‘Father of reunification’: Former German Chancellor Helmut Kohl dies aged 87

‘Father of reunification’: Former German Chancellor Helmut Kohl dies aged 87
Helmut Kohl, Germany’s first post-Cold War chancellor, has died aged 87.

Kohl, who served as chancellor from 1982 until 1998, oversaw the reunification of East and West Germany during his time in office. He is also seen as one of the architects of the Euro.

As head of the Christian Democratic Union between 1973 and 1998, he was initially chancellor of West Germany before later becoming the first leader of the unified state.

Kohl’s former party confirmed his passing in a tweet.

German newspaper Bild reports that Kohl died at his house in Ludwigshafen, in the western state of Rhineland-Palatinate on Friday.

Kohl became involved in politics at an early age, joining the CDU youth organization in 1947. He studied political science at the University of Heidelberg and earned a doctorate degree in 1958. A year later, he was elected to the Rhineland Palatinate state legislature.

In 1969 he became prime minister of the Rhineland State and he took over the reins of the CDU four years later. He ran for chancellor in 1976 but lost to Helmut Schmidt. Kohl eventually took power in 1982 at the helm of a coalition government.

After 16 years in power, Kohl’s CDU was defeated in the election in 1998. Three years later he was charged with accepting illegal contributions and was fined.

Dubbed ‘the father of German reunification’, Kohl left active politics in 2002. Following a fall in 2008, he suffered from impaired speech and was reportedly largely confined to a wheelchair. 

Kohl, Germany’s longest serving post-war chancellor, was also an early advocate of a European single currency and the principle of European integration, a subject on which he worked closely with his French counterpart Francois Mitterrand.

The former leader was also a mentor to current German Chancellor Angela Merkel, who he appointed to her first ministerial post.

However Merkel publicly denounced Kohl after the illegal contributions scandal came to light, calling for his resignation. Kohl was very critical of Merkel over her austerity policies while dealing with the European debt crisis.

“Where is Germany now and where does it want to go? It’s a question being asked by our partners and allies abroad,” Kohl said in an 2011 interview. “We have to return – urgently – to our old dependability. We have to make clear for others what we stand for, where we’re headed, and that we know where we belong.”

President of the European Commission Jean Claude Juncker has issued a statement saying he is deeply hurt by the death of his “close friend.”

“Without Helmut Kohl, the euro would not exist. From the outset, he has grasped the political and economic importance, the invaluable value and the radiance of a single currency for our continent,” Juncker said.

European Union flags have been lowered to half mast in front of EU institutions to mark Kohl’s passing.

Former US President George H.W. Bush, whose term in office overlapped with Kohl’s, paid tribute to the former German leader.

"Barbara and I mourn the loss of a true friend of freedom, and the man I consider one of the greatest leaders in post-war Europe," Bush wrote in a statement.

"Throughout our endeavors, Helmut was a rock – both steady and strong."