[update below] [2nd update below]
Helmut Schmidt is not someone whose death I would normally have a post on, as I didn’t think about him too much over the decades, but as I am presently teaching two courses on the European Union—one to American undergrads (in French), the other to French graduate students (in English)—I have had occasion to mention him more than twice over the past month, for the role he played in the construction of Europe during his years as chancellor and in solidifying the Franco-German partnership. I told my students—almost none of whom recognized him from a photo or knew a thing about him—that he was up there with Germany’s other outsized postwar chancellors (which happens to be most of them: Konrad Adenauer, Willy Brandt, Helmut Kohl, and Angela Merkel). And his center-left politics were about where mine are today (though not during his time in office, when I was rather more gauchiste).
To commemorate his death, Foreign Affairs has posted on its website an essay Schmidt wrote for the journal’s May-June 1997 issue, “Miles to Go: From American Plan to European Union,” in which he discusses the three speeches that had “a decisive impact on the economic and political rehabilitation of Europe after World War II”: Winston Churchill’s in 1946, on his vision of a United States of Europe; George C. Marshall’s in 1947, laying out what would become the Marshall Plan the following year; and Robert Schuman’s famous one of May 9th 1950, which led to the Treaty of Paris and creation of the ECSC, which in turn led to the Treaty of Rome and then today’s EU. Toward the end of the essay, Schmidt offers this
As this new world emerges [one with three superpowers: the United States, Russia, and China, plus Japan], what will be Europe’s role and weight in international affairs? Neither Britain nor France is a world power any longer, even if they find this difficult to admit to themselves. Italy ceased to be a world power when the Germanic barbarians destroyed the Roman Empire. And, after losing two world wars and constraining itself within a web of European institutions, Germany will never again become a world power. None of the European nation-states will be sufficiently influential to pursue its national interests alone as the world comes to terms with the oncoming global paradigm shift and attempts to address the host of issues that will arise over the control of financial markets, over exchange rates and freedom of trade, arms control, limits on population growth, and the deterioration of the atmosphere and the oceans. Only a vital European Union will have the political, economic, and financial weight to exert an influence on global affairs equal to that of the three superpowers.
It’s a great piece. Absolutely worth reading in full.
Another great essay by Schmidt that’s been posted on more than one website since yesterday is the transcript of the speech he gave on December 4th 2011 at the SPD party congress in Berlin, “Germany in, with and for Europe,” which was widely remarked on at the time in Germany. Money quotes
In 2050, each of the European nations will constitute just a fraction of one per cent of the world’s population. In other words, if we cherish the notion that we Europeans are important for the world, we have to act in unison. As individual states – France, Italy, Germany, Poland, Holland, Denmark or Greece – we will ultimately be measured not in percentages, but in parts per thousand.
That is why the European nation states have a long-term strategic interest in their mutual integration. This strategic interest in European integration will become increasingly significant.
The Federal Republic of Germany is a very large country with a very competitive economy that needs to be integrated into Europe – to protect it from itself, amongst other things. Ever since 1992 therefore – since the times of Helmut Kohl – Article 23 of the Basic Law has obliged us to cooperate »… in the development of the European Union«. Article 23 also obliges us, as an element of this cooperation, to heed »the principle of subsidiarity«. The present crisis affecting the ability of the EU institutions to take action does not change these principles in any way.
In view of our central geopolitical location, the unfortunate role we played in European history up to the middle of the twentieth century and the strong economy we have today, every German government is called upon to show the utmost sensitivity towards the interests of our partners in the European Union. And our willingness to help is indispensable.
And in conclusion
my friends, let me say that there is really no need to preach international solidarity to Social Democrats. For a century and a half, German Social Democrats have been internationalists to a far greater extent than generations of Liberals, Conservatives or German Nationalists. We Social Democrats have upheld the cause of freedom and human dignity. We have held fast to representative parliamentary democracy. These fundamental values make it our duty to exercise European solidarity today.
In the 21st century, Europe will undoubtedly continue to consist of nation states, each with its own language and history. For that reason Europe will definitely not become a federal state. However, the European Union cannot afford to degenerate into a mere confederation. The European Union must remain a dynamically developing alliance, for which there is no parallel in the whole of human history. We Social Democrats must contribute to the gradual evolution of this alliance.
Also making the rounds since yesterday is Schmidt’s famous line from 1972, when he was finance minister: “I’d rather have five percent inflation than five percent unemployment.” Too bad the spirit of this wasn’t inscribed in the Treaty on European Union and the architecture of the single currency.
Here’s a quote from World Jewish Congress President Ronald Lauder
Helmut Schmidt was undoubtedly one of the great Germans of the 20th century…When terrorists struck during the 1970s, he refused to be blackmailed and stood his ground. He stood with America when it came to defending the West against Soviet expansionism.
Not a single obituary has neglected to mention that Schmidt was a heavy smoker for almost his entire life, consuming two to three packs of cigarettes a day (menthol, no doubt with high tar content)—along with snuff—from his early teens until a few months ago, after his 96th birthday. According to my calculation, he must have smoked over a million cigarettes in his life. And yet he stayed active—intellectually and otherwise—almost to the very end. Talk about beating the odds.
UPDATE: Die Zeit editor Josef Joffe has a good remembrance in the WSJ of “The man who saved Germany’s new democracy: Helmut Schmidt saw his country through terrorism and Soviet intimidation with its liberty intact.”
And see Le Monde’s very good editorial, “Helmut Schmidt, un visionnaire dans le réel.”
2nd UPDATE: Die Zeit political editor Jochen Bittner has an op-ed in the NYT explaining “Why Germans loved Helmut Schmidt.”