Former German Federal Chancellor Helmut Schmidt has died at his home in Hamburg at the age of 96. Federal Chancellor of what was then West Germany between 1974 and 1982, Chancellor Schmidt was a staunch European federalist and leader of his nation during the latter stages of its staggering post-war revival.
In the context of the international stage, Mr. Schmidt’s Chancellorship came during a time of oscillating Cold War tensions between the Soviet Union and the United States. In addition, the incremental rehabilitation of his country’s relationship with its German brethren across the divide of the Berlin Wall was a central feature of the Schmidt years; a continuation of the process known as Neue Ostpolitik (New Eastern Policy) began by his predecessor Willy Brandt in 1969.
In terms of fiscal influence, Helmut Schmidt was also a defining architect of the nascent European economic project and is acknowledged with devising the European Monetary System, a precursor of the Euro itself. In one of his later interviews with The Guardian in 2013, however, Mr. Schmidt argued that one of the greatest crises to face Europe was that of youth unemployment, something which had concerned him almost five decades earlier:
“The most immediate danger is youth unemployment, which in some countries is above 50%. This is a timebomb. I remember the youth movement in 1968. It started on American university campuses as a protest against the Vietnam war, then came to Paris, Frankfurt and Berlin. Within a year you had an uprising of youth against their elders. The same could happen as a result of youth unemployment in Greece or Spain. It must not happen but it is a possibility.”
Regarding leadership of the EU from a German perspective, Mr. Schmidt added that it was pertinent to lead without giving the appearance of leading, noting “It is an enormous piece of art to be a leader but not to appear a leader. It needs feeling in the tips of the fingers” while also observing “Despite the economic strength of modern-day Germany, she must not appear as the leader”.
Deeply conscious of his country’s imprint on the twentieth century, although not debilitated by it, Helmut Schmidt was a noted European and world statesman who sought, in his own words, to unite an understanding among the peoples of Europe “not by any form of European idealism but by their knowledge of European history”, while praising “above all Churchill, Jean Monnet, Adenauer and de Gaulle along with de Gasperi and Henri Spaak” as being foremost in the construction of the common European cause. Martin Schulz, President of the European Parliament, today remarked “He was an outstanding chancellor, his death marks a turning point for Germany and Europe”, while French president Francois Hollande said Mr. Schmidt was a “great European”.