The Irish Times view on the anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall: The legacy of reunification

Germany is challenged now to adjust to a more multipolar and fragmented world requiring greater sharing of its economic and political power at European level

A watch tower of East German border soldiers at the Berlin Wall memorial on Bernauer Strasse in Berlin, Germany. On November 9th Germany will mark the 30th anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall  in 1989. Photograph: Fabrizio Bensch/Reuters

A watch tower of East German border soldiers at the Berlin Wall memorial on Bernauer Strasse in Berlin, Germany. On November 9th Germany will mark the 30th anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989. Photograph: Fabrizio Bensch/Reuters

 

"German unity at state level is completed. The unity of the Germans …was not completed on October 3rd 1990, nor is it to this day". Chancellor Angela Merkel’s characteristically terse statement in Kiel ahead of next week’s 30th anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall registered the uneven experience of that legacy. November 9th 1989 ranks high on the register of world historical events, not only for its effects on Germans but on the wider Europe they shape and on the wider world too.

Most Germans say they are relatively happy with the outcome when polled, but there are marked differences between the west and east. Only 52 per cent of easterners are satisfied with how democracy is practised in the united Germany. Some 70 per cent believe decisions are made over easterners’ heads, 70 per cent feel less protected against criminality, while 80 per cent are convinced west Germans have never acknowledged the dramatic adaptation required to survive after 1989. That is more understandable when it is recalled that one in two people in the east lost their jobs in the wave of privatisations, restructurings and sackings that followed as major German companies moved east.Those contrasts still show up in politics, social attitudes and mutual misapprehensions, even though younger generations are somewhat more hopeful.

Germany’s role in European integration is central to this reconfiguration and its overall shape has suited that state

Ireland supported the Germans when they sought European endorsement of a rapid unification in the months following November 9th 1989, first at the European Council in Strasbourg, despite British and French misgivings, and then in the Irish presidency of the council from January to June 1990.

Chancellor Helmut Kohl never forgot the support from then taoiseach Charles Haughey. It has been reciprocated through the Brexit crisis by Merkel, his successor as leader of the Christian Democrats, in her endorsement of the Irish position that Northern Ireland’s peace process must be protected.

That Strasbourg council placed German unification “in the perspective of European integration”. The undertaking led on to the Maastricht treaty of 1991 in which the goal of political union was adopted alongside plans for the euro as a common currency. That trade-off between German, French and other European interests endured and has proved resilient despite many intervening tensions and crises. It is once more tested by the UK’s proposed departure from the EU and the resulting rebalancing of interests and preferences among the 27 member states.

Germany’s role in European integration is central to this reconfiguration and its overall shape has suited that state. But Germany too is challenged now to adjust to a more multipolar and fragmented world requiring greater sharing of its economic and political power at European level.

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