When one reads any of the myriad of articles following the European Debt Crisis, one can hardly fail to notice the key role Germany plays without some manner of epithet such as “…said Germany…Europe’s largest economy”, or “according to Chancellor Merkel, leader of the eurozone’s most powerful member”. To anyone who has followed the historical evolution of German influence within Europe since the Second World War, such statements mark a fundamental shift in how the media, politicians and public view Germany.  This article will be the first of several in exploring the evolution of Germany within Europe.

In May 1949 the West German Basic Law (Grundgesetz) was ratified by the federal presidents, the Ministerpräsidenten of the western Länder, establishing the Federal Republic of Germany. At this early point, it is well worth mentioning that Grundgestez has quite a different meaning than Verfassung, a constitution – the Ministerpräsidenten wanted at all costs to avoid any hint of permanent German division. This Germany, as just one of the two “Germanies” of this time, would be a microcosm of a much wider European and world picture. It was clear therefore that neither of these German political experiments would be allowed to determine their own foreign policies. The creation of an eastern German state,  coinciding with Konrad Adenauer becoming the first Federal Chancellor (Bundeskanzler), did however point this new West Germany firmly towards the western ‘camp’ of the unfolding conflict between the Soviet led East, and US led West. There had been potential in the years immediately after the defeat of the Nazi State for a unified neutral Germany (almost certainly with an agricultural base), however the ever deteriorating relations between the [former] allies caused a polarisation of the land which lay between east and west. Adenauer then inherited a very difficult and complex question: did he abandon the eastern states (and of course, those territories since ceded to Poland and Russia) in favour of the west? The answer is a resounding ‘Yes’. How? Adenauer established Westpolitik, or western policy. Westpolitk was simply to seek the inclusion of the Federal Republic in the newly emerging western security structures, reconciliation with France – Germanys’ long standing rival – and retain a close relationship with the United States. Adenauer, however, was not content to view West Germany as some quasi-political entity devoid of national sovereignty.

Despite Adenauer’s aims to restore Germany (if only part of it) to its former glory, the realities of the Cold War would prove a complex enigma. In the years following the proclamation of the Federal Republic, West Germany had no foreign minister. That was until 1951 when West Germany became part of the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation (NATO). Founded on 4th April 1949, NATO represented the need and desire for a collective defence between the vast majority of democratic states located in Western Europe and North America.

In the same year as West Germany’s membership of NATO, the Treaty of Paris established the European Coal and Steel Community (ECSC) between six European governments: West Germany, France, Italy, Belgium, the Netherlands and Luxembourg. This western European attempt at economic union was further consolidated in 1959 with the signing of the Treaties of Rome, forming the European Economic Community (EEC). This expressed the aim of consolidating a lasting European peace through economic means. Following the development of these international organisations, Adenauer declared that [West] Germany must “serve the peace of the world as an equal partner in a united Europe”. The now famous German economic miracle (or Wirtschaftswunder) of the 1950’s meant that, once again, West Germany became one of the great economies of the world, which was increasingly important given the EECs economic. Its growing economy could be ‘embedded’ in a wider European economy. This suited West German interest’s well, Adenauer wanted Germany to maintain a low international profile, even as its economy grew.

This demonstrates a key development in the history of West German foreign policy, the utilisation of the ‘European method’ in achieving German objectives without damaging relations with France, with whom the policy of reconciliation was vital. Indeed Franco-German reconciliation was one of the most salient benefits of using the EEC to further German foreign policy objectives. The development of a “Europeanised” foreign policy was key to the formula “(1) Always proceed cautiously and slowly; (2) never go it alone but keep the company of friends who can help you along; (3) don’t swagger and keep a low profile”, as Willy Brandt so eloquently put it.

Prior to German Unification in 1990, West German membership of the EEC allowed it to play a role in European economics without political responsibility. This should not be viewed as a negative, but as a positive, given that EEC membership can be seen as a concrete symbol of the re-integration of West Germany into the western European family of states, which of course, was the key foreign policy objective of Adenauer’s chancellorship. NATO was the natural “competitor” against the EEC with regard to the re-integration of West Germany into the western political fold. In the 1960’s Willy Brandt paid tribute to NATO by stating “No European security policy has been set up without the continued existence of NATO or some level of strategic partnership with Soviets / Russia” Even directly following reunification, NATO was continually portrayed as a key security provider towards Germany. However, European Integration was arguably the decisive factor in determining the international position of the post 1990 Federal Republic

It must also be remembered, however, that as well as the ‘power-politics’ involved in the formation of the European project, West Germany was always, by the necessity of post-war reconciliation and re-construction, going to include some form of Europapolitik (Europe-policy) as a main focus of its developing foreign policy. In terms of West Germany’s’ position within the Community, the main priority of the Federal Republic was to pursue Economic and Monetary Union (EMU). From Socialist Chancellor Helmut Schmidt to Conservative Helmut Kohl, the EMU was seen as a way of solving Europe’s currency concerns following the collapse of Breton Woods in the late 1970’s. The establishment of the single currency also served a political purpose, warming the concerned French and British premiers to the idea of German reunification, as a member of the European currency.

The internal politics of various European states notwithstanding, and the relative weakness implicit in West Germany after dealing with the horrors of World War II, West Germany did make its mark in community policy and its dealings with the surrounding European states.

As Willy Brandt declared during his time as Bundesaußenminister (Federal Foreign Minister):

“The government of this Federal Republic of ours does not have its being [rooted] in the categories of power claims, demonstrations and least of all, threats. But our own interest, which it is up to us to represent, and our understanding of the state of European interests, obliges us to speak a clear language and urge our French neighbours not to make things to difficult for ourselves and others”

In this statement, Brandt alluded to his wider aim of achieving German foreign policy aims through the EEC. Brandt viewed NATO’s role solely as a security provider against Communism, and therefore he predicted that a truly “European Policy” could be developed in order to allow West Germany the chance to pursue peaceful goals on the world stage. Put quite simply, the EEC gave West Germany an opportunity to pursue its economic policies, reconcile with her neighbours and begin to challenge the stigma of her Nazi past.

At the core of this policy was Brandt’s desire to “Get Europe moving” through Community expansion: “I stated, in the name of the German federal government, in Bonn and Paris, in Strasbourg and Brussels, in Rome and London, in The Hague and Copenhagen, that the EC treaty is open to the entry of all European states”. Brandt encouraged the adoption of ‘Community norms’ in applicant states, thus giving West Germany some level of influence over its neighbours. This policy of conducting foreign policy through the EEC was to continue until reunification, which saw Germany take more international responsibility.

One West German policy which was undoubtedly formed independently of the EEC was Ostpolitik or Eastern Policy. Ostpolitk was developed by the rise of Willy Brandt’s SPD led government in 1969 and was based on the policy of developing positive relations between East and West Germany. This was a natural component of West German foreign policy given the West German desire to establish links with the eastern German DR, but was it also a way of improving relations with the USSR and Eastern Bloc countries on the whole. The EEC, especially in the eyes of Cold War Federal Foreign Minister, was also seen as an opportunity to establish economic links with central and eastern European countries (CEE’s). Ostpolitik however, was not driven by membership of the EEC, nor was it ever an integral part of the EEC’s own external policies (which focussed itself on expansion within Western European democracies and the Mediterranean dictatorships). The construction of the Berlin Wall in 1961 demonstrated that the division of Germany was not going to be resolved in the short-term. It showed the reality of two ‘Germanies’, meaning one German nation would could not be achieved in the foreseeable future. Therefore, Ostpolitik was based on the idea that “[the] USSR, as one of the four war-time allies which ultimately sanctioned matters ‘concerning Germany as a whole’ was key to achieving better relations with the GDR”. Ostpolitik can therefore be interpreted as the single most influential form of foreign policy adopted by the Federal Republic outside the EEC and NATO.

I have attempted to analyse the use of EEC membership in allowing West Germany to develop a foreign policy between its [the EECs’] founding and German reunification. To this end specific attention is drawn to the following four points:

  1. as the world became ever more polarised, West Germany could take its place in one of the two Cold War camps with a voice.
  2. Given the Wirtschaftswunder of the 1950’s, the EEC offered an international and regional institution in which it could develop economic influence.
  3. It offered a method of achieving Franco-German reconciliation outside of simple peace treaties and outside of bickering between various key western states.
  4. When West Germany embarked on its Ostpolitik, it had already had several decades of integration with her neighbours, which in turn gave credibility and confidence to enter into talks with the USSR and other CEE states. The EEC allowed for a “European Germany, and not a German Europe” as Thomas Mann put it.

Like the European project itself, after half a century of incremental progress, events have snowballed and actors have changed. In a post-Maastricht Europe, a reunited Germany has become the EU’s leading member, remained its largest economy and been a leader in dealing with Europe’s financial crisis.

The second part of this series will look at Germany in these two decades and its evolution as an EU member state.