Brian Mulroney remembers former German chancellor Helmut Kohl as 'giant of Europe'

Helmut Kohl, the former chancellor responsible for the reunification of Germany, has died. One of his few international allies at the time was Canadian Prime Minister Brian Mulroney, who offered his recollections of Kohl in an interview with "As It Happens."
Ronald Reagan, Brian Mulroney and Helmut Kohl follow Margaret Thatcher into a courtyard at Hart House in Toronto, June 20, 1988. (Fred Chartrand/The Canadian Press)

Story transcript

Helmut Kohl, the man responsible for the reunification of Germany and who played a pivotal role in the creation of the eurozone, has died. He was 87.

After Bismarck, Kohl was Germany's longest-serving chancellor, with 16 years in power.

During the process of reunification, one of Kohl's key international allies was Canadian prime minister Brian Mulroney. Mulroney spoke to As It Happens host Carol Off about Kohl on Friday. Here is part of their conversation. 

Former German Chancellor Helmut Kohl poses for a photo in front of a piece of Berlin Wall in the garden of his home in Oggersheim near Ludwigshafen, Germany, May 16, 2014. Kohl died Friday aged 87. (DANIEL ROLAND/AFP/Getty Images)

CAROL OFF: Mr. Mulroney, how are you going to remember Helmut Kohl?

BRIAN MULRONEY: Oh, I'm going to remember him, Carol, as a giant of Europe and a major player internationally. He was a delight to work with as well. I always thought and said that with regard to the G7, he was by far the best politician of the group. And so he's going to be missed by a lot of people, that's for sure, including me.

CO: His great legacy is the reunification of Germany. What did he have to give up — what political sacrifices did he make in order to make that happen?

BM: Well, the sacrifices were essentially economic. Because when he put the Deutschmark and the East German currency on par, that cost West Germany, and is still costing West Germany, enormously. But he was looking beyond the immediate mountains and into history. And he saw that a united Germany would be able to play a major role in Europe while becoming one of the most powerful economies in the entire world. That's come to pass.

Former Prime Minister Brian Mulroney. (Larry MacDougal/The Canadian Press)

CO: What concerns did other world leaders have with Germany becoming that powerful, at the time?

BM: Everybody was opposed to the unification of Germany except for president [George H.W.] Bush, [Russian premier Mikhail] Gorbachev and myself. In his famous speech to the Bundestag reporting on German reunification, he said that Germans will always have three countries to thank: The Soviet Union, Canada and the United States. Everyone else was opposed to German reunification: the Europeans for historical reasons, and the war, and in some cases because they figured it was going to create an imbalance.

With regard to the G7, he was by far the best politician of the group. And so he's going to be missed by a lot of people, that's for sure, including me.- Former prime minister Brian Mulroney remembers former German chancellor Helmut Kohl

CO: There's another world leader with whom you had a strong relationship, and that's Margaret Thatcher. Mr. Kohl writes in his autobiography which he published in 2005, that she was furious about German reunification. He says, "I will never forget Margaret Thatcher's angry observation that 'We have beaten the Germans twice, and now they're back.'" Did you ever talk with Margaret Thatcher about this?

BM: Oh, of course. In regard to his conciliatory nature, Kohl used to say "Look, there's something in the German character that caused us to visit enormous damage upon the continent. And I never want to see it again, so I am going to bring together every instrument of unity that I can to enhance the strength of a united Europe, including the surrender of the Deutschmark, which was an amazing thing. But people like Margaret were dead set against this. And made it absolutely clear that they wanted no part of a unified Germany. But it happened, in any case, and Margaret had a very tough time getting over it.

Former Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev, former U.S. President George H.W. Bush and former German Chancellor Helmut Kohl together in 1989. (AP Photo/Herbert Knosowski, file)

CO: Did you ever speak with president Bush about this? Did you and president Bush have conversations about German reunification?

BM: Bush and I were on this case all the time. Because, as I say, we were the rare birds who supported German re-unification. Every other European country that was involved in NATO or the G7 was opposed. So president Bush and I co-operated enormously.

CO: We're watching the United Kingdom leave the European Union now. What would that mean for Helmut Kohl? What would he say about that, at this point, given  how much he put into it?

BM: He would say what any reasonable person would say: that it's a fundamental mistake.

This transcript has been condensed and edited. To hear more of Brian Mulroney's recollections about Helmut Kohl, click Listen. 


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