Germany has arrived. It has taken up a position where it always belonged, namely in the heart of Europe.
In the summer of 1945, Paul Claudel, a French dramatist and diplomat, wrote “Germany is not there to divide nations but to let all the different nations around it feel that they cannot live without one another.”
And that Germany is a Europe-oriented Germany. The Federal Republic of Germany, which began as West Germany, recognized this historic responsibility after the disaster that was World War II and Nazi rule – and acted accordingly.
Back then, West Germany’s early decision in favor of integration with the West made clear its position for all Germans: as part of the community of western democracies. This divided country, this conquered country, then began paving the way toward achieving a balance and understanding between East and West.
West Germany’s “Ostpolitik,” or policy of normalization of relations with Eastern Europe, created opportunities for a new beginning between West and East. That was only possible – indeed it had to be – as an endeavor by all states on both sidesof the Iron Curtain.
Its coordinating body, the Conference on Security and Co-operation in Europe (CSCE), put forth a political masterplan, the 1975 Helsinki Final Act, that covered an area reaching from Vancouver to Vladivostok. It was a precarious embrace of the states from the North American democracies to the entire Soviet Union along with its Asian regions.
Yet the process this set in motion ultimately led to the end not just of Germany’s division, but of the division of Europe!
Even so, contemplating today’s political landscape, people may ask if this division really is behind us – and this question is justified.
It seems as if some people don’t want to overcome this division, but rather shift the dividing line from the middle further eastward. What a historic misunderstanding that would be! And it would also violate the basic philosophy behind the Paris Charter for a new Europe, adopted on November 21, 1990, when the CSCE member states agreed a new plan for cooperation.
Momentum toward European unity
Just like a divided Germany gave the European unification process new momentum after WWII, a united Germany is called on today to give this very European unity fresh impetus, mainly in two directions.
First, the unification process must be promoted with levelheadedness and determination. It’s not a matter of more or less Europe, but of whether we continue to build Europe or duck back into the old trenches.
Secondly, it means not reviving the division of Europe; after all, unification has brought with it so much that’s good.
What’s Germany’s role in all of this?
Not that of cracking the whip, but of acting as an engine, coming up with ideas and reminding people of Claudel’s cautionary remarks in 1945.
In the world order currently emerging, it’s about making Europe a testing ground that everyone can recognize as just. In other words, a new Germany in a new Europe doesn’t mean more power, but more responsibility.
Responsibility for a world of equality, but not dominance; a world where everyone is always aware of the fact that a nation won’t prosper in the long run if others permanently do poorly.
That’s the result of a global interdependence that connects the world’s nations to become more than an international community: they become a community with a common destiny, a community bent on survival.
Hans-Dietrich Genscher served as German Foreign Minister and Vice Chancellor from 1974 to 1992. His most recent book, “Meine Sicht der Dinge” (“My View of Things”) was published earlier this month.