Helmut Kohl

(b. 1930) German statesman

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(b. 3 Apr. 1930).

Chancellor of West Germany 1982–98

Early career

One of the co‐founders of the CDU youth organization in 1946, he joined the CDU in 1947, three years before he finished high school. After receiving his doctorate in history and politics, he worked in industry until he became an MP in the state legislature of the Rhineland Palatinate. He advanced to become its Minister President from 1969 to 1976. He became CDU Chairman in 1973, but despite large gains in the 1976 elections he narrowly missed the necessary absolute majority to form a government. Kohl remained party leader, and in 1982, the Liberal Party (FDP) switched its support from the SPD to the CDU, enabling Kohl to form a coalition government.

In office

 Kohl persisted as Chancellor through his complete control of the CDU and his opponents' constant underestimation of his political cunning and intellect. The latter was true, for instance, of F. J.ņStrauss, whom Kohl outmanoeuvred. He continued the conciliatory politics towards East Germany (Ostpolitik) of his predecessors, while maintaining a good relationship with the USA throughout. Moreover, Kohl established an excellent relationship with the French President, Mitterrand, which was the foundation for their efforts towards further European integration. Kohl's greatest moment came in 1989/90, when he took the initiative and realized German unification with the utmost skill. In particular, he focused on securing an agreement with the USSR before its imminent disintegration, and on preventing a mass exodus from the collapsing East Germany into West Germany. As a result, against all predictions, the CDU won the first and last free elections in East Germany in March 1990.

 On 3 October 1990 Kohl became the first freely elected Chancellor of a united Germany since the years of the Weimar Republic. If his authority in the 1980s was periodically challenged from within his own party, after unification he enjoyed enormous prestige. He remained committed to raising the standard of living in eastern Germany, and was a driving force behind the creation of the euro. He lost the 1998 election to Schröder, and in 1999 was forced to admit that he had accepted about $ 2m in illegal party donations.

Subjects: Politics — Contemporary History (Post 1945).

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