Reunified Germany: Waking Europe's sleeping giant

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Thirty years after reunification, Germany is shouldering more responsibility. But it has a lot more to do.

German Unity Day is the National Day in Germany, celebrated on 3 October as a public holiday. It commemorates the German reunification (German: Deutsche Wiedervereinigung) in 1990 when the the German Democratic Republic (GDR, colloquially East Germany; German: Deutsche Demokratische Republik, DDR) became part of the Federal Republic of Germany (FRG, colloquially West Germany; German: Bundesrepublik Deutschland, BRD) to form the reunited nation of Germany, as provided by the original Article 23 of the federal Constitution (Grundgesetz). Berlin was reunited into a single city, and again became the capital of united Germany.

Today exactly one month ago Germany celebrated the 30th anniversary of its reunification.

Germans celebrating 30th Anniversary of  Reunification

Berlin, Nov. 3.– Margaret Thatcher feared and openly opposed the reunification of East and West Germany. François Mitterrand was said to have shared her worries, though he accepted it was inevitable. Giulio Andreotti repeated a popular quip: that he loved Germany so much, he “preferred it when there were two of them”. Yet despite the reservations of the British, French and Italian leaders in 1990, a new country came into being 30 years ago on October 3rd. With 80m people, it was immediately the most populous country and mightiest economy in a Europe that until then had had four roughly equal principals. Ever since, statesmen and scholars have grappled with the problem of how to deal with the reluctant hegemon at the heart of Europe. How should Germany lead without dominating? Indeed, after the enormities of Nazism, can it be trusted to lead at all?

Thirty years on, German reunification has been a resounding success. East Germans were freed from the dull yoke of communism. With just three chancellors in three decades, the new, liberated Germany has been steady and pragmatic. It has championed the expansion of the European Union to the east and the creation of the €uro.

It has powered solid if unspectacular growth across a continent—at least until covid-19. Europe survived the economic crisis of 2007-08, the euro panic of 2010-12 and the migration surge of 2015-16. Germany has thrown its weight around less than sceptics feared, though indebted southern Europeans are still sore about crisis-era austerity.

Under its next chancellors, Germany needs more ambition. The need is most acute when it comes to security. Military spending is rising in Germany, but remains far below the 2% of gdp that nato members are supposed to contribute. Even within Chancellor Angela Merkel’s Christian Democrats this is a touchy issue; it is even more so for her coalition partners, the Social Democrats, and for the Greens, who may help form the ruling coalition after next year’s election. More important, Germany has been too cautious in its policy towards Russia and China, tending to put commercial interests ahead of geopolitical ones. The construction of Nord Stream 2, a gas pipeline connecting Russia and Germany, is a case in point ...

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