Helmut Schmidt

(b. 1918)

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(b. 23 Dec. 1918).

Chancellor of Germany 1974–82

Early career

Born in Hamburg, he was a conscript and then an officer during World War II. Schmidt joined the SPD in 1946, and as a student of politics (1946–9) he became the president of the socialist German student league (1946–7). He served as an MP 1953–62 and 1965–87. Schmidt achieved national prominence as Interior Senator of the city-state of Hamburg in 1962, when he coped successfully with a catastrophic flood in the city. At the national level, Schmidt served under Brandt as Defence Secretary in 1969, and Finance Secretary in 1972.

In office

Schmidt had to cope with the effects of two oil-price shocks. Although the economy performed badly by German standards, the German economy fared much better than the economies of other industrialized nations. It was in this period that the strength of the national currency, the Deutsche Mark, was enshrined. In domestic politics, Schmidt was faced with the terrorist challenge of the Baader-Meinhof Gang. On the international scene, his commitment to friendship with France and to European integration led to the creation of the European Monetary System, a forerunner of the ERM. At a time when the Cold War became more tense following the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan, Schmidt backed the controversial deployment of Pershing nuclear missiles in Europe. This response to the arrival of Soviet SS20 missiles in East Germany ultimately lost him the support of his own party. Always to the right of the SPD, his growing rift with his own party led to the defection of his coalition partner, the Liberal Party (FDP). He did not survive a no-confidence motion by the CDU, and Schmidt was succeeded by Kohl as Chancellor in 1982. A highly articulate thinker who did not suffer fools gladly, Schmidt continued to be an influential elder statesman, not least through his position as co-editor of the German weekly newspaper, Die Zeit.

Subjects: Contemporary History (Post 1945) — Politics.

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