State papers: Thatcher opposed German reunification after collapse of Berlin Wall

British prime minister feared an enlarged Germany would become too powerful

British prime minister Margaret Thatcher claimed then chancellor Helmut Kohl wanted to “bulldoze” Germany into seeking more territory, expressing fear this might lead to conflict and war in Europe. Photograph: PA Wire

British prime minister Margaret Thatcher claimed then chancellor Helmut Kohl wanted to “bulldoze” Germany into seeking more territory, expressing fear this might lead to conflict and war in Europe. Photograph: PA Wire

 

British prime minister Margaret Thatcher strongly opposed the reunification of Germany following the dismantling of the Berlin Wall in late 1989.

She contended then chancellor Helmut Kohl wanted to “bulldoze” Germany into seeking more territory, expressing fear this might lead to conflict and war in Europe.

In a private meeting with taoiseach Charlie Haughey in December 1989, she revealed the depth of her concern about the developing situation where the former Soviet-controlled East Germany was on the brink of collapse.

In a volatile political situation and with uncertainty as to how the events would play out, Thatcher produced historical maps to Haughey to illustrate her fear a united Germany might seek to gain additional territories it had lost after the second World War.

An Irish official at the meeting noted: “At this point, the prime minister produced a map showing Germany as it had been before the last war, as it is now, and the Nato frontline. Germany, before the last war, was vast in area in comparison with its present size.”

She said it was vital that Germany be anchored in the European Community as with unity it would be bigger than France, Spain and Italy together.

Thatcher implied such a development would have a further negative impact on the Soviet Union, which was then beginning to break up.

‘Sorry for Gorbachev’

“I am sorry for Gorbachev [Mikhail Gorbachev, the leader of the Soviet Union],” she told Haughey. “He doesn’t want German unity. Neither do I. Even as things are, Germany has a balance of trade surplus with every country in the community.

The documents have been released to the public by the National Archive under the 30-year rule governing disclosure of State papers.

The meeting was held in December 1989, only a fortnight after the Berlin Wall had been removed.

Thatcher implied German reunification plans would not stop there. She and her officials told Haughey that Kohl’s party, the CDU, did not accept the Oder-Neisse line – the border between Germany and Poland agreed at the end of that war.

She said it was not all certain that Kohl accepted that border either.

“Attitudes are becoming more and more Germanic. He is like a bulldozer. East Germans are flooding into his country. His attitude now seems to be that ‘no one can tell us what to do’.

“We are not certain what will happen in the German Democratic Republic [East Germany]. There are 325,000 Soviet troops stationed there.”

One of her officials said there were also incursions into the Russian camps. “There are records that within the last 48 hours Soviet military bases have been invaded,” he said.

In a situation where there were fears that the events might lead to conflict and war, Haughey agreed that in a situation like that anything might happen. Thatcher referred to recent rioting in the East German city of Dresden. “The whole situation is very tricky,” she said.

Tense exchanges

In contrast to their private meetings the previous year – where both leaders had tense exchanges over the IRA’s smuggling of vast quantities of Semtex explosives from Libya and over the non-extradition of a notorious IRA member, Fr Patrick Ryan – the two private meetings in 1989 were congenial and dominated by EU concerns.

The primary Anglo-Irish issue that was discussed in any detail was the case of the Birmingham Six, six Northern Irish men who wrongly convicted of a pub bombing that killed 21 people in Birmingham in 1974 .

The Irish government was also hopeful the British authorities might reopen the case following the recent release of the Guildford Four, who had been convicted in a similar miscarriage of justice case.

At that stage, the Birmingham Six had exhausted the appeal process in the British courts. Haughey said there were arguments for re-opening that case that were “unanswerable”. Thatcher replied that the Court of Appeal had given a very extensive judgement and she would not interfere.

Haughey replied there most be some way “in which the case could be dealt with to everybody’s satisfaction”.

Both agreed the Anglo-Irish Agreement was working well at that stage.