Helmut Schmidt: Germany In, With And For Europe

The following is the transcript of a speech former German Chancellor Helmut Schmidt held at the party congress of the SPD in Berlin on 4th December 2011, first published by the Friedrich-Ebert-Stiftung. Look back at the European developments of the last 4 years and you will see how up to date this speech is.

Helmut Schmidt

Let me begin on a personal note. When Sigmar Gabriel, Frank-Walter Steinmeier and my party asked me once again for a contribution, I recalled with pleasure that, 65 years ago today, I was kneeling on the floor with my wife, Loki, painting invitation posters for the SPD in the Neugraben district of Hamburg. But I must admit that at my age I am beyond good and evil in respect of any party politics. For a long time now my two major interests have been the tasks facing this country and the role it should play in the crucial arena of European integration.

I am pleased to share this lectern with Jens Stoltenberg from Norway who, in the midst of the profound misfortune his country has suffered, has provided us and all Europeans with a shining example of unwavering, constitutional, liberal and democratic leadership.

When you’re as old as I am, you have a natural tendency to take a long-term perspective – both backwards into history and forwards into the future, in which you place your hopes and your aspirations. That said, I nonetheless found it impossible to give a straightforward answer to a very simple question put to me just a few days ago by Wolfgang Thierse, who asked me when I thought Germany would finally become a normal country. I answered by saying that Germany would not be a “normal” country in the foreseeable future. Standing in the path to normality is the enormous and unique burden of our history. A further stumbling block is the economically and demographically dominant central position Germany occupies in the middle of our very small continent with its multitude of different nation states.

Which brings me to the heart of the complex subject matter I wish to address: Germany in, with and for Europe.

I Motives And Origins Of European Integration

Although a few of the 40-odd nation states in Europe – Italy, Greece and Germany, for example – were late in developing the national identity they have today, bloody wars have been fought time and again all over the continent. Seen from central Europe, the history of the continent might well be regarded as a never-ending succession of struggles between the periphery and the centre and, vice versa, between the centre and the periphery. The decisive battlefield has always been the centre, however.

Whenever the rulers, states or peoples at the heart of Europe were weak, their neighbours from the periphery would penetrate into the enfeebled centre. The greatest destruction and the largest losses of human life in relative terms were suffered during the first Thirty Years War 1618-48, which was played out for the most part on German soil. At that time, Germany was no more than a geographical concept, vaguely defined as the area in which German was spoken. The French came at a later date under Louis XIV and again under Napoleon. The Swedes did not come a second time. The British and the Russians, however, came several times, the latter most recently under Stalin.

Whenever the dynasties or the states in the centre of Europe were strong – or felt they were strong – they, in turn, ventured into the periphery. That was the case with the Crusades, which were also campaigns of conquest directed not just at Asia Minor and Jerusalem, but also at eastern Prussia and all three present-day Baltic states. In modern times it applied to the war against Napoleon and the three wars waged by Bismarck in 1864, 1866 and 1870/71.

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