Opinion: in the name of Helmut Kohl, don’t close EU borders!

The ‘Chancellor of Unity’ Helmut Kohl, who died June 16th at the age of 87, has been hailed as a great European, said the Süddeutsche Zeitung. But he wouldn’t recognise today’s EU.
Former German Chancellor Helmut Kohl
Former German Chancellor Helmut Kohl

During his 16 years as Chancellor, the late Helmut Kohl ‘exuded certainty,’ said The Economist. Known as die Birne (“the Pear”) because of his obvious love for German cuisine, he only spoke German, and ‘displayed only a token interest’ in art, music and literature.’

But he was a highly influential politician.

He oversaw the reunification of Germany and the thawing of relations with its geographical neighbours, he secured the deal to create a European single currency, laid the ground for Berlin to become Germany’s capital, and saw that Russia pulled out of Europe.

‘Father of Europe and remover of borders,’ it is largely thanks to him that ‘border guards have been replaced by the blue star-studded flag of the Schengen zone,’ said the Süddeutsche Zeitung.

But more recently, European governments have used the refugee crisis to justify exceptional measures that render the Schengen agreement obsolete.

helmut kohl a child refugee on the Greek island of Lesvos, (Mauro Kourí)
A child refugee on the Greek island of Lesvos, © Mauro Kourí.

The long ‘funeral processions’ of cars queuing at border checkpoints was exactly what Helmut Kohl wanted to rid the EU of.

Despite the criticism, Mr. Kohl knew that European unification was necessary to guarantee peace. He believed the process had to be ‘irreversible.’

The introduction of a single currency – the euro – was for him a way to create a common interest that would help secure the continent’s fragile harmony.

His critics believed post-war peace could be taken for granted, but ‘the situation on Europe’s doorstep clearly shows they were wrong.’

The idea of ‘Europe as a stabilising, pacifying force is not a distant memory. It’s a necessity for the future. It’s also Helmut Kohl’s political legacy.

‘His heirs would do well to re-establish freedom of movement in Europe. Maintaining internal borders would be madness.’