Helmut Kohl, the chancellor who presided over both German reunification and the creation of the eurozone, has died aged 87.
Kohl was a towering figure of European politics in the second half of the 20th century, serving as Germany’s chancellor for a record 16 years from from 1982 to 1998.
Angela Merkel said her former mentor was “the right man at the right time”, who seized a “historic chance” to overcome the divide running through Europe.
The foreign minister, Sigmar Gabriel, said he was grieving for a “great German and above all a great European”. Former US president George W Bush described the ex-chancellor as “a true friend of freedom and the man I consider one of the greatest leaders in post-war Europe”.
European Council president Jean-Claude Juncker tweeted: “Helmut’s death hurts me deeply. My mentor, my friend, the very essence of Europe, he will be greatly, greatly missed”
A photograph showing Kohl holding hands with French president François Mitterrand at the Douaumont cemetery in Verdun became the defining symbol of Franco-German conciliation after decades of bloody conflict between the two countries.
The gesture was made even more poignant by the fact that Mitterrand himself had been injured at Verdun in the second world war while Kohl had lost a brother in the same conflict.
In July 1990, Kohl had managed to reach an agreement with Russian president Mikhail Gorbachev that an enlarged West Germany would be able to stay a member of Nato in return for footing the bill for withdrawing Soviet troops and resettling them at home, a deal which spelled the end of the cold war and guaranteed Kohl’s place in history.
Relations with British prime minister Margaret Thatcher, a noted sceptic of Germany’s renewed power after reunification, remained frosty throughout their time in office.
Convinced that monetary union was crucial for harmonious European integration, Kohl argued against popular opinion in Germany when he made the case for the introduction of the euro – a stance which he later said contributed to him losing the 1998 elections against Gerhard Schröder. European leaders had reached an agreement on the creation of the eurozone only half a year before he was voted out of office.
Kohl left active politics in 2002. Since a fall in 2008, he had suffered from impaired speech and used a wheelchair.
Before becoming chancellor, Kohl had been the state premier for Rhineland-Palatinate for seven years, and was often mocked in Germany for his regional accent and fondness for a noted local delicacy, stuffed pig’s stomach.
Earlier this year, he was awarded €1m (£842,875) damages over an unauthorised biography that a judge said had “deeply violated” the former German chancellor’s personal rights.
Kohl acted as a mentor for Germany’s current chancellor, Angela Merkel, handing her her first ministerial post in 1991 and referring to her as his Mädchen or girl. But relations between the two soured when Merkel turned against him after a party funding scandal in 1999.
In recent years Kohl had taken to criticising his former protege and her policies during the eurozone and refugee crises in anything but name, warning of the unintended consequences of unilateral actions in April 2016.
“Solitary decisions, no matter how well-founded they may appear to individuals, must belong to the past – along with national, unilateralist action”, Kohl had written in an essay in newspaper Bild.
In his last public interventions, Kohl warned European leaders against “unnecessary severity and haste” after Britain’s vote to leave the EU in 2016. / The Guardian