Today Germans are commemorating 23 years since the fall of the Berlin Wall and the subsequent events that allowed for German reunification. Among the numerous events being held across Berlin today are remembrance services for the 136 people who were shot dead by border guards between 1961 and 1989.
German reunification was hardly universally welcomed at the time. British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher made her concerns over the wall coming down known to General Secretary Gorbachev, making sure he knew that reunification would not be welcomed by the U.K. and others in Western Europe. Speaking with President Bush, Gorbachev, and French President Mitterrand in 1995 Thatcher said the following:
Unlike George Bush, I was opposed to German unification from early on for the obvious reasons. To unify Germany would make her the dominant nation in the European community. They are powerful, and they are efficient. It would become a German Europe.
But unification was accomplished, really, very much without consulting the rest of Europe. We were always amazed that it happened. My generation, of course, remembers that we had two world wars against Germany, and that it was a very racist society in the second.
Mitterrand had similar concerns:
So the issue by 1989 to 1990 was not whether German unification was good or not for France – certainly it was safer to have a Germany of 60 million rather than a nation of 80 million. It was more convenient to have Germany divided.
However, despite the fears of some in Western Europe, Germany has done well as a unified country. Indeed, in the midst of the euro crisis Germany has been central to recovery efforts.
Germany is contributing 27 percent to the eurozone's bailout fund, and some German politicians have done their best to make it known to indebted countries like Greece that debt is a national responsibility. Back in February there were protests outside of the Bundestag when German politicians approved a bailout for Greece. In September European politicians and the markets held their breath over a ruling from Germany's Federal Constitutional Court on the constitutionality of Germany's bailout contributions. Although the bailouts were ruled constitutional the fact remains that in many ways the future of an entire continent's recovery rested on the shoulders of judges on a German court.
It is not only the indebted nations that Germany is concerned with. An advisory panel was recently tasked to examine the French government's reforms. France is currently not on track to meet its deficit reduction goals.
Germany has come a long way in 23 years, and it turns out that Thatcher and Mitterrand's concerns did not become realized. Coming from a position of such strict division to one of influential dominance in such a comparatively short time is quiet an achievement.