Worlds Together, Worlds Apart? Assessing the interplay between European integration and German unification

Worlds Together, Worlds Apart? Assessing the interplay between European integration and German unification

Bundeskanzler-Helmut-Schmidt-Stiftung; Europa-Kolleg Hamburg; Project House Europe, Munich
Hamburg und digital
Vom - Bis
24.09.2021 - 25.09.2021
Url der Konferenzwebsite
Emiel Geurts, Europäische Integrationsgeschichte, Radboud University Nij-megen / Ludwig-Maximilians-Universität, München

The conference was inspired by a particular lacuna in historical research. German unification has been studied extensively, and historiography on European integration during the 1980s and 1990s – mostly focused on the European Communities (EC) – has been expanding with the opening-up of relevant archives in recent years. However, existing studies often stop short of relating both processes to one another. This conference aimed to do so by assessing the intersection(s) between both developments, and to investigate how they influenced and dynamised each other. It concluded Kiran Klaus Patel’s (München) scholarship-in-residence at the Bundeskanzler-Helmut-Schmidt-Stiftung and Europa-Kolleg Hamburg.

The conference started off with a discussion on the perspectives of “the West”. Britain, France, the United States, and Italy were debated, with a particular focus on longer-term processes. PHILIPP GASSERT (Mannheim) illustrated that the George H.W. Bush administration’s positive attitude towards the EC was at least partially prompted by its “Europe 1992” trajectory, enacted in the mid-1980s, because of the belief that the EC could serve as one of the cornerstones carrying a united Germany.

Thatcher’s Britain, in contrast, was vehemently opposed to both German unification and increasing EC integration, MATHIAS HÄUSSLER (Regensburg) argued. This recalcitrance had its roots in the 1970s, well before the actual 1989/90 events.

The following contributions on France and Italy, respectively, nuanced the centrality of the EC in the processes at hand. HÉLÈNE MIARD-DELACROIX (Paris) illustrated that François Mitterrand pursued both the EC and a proposed European confederation as solutions for German unification. GABRIELE D’OTTAVIO (Trento) noted that although the EC was a rather marginal player, it functioned as a space where countries excluded from the Two Plus Four negotiations – where the two Germanies, France, the Soviet Union, Britain, and the United States came to terms on the conditions for reunification –, tried to gain at least some influence, as Italy did.

Taking up the British example, discussant Wilfried Loth (Duisburg-Essen) sparked a debate on the (potentially) longstanding traditions and conditions of each countries’ position, and how these affected the respective stances taken and strategies pursued in 1989/90.

The second panel, focusing on Eastern and Central European perspectives, continued the exploration of the diverse ecosystem of “Europes” that concerned themselves with German unification. ELENA DRAGOMIR’s (Târgoviște) analysis of Romania’s perspective on the issues at stake and FERENC LACZÓ’s (Maastricht) focus on Hungary illustrated that these countries were no mere spectators, ascribing them agency that is generally lacking in the Western-triumphalist narrative surrounding German unification.

PHILIPP THER (Vienna) pushed this endeavour of deconstructing the Western-oriented narrative further by emphasising the fact that unification and integration were not one-directional; instead, transformation processes in “the East” fed back into “the West”. An insightful discussion was kicked off by Michel Gehler (Hildesheim), who stated that “Western” vocabulary such as “Eastern Europe” should be problematised in general as the term does/did not designate a monolith of likeminded and agency-less countries, but quite the opposite, as Dragomir and Laczó successfully demonstrated.

Panels three and four dealt with the impact of German unification on various EC policy fields. Using the Strasbourg Summit as a lens to zoom-in on the decision-making process surrounding European monetary union and the German question, ANDREAS WIRSCHING (Munich) argued that the processes were intertwined and mutually enforcing, even though Mitterrand and Helmut Kohl denied that a “trade-off” took place. HAROLD JAMES (Princeton) put forward that Germany lost virtually nothing with giving up its currency, although the cultural significance of the mark is not to be underestimated.

EVA OBERLOSKAMP (Munich) and GABRIELE CLEMENS (Hamburg) discussed policy fields less often related to German unification. Oberloskamp argued that police cooperation was greatly accelerated due to anxieties resulting from the opening of the EC borders with “the East”. However, it was not necessarily migration itself that triggered the process towards Europol, but rather the fear of it. Clemens dealt with the development of the EC common foreign policy, and discussant Frank Bösch (Potsdam) wondered what role the fear of a united Germany played in its shaping. According to Clemens, the German foreign office was aware of the fears of neighbouring countries, and was constantly trying to dispel them in discussions on foreign policy. As of now, these policy fields are still largely regulated by the states, but the supranational EC approach to both was rooted in anxieties surrounding German unification.

Tensions between supranationalism and intergovernmentalism were also explored by VICTOR JAESCHKE (Potsdam) and KEITH ALLEN (Berlin). Discussant Dominik Geppert (Potsdam) wondered why Jaeschke emphasised the role of the European Commission in the German unification process, while Allen argued that the influence of EC institutions was minimal in the post-1989 Eastern German economic-industrial restructuring. Their focus on different topics was at the core of this, and Jaeschke added that the role of the Commission was, in fact, still marginal compared to key national actors such as Mitterrand and Kohl. Even though the Commission’s competences were minimal, it still succeeded in taking on a rather significant role in the negotiations surrounding the events of 1989/90.

Moving beyond the perspectives of EC actors and national governments, DOMINIK GEPPERT (Potsdam) and GUIDO THIEMEYER (Düsseldorf) turned to the German domestic level by discussing the German parliament(s) and Bundesländer respectively. Interestingly enough, the question of how German unification related to the EC was hardly debated in any of the German parliamentary assemblies (FRG, GDR, and united Germany) in the early 1990s, as shown by Geppert. In fact, the magnitude of the transformations seemed inversely proportional to the intensity of parliamentary debate on the topic. Investigating the West German Länder perspectives on both European integration and German unification, Thiemeyer highlighted the attempts of the Länder to strengthen their own position through establishing closer contacts with the European Commission directly.

Together, the contributions highlighted and dealt with multiple perspectives on the intersection of two of the most transformative processes of recent European history. One particular perspective that does need more attention, as was repeatedly addressed in all the fruitful panel discussions, is that of the GDR. As Patel reaffirmed in his conclusion to the conference, the East Germans cannot be relegated to a passive role, portrayed as if unable to influence the “advancement of history”. The danger of dismissing the GDR as an inactive historical anomaly, or a “dead end”, looms if it is exclusively treated as an “object” of other actors and processes. To fully grasp the developments and to transcend the victor’s narrative of “the West”, the GDR has to be accounted for.

Conference overview:

Panel 1

Mathias Häußler (Regensburg): Worlds together, worlds apart? The German question and the British inability to give a European answer

Hélène Miard-Delacroix (Paris): France’s European response to the challenge of German reunification

Philipp Gassert (Mannheim): “We Are Not Seeking a Thirteenth Seat at the EC Table”: The United States, European Integration, and the Future of NATO 1990/91

Gabriele D’Ottavio (Trento): German Reunification and European Integration: Deconstructing the Italian Trade-Off Narrative

Discussant: Wilfried Loth (Duisburg-Essen)

Panel 2

Philipp Ther (Vienna): Cotransformation since 1990: A German Path and Perspective, with European Ramifications

Ferenc Laczó (Maastricht): The Long Refolution and Hungary’s “Return to (Central) Europe”

Elena Dragomir, (Târgoviște): Romania’s Position on the “German Question” and the Deepening of Western Integration

Discussant: Michael Gehler (Hildesheim)

Panel 3
Victor Jaeschke (Potsdam): “Un phénomène globalement positif”. The European Commission, German unification and the Future of Europe 1989-1992

Harold James (Princeton): Germany between Deutschemark and Euro

Andreas Wirsching (Munich): A Question of Temporality. The Strasbourg EC-Summit and the acceleration of the Maastricht process

Keith Allen (Berlin): State Aid to Eastern German Shipbuilding and Steel: European Dimensions

Discussant: Dominik Geppert (Potsdam)

Panel 4

Gabriele Clemens (Hamburg): A Crucial Step towards Europeanization? The Creation of the Common Foreign and Security Policy (CFSP) in the 1990s

Eva Oberloskamp (Munich): German Unification and the Intensification of European Police Cooperation

Dominik Geppert (Potsdam): Parliamentary Debates on German Unity and European Unification in Bonn and Berlin in 1990 (and 1991)

Guido Thiemeyer (Düsseldorf): German Unification, the Länder and the Europeanisation of the Political System of Federal Germany

Discussant: Frank Bösch (Potsdam)

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