Tributes for late former West German leader Helmut Schmidt

Politicians across Europe pay tribute to leading proponent of European integration

In this 2009 file photo, former German chancellor Helmut Schmidt takes part in a discussion hosted by the ECB in Frankfurt, central Germany. Photograph: AP Photo/Daniel Roland

In this 2009 file photo, former German chancellor Helmut Schmidt takes part in a discussion hosted by the ECB in Frankfurt, central Germany. Photograph: AP Photo/Daniel Roland

 

Former West German chancellor Helmut Schmidt, who led the country for eight years at the height of the cold war, died yesterday at the age of 96, his office said. Schmidt was West Germany’s second centre-left Social Democrat (SPD) chancellor from 1974 to 1982 and a leading proponent of European integration.

He became chancellor at a time of crisis for West Germany, replacing Willy Brandt, who had been forced to resign when his close assistant, Guenter Guillaume, was uncovered as a Stasi agent spying for the East German intelligence agency. At the same time, Schmidt had to deal with the consequences of the 1973-74 oil crisis.

German media reported that Schmidt caught an infection after having surgery to remove a blood clot from his leg about two months ago. He died yesterday in his home town of Hamburg.

In recent years, Schmidt, a chain smoker, was a frequent talk show guest and won more respect among many Germans as an elder statesman than he did when he led the country. “We are mourning Schmidt and are proud that he was one of us. We will miss his powerful judgement and advice,” tweeted SPD leader and vice-chancellor Sigmar Gabriel.

His death prompted tributes from across Europe. President Michael D Higgins said: “He was a leader in troubled times, steering his country through two oil crises and the growing threat to democracy posed by the rise of violent terror groups in the years of his chancellorship.

“His legacy is shaped by his understanding of Germany’s role in the construction of a modern, social and democratic Europe and his often stated view that a social Europe was the best source of security on the continent.”

Chancellor Angela Merkel described Schmidt as “a political institution”. “The important initiatives he undertook in international policy are still being felt today.” French president François Hollande said that “a great German statesman has gone”. “He led his country at a very difficult time and he led it towards economic stability and towards the choice of growth.” Mr Hollande added that Europe owed the existence of the euro to Schmidt.

As chancellor, Schmidt tried to balance a conciliatory tone towards Moscow and communist East Germany with a strengthening of West Germany’s standing within Nato and Europe. Schmidt, who had served as finance minister from 1972 to 1974, was in office at the time of West Germany’s “economic miracle” although, recognising a worsening situation, he tried to make some welfare cuts.

One of his biggest challenges was dealing with the ultra-left Red Army Faction, whose attacks on the political and business establishment included a wave of killings and kidnappings that peaked in the “German Autumn” of 1977. Schmidt was succeeded by conservative chancellor Helmut Kohl.

European Commission president Jean-Claude Juncker said he had lost a friend with political courage. “The history of this continent shaped him for almost a century and made him a committed European,” Mr Juncker added.

He was married for 68 years to Loki. She died in 2010. They had a son who died as a baby and a daughter. – (Reuters)