for Kapitalismus pur, we are in no position to disagree.

There is moreover a special reason why Helmut Kohl deserves decoration. Britain helped create the entity of the German federal republic; we have an ineradicable interest in European peace and stability. We have no choice but to delight in the strength of the vision he has offered his fellow country-men - a positive and peaceful vision, that is, of themselves.

There is, let's not mince words, a German problem, compounded of geography, economic potency and nationalist sentiment ... the death this week of Ernst Junger was a reminder of the cauldron's depth. Post war there were ways in which divided Germany might have become a loose cannon. What, first, Konrad Adenauer did was to anchor his country in the West and use membership of the EC to re-present the country's possibilities to itself. Helmut Kohl's significance has been to update the game and run with the ball.

At the heart of that effort is the Franco-German alliance - something which British commentators and politicians alike find difficult to understand. Governments change in Paris but the liaison continues unruffled. British attempts at seduction, usually perfunctory, leave nary a mark. It is a sign of Kohl's success that were he to lose the federal elections this October to the Social Democrats both their potential candidates - Gerhard Schroder and Oskar Lafontaine - would follow the well-trodden path to France without demur. There is no question that EMU is the logical continuation of the Franco-German project, which is why British membership is so fraught with difficulties. Yes, it is "political", and for that reason the 155 German economics professors who wrote recently predicting doom and gloom are barking up the wrong tree: the Chancellor, with the French political class, believes that political will can change economic destiny. We in Britain, graduates of the Thatcher school, find that hard to swallow; we are well advised to wait and see.

But there is no denying the historical force of Helmut Kohl's plan, the nobility of his ambitions for melding his proud countrymen into a permanent pact for peace in Europe. That is why mere good neighbourliness requires us to applaud the City Corporation's award to him. If the Chancellor were now to utilise his right as a Freeman to take a drink or three in Threadneedle Street, then prosit!

React Now

  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Senior Digital Marketing Consultant

£28000 - £45000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Senior Digital Marketing Cons...

Recruitment Genius: Assistant Stores Keeper

£16640 - £18500 per annum: Recruitment Genius: An Assistant Stores Keeper is r...

Recruitment Genius: Claims Administrator

£16000 - £18500 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an excellent opportunit...

Recruitment Genius: Software Developer - C# / ASP.NET / SQL

£17000 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Developer required to join a bu...

Day In a Page

Read Next
Mosul falls: Talk of Iraq retaking the town, held by IS since June, is unconvincing  

Isis on the run? The US portrayal is very far from the truth

Patrick Cockburn
John Rentoul met Ed Miliband aged 23, remarking he was “bright, and put up a good fight for the utilities tax, but I was unconvinced.”  

General Election 2015: Win or lose, Ed Miliband is not ready to govern

John Rentoul
'It was first time I had ever tasted chocolate. I kept a piece, and when Amsterdam was liberated, I gave it to the first Allied soldier I saw'

Bread from heaven

Dutch survivors thank RAF for World War II drop that saved millions
Britain will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power - Labour

How 'the Axe' helped Labour

UK will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power
Rare and exclusive video shows the horrific price paid by activists for challenging the rule of jihadist extremists in Syria

The price to be paid for challenging the rule of extremists

A revolution now 'consuming its own children'
Welcome to the world of Megagames

Welcome to the world of Megagames

300 players take part in Watch the Skies! board game in London
'Nymphomaniac' actress reveals what it was really like to star in one of the most explicit films ever

Charlotte Gainsbourg on 'Nymphomaniac'

Starring in one of the most explicit films ever
Robert Fisk in Abu Dhabi: The Emirates' out-of-sight migrant workers helping to build the dream projects of its rulers

Robert Fisk in Abu Dhabi

The Emirates' out-of-sight migrant workers helping to build the dream projects of its rulers
Vince Cable interview: Charging fees for employment tribunals was 'a very bad move'

Vince Cable exclusive interview

Charging fees for employment tribunals was 'a very bad move'
Iwan Rheon interview: Game of Thrones star returns to his Welsh roots to record debut album

Iwan Rheon is returning to his Welsh roots

Rheon is best known for his role as the Bastard of Bolton. It's gruelling playing a sadistic torturer, he tells Craig McLean, but it hasn't stopped him recording an album of Welsh psychedelia
Russell Brand's interview with Ed Miliband has got everyone talking about The Trews

Everyone is talking about The Trews

Russell Brand's 'true news' videos attract millions of viewers. But today's 'Milibrand' interview introduced his resolutely amateurish style to a whole new crowd
Morne Hardenberg interview: Cameraman for BBC's upcoming show Shark on filming the ocean's most dangerous predator

It's time for my close-up

Meet the man who films great whites for a living
Increasing numbers of homeless people in America keep their mobile phones on the streets

Homeless people keep mobile phones

A homeless person with a smartphone is a common sight in the US. And that's creating a network where the 'hobo' community can share information - and fight stigma - like never before
'Queer saint' Peter Watson left his mark on British culture by bankrolling artworld giants

'Queer saint' who bankrolled artworld giants

British culture owes a huge debt to Peter Watson, says Michael Prodger
Pushkin Prizes: Unusual exchange programme aims to bring countries together through culture

Pushkin Prizes brings countries together

Ten Scottish schoolchildren and their Russian peers attended a creative writing workshop in the Highlands this week
14 best kids' hoodies

14 best kids' hoodies

Don't get caught out by that wind on the beach. Zip them up in a lightweight top to see them through summer to autumn
Robert Fisk in Abu Dhabi: The acceptable face of the Emirates

The acceptable face of the Emirates

Has Abu Dhabi found a way to blend petrodollars with principles, asks Robert Fisk