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“The German Question is a European Question”: France and the Reunification of Germany. A Critical Assessment

Apparently, historiography takes shape in the form of battles.[1] It began at historiography`s beginning,[2] when, to cite the most telling example, Cicero called Herodotus the “father of history”[3] and Plutarch branded him as “a liar”.[4] The conflictual habits in historical writing have been lasting ever since.[5] An actual and indeed remarkable case in point is the historiography concerning the role of France in the process of the reunification of Germany. There is anything but a generally shared view. While the role of the United States has hardly been reviewed in any other than in a positive, indeed emphatically positive way,[6] a state of quarrel hangs over that of France. The conflictual stance has been adopted by historians and actors alike. France – or, rather, her President, Franҫois Mitterrand – is, in a way, taken to task. The French President tried “to prevent or at least to slow down the unification of Germany at the end of 1989”, the British historian Timothy Garton Ash asserted.[7] His confrère Tony Judt contended that “the first reaction from Paris [in the fall of 1989] was to try and block any move to German unification”.[8] Reproaches of the same kind – and I cite just a few further examples – were expressed by the French historian Georges-Henri Soutou – “Even when he [Mitterrand] was forced … to bow before the inevitable… he … tried to slow down things….”[9] – the German historians Manfred Schmidt and Gerhard A. Ritter – “he [Mitterrand] viewed German unification sceptically and initially attempted to slow the process down”[10] – , and another German historian, Hans-Peter Schwarz, alleged that Mitterrand “had put on the brakes in the question of the reunification”, together with Thatcher and Andreotti.[11]

Actors of the time turned memorialists have left similar statements. In his Memoirs Helmut Kohl declared that “even his friend” Mitterrand didn`t seem to be someone to “rely on” as to the German question; France`s President, he said, shared the view of the political elite in Paris – “the unity of German is not desirable” – and his “role” was “opaque (undurchsichtig) at best”.[12] The head at the time of the German desk in the Chancellery, Claus J. Duisberg, reported without further ado: “France as well as Great Britain … sought ways to keep influence over the development [regarding Germany`s reunification] to hold it up, first of all.”[13]

Yet, in the historiographical case we consider, judgments formed and communicated differ sharply. In the struggle over the veracious account of Mitterrand`s policy in 1989-90 regarding the question of Germany`s reunification, one side, it seems, rebuts the other. Thus, at a “Witness Seminar” held on October 16, 2009 in London, Hans-Dietrich Genscher tersely affirmed: “Mitterrand … was not opposed to German unification”.[14] And Bertrand Dufourcq, Political Director at the Quai d`Orsay and head of the French delegation at the Two Plus Four negotiations, formulated, at the same occasion, this unequivocal view: “he [Mitterrand] certainly never sought to stand in the way of unification.”[15] The Russian expert on international relations, Mikhail Narinskiy – to shift to historians again – , introduced his article on `Gorbachev, Mitterrand and the reunification of Germany´ with the conspicuous statement: “Mikhail Gorbachev and Franҫois Mitterrand played a key role in the reunification of Germany”.[16]

I. The Question of Sources: An Asymmetry

What could be the reasons for such a clash?[17] A major motive certainly is an asymmetrical knowledge and use of sources. A considerable amount of relevant documents from German, British, American, and Russian archives are now accessible, either in print, or electronically.[18] They have been amply used for studies on the topic of Germany`s reunification. In contrast, French documents are available only scantily. A volume of documents from the French Ministry of Foreign Affairs was indeed published. But it is small by comparison,[19] as is the material from the Ministry which is accessible electronically[20] The documents – themselves a wealth – from the crucial place of governing in France, the Élysée – Mitterrand`s stage, as it were – , can be consulted solely in the Archives Nationales, upon special permission, to be obtained in a not-so easy-process, and with restrictions.[21] However, the staff of the Archives Nationales in Pierrefitte is helpful and works efficiently.

The asymmetry is strikingly manifest in numerous studies. In the extreme case, France is virtually absent as an actor.[22] What is ordinarily to be seen will be shown by two prominent examples. For his study on `Hans-Dietrich Genscher, the [German] Foreign Office, and the German unification´[23] Gerhard Ritter has used a variety of sources. The book includes sections – rather negative ones – on Mitterrand`s attitude regarding Germany`s unification.[24] While in the endnotes for these sections, many German, British, Russian documents are cited, there is just a single French one quoted, not from the Archives Nationales, but simply from the published volume of documents from the Quai d`Orsay.[25]

A lot of archives are listed by Mary Elise Sarotte as to the research she did for her book 1989. The struggle to create post-cold war Europe, published in 2009.[26] However, in her note 11 on page 238 she declares: “My own petition (or dérogation) for an early viewing of the documents [French documents from the Archives Nationales] succeeded well, although mostly too late for incorporation into this book, and will be the subject of future writing”[27]. The notice might cause some perplexity: Were the French documents not so important after all, or had the publication of the book priority over the research to be completed? Be that as it may, in the third edition of the book, published in 2014, there are still, among a vast amount of endnotes, just four sources at the Archives Nationales mentioned.[28] Any reader of the book in some way familiar with the legacy of Mitterrand could be puzzled, besides, by the remark in the Preface that “there is also a limited selection of primary documents published by Franҫois Mitterrand”.[29] In saying this, Sarotte is not specific about the publication she is speaking of, and an edition of “primary documents” by Mitterrand is not known. One might guess, but that leads only to more bafflement.[30]

II. The Question of Sources: The case of a misleading twist

The historians who have taken or are taking Mitterrand to task probably do not feel that theirs is an asymmetrical knowledge and use of sources. For there appears to be available, apart from the archives, a ready-made “source” of, in addition, an exhaustive allure: the three volumes of Verbatim, published by a former member of Mitterrand`s staff at the Élysée, Jacques Attali.[31] Any survey of the historiography on our topic will show – and some examples will be given here shortly – that this “source” has been and is being widely consulted and quoted to support what is told about Mitterrand and his views and policy with regard to Germany`s reunification. Unfortunately, Verbatim is a flawed work, full of errors. An exposition and examination of the whole of the critical material would require the space of an extensive study. Still, within the limits of this article, it is possible to show what, historiographically, is at stake.

Severe criticisms of Verbatim were expressed at once after the first volume had been published in May 1993. Charges of plagiarism were made, former government officials complained about erroneous reports on what they had said or done.[32] Le Figaro was summing up with the sentence: “Jacques Attali has manipulated history.”[33] In a Documentary Note the General Secretary of the Élysée, Hubert Védrine, transmitted the reaction of Mitterrand. The President, he stated, had agreed that Attali publish his own diaries, with his comments and personal notes. However, in seeing the page proofs, he discovered that the personal notes of Attali were intermixed with archival documents. He asked Védrine therefore to make known that “I haven`t changed a comma in that work, otherwise I would have become a co-author. This is a text of Jacques Attali, published by Jacques Attali.” In interpreting what had happened, Védrine added: “Attali has exploited the fact that he had given the page proofs to the President in the last moment. By a reflex of prudence the latter said to himself: `I do not touch on anything´. Attali has presented this as approval.”[34]

On July 1, 1993 the present author had a telephone conversation with Joachim Bitterlich, diplomatic adviser of Helmut Kohl in the Chancellery.[35] The subject was Verbatim. Bitterlich described the reaction of the Chancellor to Attali`s work with the word “indignant” (gepfeffert). A reason for this was the discovery that conversations between Kohl and Mitterrand were brought out incompletey; at 8, 9 places “explicit Anti-Americanisms” were heard from Kohl in Attali`s rendering of his words, while other balancing remarks on the United States were missing. Comparing the conversations as given by Attali with the minutes of the same conversations at the Chancellery they had discovered there an “arbitrary dealing with the contents of conversations”. Besides, Bitterlich added, they had received from the Élysée the information that the author of Verbatim had “hooked” (geklaut) and reported on meetings at which he never was present.

To communicate his empirical findings concerning the “historiographical” work, the present author in 1993 published two newspaper articles, one in the French weekly Le Point, the other in the German national daily Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung, and in 1996 a third article, again in the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung.[36] Other researchers subsequently articulated their severe criticism of Verbatim directly in their writing.[37]

Yet in the historiography on Germany`s reunification and the end of the cold war Verbatim remains a preferred “source”. Some authors, like Wilfried Loth, Michael Sutton, or Georges-Henri Soutou, flatly dismiss the objections that were raised with regard to Verbatim.[38] Others, like Hans Jürgen Küsters, Alexander von Plato, or Hans-Peter Schwarz, unflaggingly keep on using Verbatim as a fount of documentary evidence.[39] Or, as it is ingeniously intimated by Mary Elise Sarotte, the issue of the “veracity” of Attali`s “memoirs” is circumvented by attributing to them a documentary value for “emotions” instead of facts.[40]

In view of the inveterate us of Verbatim as a reliable `document´ the twist caused by it has to be made obvious. We cannot proceed to consider France`s role in the process of Germany`s reunification without having lifted from it before the dark shadow of Verbatim.

The three volumes of Attali`s work are strewn with errors and false information.[41] Calendar dates are jumbled; decisions are said to have been made at a particular Cabinet meeting (Conseil des Ministres), while they were taken at another one; President Mitterrand is reported to have been on a journey when he was not, or to have met someone when he didn`t. Words from Mitterrand are presented that he articulated seemingly in a conversation with Attali, while he expressed them in a public speech; things that the President seemingly said in the arcanum of a Cabinet meeting, were stated by him on television; in a Cabinet meeting Mitterrand allegedly made remarks that he never uttered there.

Verbatim includes a large number of documents and notes of which the readers, through the textual arrangements made, are led to believe that Attali is their author. In fact, he “hijacked” them – wholly or in part – for Verbatim, without telling the real authors of what he did: that he deprived them, in a way, of their authorship and fraudulently claimed it for himself. Volume I contains at least 25 such “hijacked” documents. The detailed list is this: Hubert Védrine (= author) 20, Elisabeth Guigou 1, Quai d`Orsay (=origin), 2, French Embassy in Moscow, 2. The list for Volume II is: Jean-Louis Bianco 154, Hubert Védrine 4, Elisabeth Guigou 5, Jean Musitelli 1; and for Volume III: Jean-Louis Bianco 72, Loïc Hennekinne 19, Hubert Védrine 1, Jean Musitelli 1, Elisabeth Guigou 1, Pierre Morel 1, Admiral Lanxade, 1.[42] In addition, Attali often altered those documents, in interpolating and rearranging them, and/or adding to them words, sentences or paragraphs of his own. Thus he gave them a certain twist, usually a negative one (Anti-American, Anti-German/ic, anti-reunification). This method was applied by him also to documents the origin of which he indeed mentioned in his work. In the case of the personal notes which were written by Jean-Louis Bianco but which he presented as his own, the “I” (je) of Bianco often became, by way of Verbatim, an “I” of Attali.

Only a few examples can be given here: On January 26, 1983 President Mitterrand received from his American colleague, President Ronald Reagan, a letter to congratulate him on the speech that Mitterrand had given on January 20 at the German Bundestag.[43] The letter has three paragraphs. In Verbatim it appears in an altered form: The first paragraph is eliminated and instead of it a new paragraph is added, written by Attali.[44] It changes the import of Reagan`s letter. In addition, the parts of the letter reproduced are not presented literally.

On September 6, 1989, at the Conseil des ministres, Franҫois Mitterrand spoke about the possibility of a reunification of the “two Germanies”. It should also be kept in mind, he observed, with regard to the request of Austria to become a member of the European Economic Community. Austria`s membership could favour, on the economic and demographic levels, the constitution of, the President said, “a powerful German block in the center of Europe”. Thus Mitterrand closed his remarks on the two subjects of Germany`s reunification and Austria`s entry to the EEC. Jean-Louis Bianco who, as Secretary General of the Élysée, had been present at the Cabinet Meeting, reported later the President`s words to Georgette Elgey, historian and archivist at the Élysée, and Elgey brought the report into a written form.[45] From Bianco`s text Attali took the passage which has just been presented, to insert it into Verbatim, but with changes in the wording. The innocent reader is made to believe that it is Attali that he or she is reading. Even worse, Attali added a sentence of his own to the President`s remarks, again in italics, to create the impression that it is still Mitterrand who speaks. While Bianco had heard Mitterrand evoking a supposition – that of “a powerful German block in the center of Europe” – Attali made Mitterrand draw from his remarks a conclusion and formulate as to that “block” a policy: “And it has to be prevented (Et il faut l`éviter)”.[46]

On November 17, 1989, the letter that Margaret Thatcher had sent to Mikhail Gorbachev in response to the message which she had received from the latter on November 10, after the fall of the Wall in Berlin, was transmitted in a copy to the Élysée.[47] The content of the letter (in its French version) is recapitulated in Verbatim, but only partially and in paraphrased form,[48] an effect which considerably changes its meaning. While Thatcher had begun her letter with saying “I agree with you [Gorbachev] that what happens in Eastern Europe is encouraging”, she now expresses her “uneasiness[49] in view of, as Attali writes, the ”developments in the GDR and the whole of the countries in the East”. In a second paragraph Thatcher had observed that public opinion in Great Britain and other Western countries had been strongly impressed by the events in Berlin last week end and that she herself had been struck by the “wisdom” showed by everyone concerned. Of this paragraph there is no trace in Verbatim. The paraphrasing is resumed, however, to mention Thatcher`s point, made with the first sentence of the letter`s third paragraph, that the “rapidity” with which the changes in the East of Europa had happened, carried with it a “risk of instability”. What Thatcher said later in this paragraph is again disregarded in Verbatim and thus another imbalance of the Prime Minister´s view forged. For Thatcher had in mind, beyond the danger of instability, more a concern with “stability” and articulated her ideas about the steps that could bring it about: vast reforms in East Germany, in particular free elections in a multi-party system, full freedom of travel, and ultimately a real democracy together with an economic system to sustain it. Still, Thatcher clung also to the prerogatives of the four Allied Powers and thus communicated to Gorbachev, with the final part of her letter, the readiness of the British government to use those prerogatives. This of course is not ignored by Verbatim`s imparting of her letter.[50]

On January 29, 1990, Hubert Védrine, diplomatic advisor of President Mitterrand, wrote a note on the security of Europe, the future of the military alliances (NATO and the Warsaw Pact), and other matters.[51] Fragments of this note appear in Verbatim.[52] Under a double misrepresentation. Attali firstly obliterates Védrine`s authorship of the note and, secondly, pretends that the sentences put together by himself from the note were said by Mitterrand. Thus, Attali`s “Mitterrand” tells the readers of Verbatim what Védrine had written in his note – and some of them may be (or may have been) inclined to quote “his” sentences in their scholarly book(s). While those sentences in Verbatim make the impression of a coherent remark, they were in fact put together from different places in Védrine`s note, and then polished, as it were. Moreover, the last of these statements was not at all written by Védrine, but, again, added by Attali.

On February 14, 1990 President Mitterrand received a note from Loïc Hennekinne, diplomatic advisor at the Élysée. Hennekinne indicated the subject with the heading “Conversations Gorbachev-Kohl”.[53] He had been informed by the Political Counsellor of the Soviet Embassy in Paris on the conversations between Mikhail Gorbachev and Helmut Kohl that had taken place in Moscow on February 10, 1990,[54] and he passed on this information to the President by his note, under three sub-headings: reunification of Germany, unified Germany and the alliances, borders. The content of the note can be found in Verbatim, but – as in the examples given here already – not in a faithful manner.[55] And there is more: the reader “learns”, through Attali`s introductory sentence, that the report on the conversations between Gorbachev and Kohl had been given by the Soviet Ambassador (into whom the Political Counsellor of the Soviet Embassy had apparently transfigured himself on the way between Loïc Hennekinne`s note and Verbatim), and that it had been received, on the French side, by Jacques Attali. “The Soviet Ambassador has given me a report … (L`ambassadeur soviétique vient me faire un compte rendu …)[56]

On July 2, 1990 Admiral Lanxade, head of the military staff at the Élysée, directed to President Mitterrand a report, in the form of a note, on the conversations he had had in Washington on June 29 with General Scowcroft, the security advisor of President Bush, and other persons at the White House and the Pentagon. Their subjects had been a number of security matters, especially the question of a continued American military presence in Europe, the attitude of the Germans towards it, and the upcoming NATO summit in Paris.[57] This note is inserted almost entirely into Verbatim, but not verbatim, as its text is altered at a number of places. Alterations were made in particular to adapt the note to its principal transformation from being a report of Admiral Lanxade to appearing in Verbatim as a report of Jacques Attali. And thus, whenever Admiral Lanxade speaks of himself, in different grammatical forms (“my conversation partners”, “indicated to me”, “I have had”), the innocent reader of Verbatim believes that he or she hears Attali speaking who, in fact, has arrogated to himself the “I”, “me”, “my” of Admiral Lanxade.

III. The Doors of Political Science

There exists a body of studies which entirely or partially deal with our topic and are authentically based on French archival sources whom they bring to “speak”.[58] As it is possible now to consult archival documents from the Mitterrand period in the Archives Nationales, the documentation presented in each of those studies can be retraced. It may serve, besides, as a road map for prospective research. Nevertheless, the persistent problematic state of historiography on our topic that we just described still requires many clarifications. By means of such clarifications we shall arrive at an understanding of the role that France indeed assumed in the process of Germany`s reunification.

Governing in Paris

In a conversation on June 24, 1984 with George Bush, then Vice-President of the United States, Franҫois Mitterrand declared: “In France, foreign policy is defined by the President of the Republic”, and he added, a moment later, with a kind of regal swing: “It`s me who defines French politics”.[59] Quite in line with the constitutional concept of France`s Fifth Republic, Mitterrand reasserted a view on the role of the Chef de l`État which the founder of the Fifth Republic, Charles de Gaulle, had introduced in similar terms: “The government has no material existence outside myself. It exists only through me.”[60] Indeed, if applied to what the documentary sources tell of the governmental structures in Paris at the period of Germany`s reunification,[61] the analytical instruments of political science show a President who clearly was the central person in the process of policy making. However, with regard to the “German question”, he also relied in the Élysée, for counsel, information, administrative and political assistance, and for the communication of his policy, on a configuration of collaborators and advisors[62] whose shape was fluid, deliberately so,[63] but within which a set of persons appear as a core group: Jean-Louis Bianco, Hubert Védrine, Loïc Hennekinne, Elisabeth Guigou, Pierre Morel, Admiral Lanxade, Jean Musitelli, Caroline de Margerie.[64] At the time of the Two Plus Four Negotiations, though, the weight in the governmental arrangement shifted to Foreign Minister Roland Dumas, the members of the French Delegation, and in particular to its head, Bertrand Dufourcq.

The Workshop of World Politics

In undertaking a network analysis of the documentary sources, especially of the American, German, and French ones, there emerges a crucial factor in the political mechanisms through which Germany`s reunification was achieved. The principal actors in Bonn, Paris, Washington, London, Moscow – Presidents, Heads of government, Ministers, their closest advisers – knew each other well, had built up among one another (or were doing so), in varying degrees, productive professional relationships that often had a personal touch; they viewed each other through the modes of collegial curiosity, intelligence sharing, professional creativity, and, quite importantly, trust. They formed an interconnected group or, as the present author has called it, a “workshop of world politics”.[65] Franҫois Mitterrand was fully involved in the workshop, throughout the period 1989-90, and his role in that period cannot be adequately appreciated without a recognition of his status and activity in the workshop.

Excellent examples could be drawn from the meetings between Mitterrand and Bush, or from their telephone conversations. A case in point is the telephone conversation they had on January 27,1990, with those passages: “The President [George Bush]: … it`s nice of you to take my call on a weekend. – President Mitterrand: No, I am also working. …. this approach should not be confused with the neutralization of Germany, which is the Soviet objective. The President: Yes, of course. I share your concern on that. Tell me, do you worry more about the neutralization of Germany now than you did when we last talked? President Mitterrand: … We cannot allow the neutralization of Germany. … The President: …  I need your advice and counsel and I`m glad that, on a preliminary view, it sounds okay to you. President Mitterrand: Yes, it makes sense. I have mentioned my concerns. Kohl`s enthusiasm is not fully reassuring. The President: It might be good for you, if you have the opportunity, to express these concerns directly to Kohl. President Mitterrand: Yes, it is a good plan … The President: And what do you think Thatcher`s view will be? You know her better than I do. President Mitterrand: She won`t be happy.”[66]

In an interview on April 21, 1995 with the author of this text, Hubert Védrine explained: “If the unification of Germany came about so well it is because a) Kohl and Mitterrand already had so many years of apprenticeship behind them that they knew how to agree and cooperate; and b) because there was a thoroughly extraordinary configuration with, on the one hand, Mitterrand’s advisers Elisabeth Guigou, Caroline de Margerie and myself at the Elysée and, on the other hand, Kohl’s collaborators Horst Teltschik, Joachim Bitterlich and Peter Hartmann at the Chancellery. Without this group of people accustomed to working with one another, the unification process would surely not have happened as it did: there would have been far more difficulties, or even blunders, in the process.”[67]

Equally, at the London “Witness Seminar” already mentioned, Charles Powell, during the time we are concerned with Private Secretary for Foreign Affairs to the Prime Minister, emphasized the “very good, strong relationship between Number 10 Downing Street and the Federal Chancellery”, and William Waldegrave, then Minister of State for Europe in the Foreign Office, evoked in view of their counterparts in Bonn the “personal friendships …we had”.[68]

The Axis Dumas – Genscher

As will be pointed out here later, Helmut Kohl and Franҫois Mitterrand experienced during the fall and winter 1989 some strain in their relationship. In contrast, the two Foreign Ministers, Roland Dumas and Hans-Dietrich Genscher, kept up friendly working relations. Together they formed a political axis, reinforced by friendship, along which matters that, in the political process between Paris and Bonn, had been impaired or misunderstood, could be – and were indeed – taken up productively and steered towards a resolution. In a note to President Mitterrand Roland Dumas quite justly remarked: “He [Genscher] invites me to Bonn all the time to pursue the work that we have begun.”[69]

The French side used the axis, among other things, for putting Chancellor Kohl in a politically desirable context. Thus, on December 4, 1989, Elisabeth Guigou sent a note to Mitterrand on the agenda of the upcoming European Summit at Strasbourg. The French were expecting exacting negociations with the German Chancellor at the summit. Hence the suggestion that Guigou made in her note to the French President: “At Lunch you will address the Economic and Monetary Union. Do you wish that the Ministers of Foreign Affairs be present? The principal advantage is that M. GENSCHER would hear what Chancellor KOHL says.”[70] Along the Dumas-Genscher axis travelled news from Bonn also about a sharp dissonance in the fall of 1989 between Chancellor and Foreign Minister. On the morning of December 9, at the Strasbourg Summit, just after the breakfast conversation President Mitterrand had had with Chancellor Kohl, the President, Roland Dumas, Elisabeth Guigou, Hubert Védrine, and Jacques Attali talked with each other for a moment in the hallway. Dumas had information to transmit that is documented: “Genscher told me of a very difficult conversation that he had on November 4 during 3 hours with the Chancellor. `Our ways will separate´… The contact is cut since then.”[71]

Political Characterology

Studying the archival sources on our topic is not least of all an hermeneutical undertaking. During the conversations with each other the governmental actors, more accidentally than intentionally, displayed traits of their character and pondered and assessed together the characters of absent actors, something they obviously did shrewdly and purposely. They produced a political characterology of themselves, and one of others.[72] And with these characterologies they offered important entrees to their thinking, behaviour, and course of action.

Mitterrand – the person who, given our topic, interests us here most – appears in a variety of character roles. (1) He seems, while speaking during a Cabinet meeting or in a conversation with another political leader, to be absorbed in reflective thinking weighing different views against each other;[73] (2) like a seasoned analyst he comments with a biting irony on the vicissitudes experienced in Eastern Europe in the winter of 1989-90: “After all, Yalta was quite comfortable. One knows prisoners in their cell who find themselves quite embarrassed in seeing themselves outside”;[74] (3) he passionately intones the song of a rebel, against “Yalta”, and he presagingly exhorts the actors in the dramatic events of 1989-90 to channel those events into a stable order and thus to forestall a situation like that of “1913”;[75] (4) he is the determinedly imperturbable personage, in contending, for instance, with an agitated Chancellor Kohl over the Oder Neisse border;[76] or (5) he is the coolly calculating negotiator who knows that the `Iron Lady´, once her own preferred weapon, pure will, is turned against her, will ultimately give in: “One should realize that there is a will not only on the other side of the Channel. The irresistible Madame Thatcher had to capitulate, at Fontainebleau, tears in her eyes, …and to sign an agreement against which she had fought for months.”[77]

From early on – to switch to the characterological exercices of the actors – a certain image of Margaret Thatcher – another person who interests us here particularly – took hold in the Mitterrand government. After he had observed Thatcher at a meeting in Brussels, Claude Cheysson, the first Foreign Minister in French governments under President Mitterrand, put down his assessment on a sheet of paper and handed it over to the President. Mitterrand evidently read it, for he marked on the note “G. Elgey. Ch. Cheysson à Bruxelles. c/o Mme Thatcher”, and had it then passed on to Georgette Elgey, for the Presidential archive. Cheysson wrote: “This lady is strange or, rather, she lacks intelligence. When she encounters a wall, she retreats, as soon as an opening is produced, she believes that it is large and limitless, and she regains all her massiveness of attack. To find a compromise with her, it is necessary to refuse permanently to shift, which is contradictory.”[78]

Thatcher`s perceived character, in particular certain traits of it, were a cause of concern for other leaders in the historical period we are considering. For instance, at their meeting on May 21, 1989 in Kennebunkport, President Bush and President Mitterrand, while talking about Germany, promptly expressed their worrries about the British Prime Minister. Thatcher`s attitude was “purely ideological”, Bush observed: she feared a withdrawal of America from Europe, and despised Helmut Kohl. Mitterrand concurred, in pointing at the “profound animosity between Kohl and Thatcher”; “she can`t bear the French-German relationship”, he said, and diagnosed a “hardening of Thatcher”.[79] The worry concerning Thatcher didn`t disappear, as is shown, for example, by their telephone conversation on January 27, 1990, to which we have referred above. We shall return to the issue of `reading´ Margaret Thatcher later.

At the meeting with Bush in Kennebunkport Mitterrand expressed, let us underline, an unambigious view on Germany`s unification: “I am not against it because of the changes in Eastern Europe.”[80]

IV Mitterrand`s Objectives

Traditional objectives

When Franҫois Mitterrand in the fall and winter of 1989, at various occasions, delineated[81] the objectives that France would apply to a reunification of Germany, no one in the Chancellery or the Foreign Ministry at Bonn, or at the editorial offices of news media, should have been surprised. They had been publicly and repeatedly laid down already by Charles de Gaulle, and had been upheld by French governments ever since.[82] Adressing the question of Germany`s reunification at a press conference on February 4, 1965 at the Élysée, President De Gaulle started with a primary observation that Mitterrand restated, almost literally, on November 18, 1989. De Gaulle remarked: “The German problem is the European problem par excellence.”[83] And Mitterrand noted: “The German Question is a European Question.”[84] Consequently, De Gaulle continued in February 1965, any “solution” to the question of Germany`s reunification had to include the “agreement” and “active participation” of the nations interested in the future of their “Germanic neighbor”. Furthermore, Germany had to become an “element of peace and progress” of which one could be “certain” (meaning it had to be part of an acceptable security architecture), and a settlement of her borders would be necessary. Besides, De Gaulle added, “Russia” had to develop in such a way that its “satellites” (with, we may assume, East Germany tacitly included) would “recover their possibility to act by themselves in a renewed Europe”. For all that he had thus stipulated, De Gaulle used the word “conditions”. In the years afterwards he specified two of those conditions, requesting a definitive recognition of the Order-Neisse line as well as a renunciation of nuclear weapons by Germany.[85]

Modification and Actualization of the Objectives

Mitterrand and his government fully adopted, modified, and actualized the objectives of the preceding French governments.[86] De Gaulle`s objective of an international “agreement” was actively pursued by France during the preparations for the Two Plus Four Negotiations – a Four Plus Two format was counseled already on October 24, 1989 by a note of the Quai d`Orsay[87] – and at the negotiations themselves.[88] Mitterrand wanted that the “Atlantic Alliance be kept alive”, as he wrote on November 24, 1989 to George Bush,[89] and therefore, quite logically, argued against a militarily neutral status of a unified Germany. As of the beginning of 1990, he explicitly put and kept on the agenda (1) the need to prevent, by all means, a “decoupling of Europe and the United States” and (2) the postulate that Germany, if unified, be a member of NATO.[90] At their meeting in Key Largo on 19 April 1990 Bush and Mitterrand agreed on the necessity of having a unified Germany as member of NATO and thereby NATO as a vehicle for a continued real presence of the United States in the security architecture of Europe. During the meeting Mitterrand predictively said: “The Soviet Union will prefer to have a unified Germany within NATO rather than have Germany exercising its own military sovereignty.”[91]

Mitterrand, furthermore, entreated the German government, in particular, Chancellor Kohl, for a definitive recognition of the Oder Neisse line as the German-Polish border, to be included in the juridic settlement of Germany`s reunification, rather than being promised for afterwards. The more Helmut Kohl hesitated, the more he persisted. He never forgot what in his, as in De Gaulle`s view, was a momentous precondition for bringing to an end the division of Germany: a change in “Russia” had to occur through which, as De Gaulle had put it, her “satellites” would “recover their possibility to act by themselves”. As long as Moscow tightly held the reins over the Soviet empire, all talk about a reunification of Germany would be futile. In pointing this out, Mitterrand could be misunderstood; one could allege, if one wished, that he was opposed to a reunification of Germany and therefore any opposition of the Soviet Union to it would have suited him well.[92] Things happened differently, however. It took some time until Gorbachev and his advisers realized that a reunification of Germany would become `inevitable´, and once they did so they were but concerned with the `conditions´ to request for a reunification to take place.[93] And such a concern Mitterrand shared naturally. He stated, then, something obvious when, in conversing in Moscow with Gorbachev on May 25, 1990, he remarked: “It`s out of question of course that we ally with each other against the Germans.”[94]

Mitterrand held another objective. It was the overriding one. Throughout his presidency he strove, and consistently in conjunction with Chancellor Kohl, for a grand design: the construction of a unified Europe. When Ciriaco de Mita, then Prime Minister of Italy, contended at a meeting with Mitterrand on June 3, 1988: “We must speed up the unification process of Europe”, the latter replied: “I am convinced of it. It`s the choice I have made long ago.”[95] He conceived the occurrence of a reunification of Germany within the greater event of a European unification. Germany`s reunification should not pose a risk for this design, but should rather be a decisive element in the efforts to accomplish it. “[Germany`s] reunification must occur within a strong Europe.”[96] Hence the problems that Mitterrand saw when it seemed to him that `the Germans´, with Chancellor Kohl at the head of them, rushed towards their unification, disregarding, as Mitterrand, full of apprehension, felt, what endangering consequences this could have for the European project. The French President succinctly expressed his thoughts on that matter in a setting which he often chose for articulating his ideas, namely in a political conversation. Speaking with Sheikh Jaber, the Emir of Kuwait, on September 22, 1988, he said at the end of their talk: “Should Germany set as its primary objective to remove the wall, to reunify, she will be subject to Soviet volition. Germany can continue on her way within the [European] Community whilst exerting her pressure for making the wall disappear. This is not contradictory. Europe, France can help her. If Germany took her route alone, in a solitary manner, this would be something else. The USSR is not ready to give up on the power that it exerts over half of Europe. ”[97]

…. and the concerns in Washington and London

Mitterrand`s objectives – we dare to state here emphatically – were fully in line with the concerns held in Washington and London (the occupant of the Prime Minister`s Office notwithstanding). None of his requests was a Mitterrandian extravagance; all were shared by policy advisers and policy makers in the American and British government. “It remains important to us”, a British policy paper on the topic of “German Reunification” noted on October 16, 1989, “that reunification should be reunification westwards and our policies should be directed to ensuring a high degree of integration in the [European] Community and NATO”.[98] Another British paper, dated from October 25, 1989, maintained: “We are not committed to German reunification per se but only to a form of it acceptable to the West”.[99] The British Ambassador in Bonn argued, with regard to the question where a unified Germany ought to have its place, exactly as the French President could have done it when, on January 25, 1990, he wrote in a message to Douglas Hurd, the British Secretary of State: “West European integration should go ahead as fast as possible.”[100]

The American President and his Secretary of State articulated concerns that certainly did not differ from those of Mitterrand when they discussed the revolutionary events in Eastern Europe and, in particular, the question of Germany`s reunification in conversations with the French President. In their meeting with Mitterrand on December 16, 1989, Secretary Baker declared: “We want the EC [European Community] to serve as an anchor for Germany. .. We favor continued EC integration. … The key is a strengthened EC.”[101] There was an evident consent that allowed Mitterrand to summarize at the end of the conversation: “On the question of what we tell the press on the German issue, developments must be linked to developments in NATO and the EC. …. We must move on arms control, on EC integration, on European monetary union, and on US-EC cooperation all at the same time in order to create a new Europe.” And, always fearing that things could fail, he added exhortingly: “Otherwise, we will be back in 1913 and we could loose everything. We are friends of Germany. They can`t take our advice amiss.”[102]

V. Germany`s Reunification in the President`s Thoughts

Franҫois Mitterrand had been President of France for just a few months when, on October 7, 1981, he forthrightly told Helmut Schmidt, Chancellor of West Germany, that a reunification of Germany was “inscribed in history” and corresponded to “objective and subjective realities”. The necessary precondition, namely a weakening of the Soviet empire, he continued, “would occur within fifteen years”. The words, spoken by a French President to a German Chancellor, fell on incredulous ears. For Helmut Schmidt they evidently expressed a far-fetched idea. “From my point of view,”, he responded, “that [the time prior to the possibility for Germany to unify] will last much longer”.[103]

Mitterrand, however, believed in his idea. He spoke of it again to a German Chancellor, now Helmut Kohl, on October 21, 1982. “It [the solution to the German question] will come about gently”, he said, “perhaps even before the end of the century. It will not take generations”. And he brought up the cause that he had mentioned already in his talk with Helmut Schmidt: “The Soviet empire will be hit from the inside. At that time, the dominated countries will be able to regain freedom, and the [East] Germans, now magnetized by the other Germany, will have a tremendous opportunity. This is a matter of some twenty years, so it is a question of patience.”[104] Two years later, on October 30, 1984, he told Chancellor Kohl what in his political thought the political road to be chosen was, to achieve, among other things, Germany`s reunification: “We must do everything that is not impossible. You, in any event, cannot decree that you are going to equip yourself with nuclear weapons. You cannot decree reunification, but it is necessary to start from the principle according to which everything that is not impossible is possible.”[105]

To avoid any misunderstanding: We do not advocate here something like the idea that the reunification of Germany was on Mitterrand`s political agenda since his first day in the Élysée. What matters are not theories or opinions, but the empirical data. And any empiricism applied to the material will produce findings that reveal not necessarily a policy ingredient but certainly an element in Mitterrand`s political thought: that “the preoccupation of all Germans with reunifying Germany”, their “aspiration to reunification”, was an issue in European politics to be reckoned with. In this sense he spoke about it, at meetings in the Élysée and in public.[106] And then, when it was becoming a policy issue indeed, he expressed as to it, publicly and repeatedly, two leading ideas: (1) that the desire of the Germans to reunify was legitimate and (2) that their reunification should happen democratically (démocratiquement), that is by decisions on the part of the German people, and peacefully (pacifiquement),[107] that is in a way that would not endanger but rather further a peaceful political order in Europe.[108] Interestingly, Mitterrand began to articulate these views in May 1989[109] while Germany`s reunification was yet hardly an actual issue. And he repeated them purposefully on further occasions, as, for example, in the meeting with Gorbachev in Kiev on December 6, 1989: “Germany`s reunification doesn`t worry me. But it has to occur democratically and peacefully (demokratičeski i mirno). … I adhere to my obligation to preserve the balance (balans) in Europe, and to preserve peace (mir).”[110]

VI. The Shape of a Policy

There were two tasks, then, to be mastered, in handling a reunification of Germany: the `democratic´ part – to use Mitterrand`s terms – and the `peaceful´ one. The first one solely concerned the Germans. They would have to obtain, through a popular vote, a basis of legitimacy for a movement towards unification (as it was indeed secured by the elections on March 18, 1990 to the East German Parliament). The second part concerned not only the Germans but other nations as well: the Four Allies, the community of European states. To have a policy formula for those two tasks at hand, Mitterrand configured a sentence that, in various forms, he recurrently used, as in a Cabinet meeting: “The unity depends only on the Germans, but the consequences are very international”,[111] or in a conversation with President Bush: “The unity of the two German states is a matter for the German themselves, but the consequences matter for everyone.”[112]

Mitterrand and his government focused therefore on the `consequences´.[113] The starting point was aptly defined by the juridical note of the Quai d`Orsay, dated October 24, 1989, to which we have already referred.[114] “Germany, as on May 8, 1945”, the note stated, “continues to exist in the joint quadripartite action of the Allies acting in the name of their commitments subscribed during and after the war. The existence of two German states in Germany, along with a special entity, Greater Berlin, constitute only a temporary situation that shall not be definitive in law or questioned until the signature of the Peace Treaty to be concluded between the four Allies and Germany or the two German states. In other words, the Allies, by exercising or reserving on each occasion since 1945 their quadripartite rights and responsibilities, ensured the preservation of the principle of German unity.” Against the factual reality of a divided Germany stood the juridical reality of a united Germany, and France, as one of the Allies, represented this juridical reality. It was up to her, together with the other Allies, to transfer the juridical reality of a united Germany, by way of a “reunification” of the parts of divided Germany, to a Germany factually united. In October 1989, when the note of the Quai d`Orsay was written, France faced a decision regarding facts, not principles.

A second point of departure was identified on September 12, 1989 by another note of the Quai d`Orsay.[115] It recorded the opening for the shaping of a policy concerning the `consequences´: “One principle remains: the inalienable right of all Germans to self-determination, and the will of France never to be an obstacle to the fulfillment of this legitimate aspiration.” The shape of the policy to be adopted with regard to “all Germans” being on the way towards their “self-determination” logically followed from the “principle” thus stated. France would see her role in going with the Germans in the forging of their way – as a “friend”, as Mitterrand liked to remark,[116] – who had the `consequences´ and therefore the `objectives´ in mind which a reunification of Germany, to be the desired fortunate event, should fulfill.

In the policy language used in the Élysée that role was defined by the term “accompagner” (to accompany, to go with). Since it would be “incoherent to dispute that desire [of the Germans to unify]”, Hubert Védrine, Mitterrand`s diplomatic adviser, observed in a note written on October 18, 1989, since indeed “it is impossible to oppose the movement of rapprochement”, one has to “accompany the movement towards unity if not towards reunification.” All could be handled, Védrine continued, the `consequences´ well in mind, “if the movement towards the end of the division of the German people doesn`t go on more rapidly than the European construction and the general dissolution of the barriers between Eastern Europe and Western Europe”.[117] “Accompagner” was President Mitterrand`s word equally, at the Cabinet meeting on December 13, 1989,[118] and at the Cabinet meeting on January 31, 1990, when he spoke at length on Germany and Eastern Europe, and laid down, while recognizing the approaching of a reunification of Germany, this principle: “Every development that is inscribed in the facts must not be negated, but accompanied, accompanied after all.”[119]

Terms for the shaping of a policy concerning the `consequences´ were set down not only in Paris, but also in Washington and London. They were similar to the French “accompagner”, but posited a more constraining sense (concerning our topic the conventional wisdom of course is that constraints came from Paris). A British document of September 18, 1989 for instance reports, “that President Bush is increasingly concerned about `how to manage the Germans´”.[120] Another British document likewise advises a “good management of any evolution towards reunification”.[121] Later in the fall of 1989, the words employed in London become harder, a “moderating and channelling [of] German ambitions” is recommended,[122] or a policy whose aim is “to envelop and contain the West Germans”.[123] Interestingly, though, the British Ambassador in Bonn complains on January 5, 1990 in a letter to Foreign Minister Douglas Hurd about an unevenness of perceptions, particularly in view of the American policy: “I remain concerned that despite our consistent support for the principle of German unity through self-determination, the UK is perceived here as opposing, or at least wishing to brake, reunification. … The US are perceived as the most supportive of German aspirations even while laying down conditions for German unity.”[124]

Indeed, Washington squarely set rules according to which a reunification of Germany was allowed to occur. At first, in October and November 1989, the “German question” was viewed in the White House in the perspective of a “prudent evolution”, as George Bush phrased it.[125] In an interview, given to The New York Times on October 25, 1989, the American President had been rather dilatory: “I don`t think we ought to be out pushing the concept of reunification[[126]], … or setting timetables … It takes time, … It takes a prudent evolution.”[127] On November 29, 1989, however, one day after Chancellor Kohl had annunciated his Ten-Point Plan, Secretary of State Baker “`suggested´ four points of our own” concerning “German unification”.[128] Within the next few days the “points” became “principles”,[129] that is a set of rules, a fixed policy of action. These were formally announced on December 4, 1989 by President Bush at a NATO summit in Brussels. “In our view”, Bush stated, the “goal of German unification should be based on the following principles. First, self-determination must be pursued without prejudice to its outcome. Second, unification should occur in the context of Germany’s continued commitment to NATO and an increasingly integrated European Community, and with due regard for the legal role and responsibilities of the allied powers. Third, in the interests of general European stability, moves toward unification must be peaceful, gradual, and part of a step-by-step process. Lastly, on the question of borders, we should reiterate our support for the principles of the Helsinki Final Act.”[130]

Later, when Baker described the genesis of the announcement of the “four principles as U.S. policy”, he unambiguously explained why it was made and added a further information as to the way it was made. The “United States could exercise leadership and influence the debate. …. We cabled them [the four principles] to all European posts to guide our ambassadors, and a few days later, the European Community adopted them as well [our emphasis]. … I am convinced that our principles calmed Moscow, London, and Paris.”[131]

In its final declaration on December 9, 1989 the European Council at Strasbourg included indeed a paragraph on the question of Germany`s unity. However, no mention is made of an `adoption´, and the policy envisioned as well as the phrasing of the paragraph distinctly echo Mitterrand`s objectives and the words he had used to express them.[132] With regard to the policy that was shaped for the likely event of a reunification of Germany, the function of leadership was, we may, in view of Baker`s later claim, conclude, actually a matter of contention. The European Council over which Mitterrand at Strasbourg had presided chose this policy formulation: “We seek the strengthening of the state of peace in Europe in which the German people will regain its unity through free self-determination. This process should take place peacefully and democratically, in full respect of the relevant agreements and treaties and of all the principles defined by the Helsinki Final Act, in a context of dialogue and East-West cooperation. It also has to be placed in the perspective of European integration.”[133]

VII. Prevailing Issues

The conflict between Mitterrand and Kohl over the next step towards European integration

At the Strasbourg summit the European Council decided also to have convened “before the end of 1990” an intergovernmental conference in order to prepare the establishment, in three steps, of a European Economic and Monetary Union (EMU). Up to two days before the beginning of the summit on December 8, the question of the timing of that conference had been the subject of a bitter conflict between President Mitterrand and Chancellor Kohl, quite unfortunately at the time when the `German question´ was becoming a burning issue and the two men should better have been on good terms.

At his meeting on June 26-27, 1989 in Madrid, the European Council had fixed the date of July 1, 1990 for the initiation of the intergovermental conference with which the preparations for the EMU would begin. Mitterrand and his advisers, as well as Jacques Delors, head of the European Commission, and Roland Dumas and Hans-Dietrich Genscher, expected the organizational work for the establishment of the EMU to take place in a timely manner, once it had been started. As did Helmut Kohl, naturally, with a substantive reservation, though. Already before the summit at Madrid, he had told Mitterrand that he wished the intergovernmental conference to begin only in 1991, and that he would never publicly announce that date. Mitterrand thought he knew the Chancellor`s reasons: electoral politics, and the reluctance in West Germany concerning the EMU.[134] While Genscher and Dumas, worried about the Chancellor`s position, strove together for a timely process towards the EMU (along their political axis), Mitterrand and Kohl got locked in a conflict that, by October, had become personal.[135] On October 24, they met at the Élysée, for a long talk over dinner. The Chancellor confirmed his European convictions explicitly – “We need the [European] Community” – , but did everything to avoid the topic of the EMU. Mitterrand insisted on addressing it, and, as Elisabeth Guigou, his adviser for European affairs, later recalled, “drove Kohl into a corner”. The Chancellor finally became “furious”. When the two men spoke again to each other the next morning, Kohl simply refused to talk about the date of the intergovernmental conference. Mitterrand countered: “But I will talk about it” – which he did that very afternoon during a speech before the European Parliament in Strasbourg.[136]

Two days later Genscher and Dumas met in Paris too. The German report on their conversation is quite telling: Dumas qualified the meeting between Kohl and Mitterrand as “strange”. The Chancellor had, as Dumas related, at first spoken about what was happening in East Germany. Mitterrand had not understood what Kohl actually wished to say. When the President finally approached the topic of the EMU and, in particular, of the intergovernmental conference, Kohl reacted evasively. In the end, faced with the persistence of Mitterrand, the Chancellor – so the German report says – had agreed that the intergovernmental conference could start in the fall of 1990. Dumas noted, as a general observation, that the relationship between Kohl and Mitterrand had “cooled down”, with the Chancellor at the origin of it. Genscher affirmed that the reasons for Kohl`s procrastination lay in domestic politics. But, as the German Foreign Minister (and partner of the Chancellor in their coalition government) pointed out, there were “overriding political considerations” for holding on to the objectives concerning monetary policy.[137]

“Furious”, “strange”, “cooled down” – surely, Franҫois Mitterrand and Helmut Kohl were not on good terms with each other in the fall of 1989, the moment of the Germans` awakening to their reunification.

Their conflict over the convening of that intergovernmental conference, it should be added, was finally resolved on December 6 through a verbal message that Kohl had conveyed to Mitterrand and according to which he gave his definitive consent to a convening of the conference before the end of 1990.


Franҫois Mitterrand, we said, perceived the occurrence of a reunification of Germany within the event of a greater European unification. The Bush administration and officials in the British Foreign and Commonwealth Office, as we have seen, concurred. But would not “the Germans” – under the preeminent leadership of Chancellor Kohl – perhaps favor their unity first, in disregard of what others might think of their rush, and thereby risk the European project, the promise of an order of peace in Europe? Very much convinced of the principle that people should rather be judged by what they did than by what they said, the French President, well informed here by his advisers, carefully followed and read, in the fall and winter of 1989, the political behaviour and actions of Chancellor Kohl and the other policy-makers in Bonn. The experience of Kohl`s procrastinations regarding the intergovernmental conference made him doubtful. His apprehension was very much increased by the behaviour of the Kohl government with regard to the “Schengen agreement”.[138]

The agreement had been signed on June 14, 1985 by France, West Germany, Belgium, the Netherlands, and Luxemburg, for the purpose of having gradually abolished checks on the circulation of persons at their common borders and to facilitate the movement of merchandise. Negotiations on the precise conditions of its implementation followed, and everything seemed ready in December 1989 for a formal signing of the agreement, so that it could become effective on January 1, 1990. However, in mid-December the signing was postponed “sine die”, as Roland Dumas related at the Cabinet meeting of December 20, 1989.[139] Why? On December 14 the Chief of Staff of the Chancellery at Bonn, Lutz Stavenhagen, called the French Prime Minister, Michel Rocard, to tell him that Federal Germany couldn`t sign the Schengen agreement after all, because it did not take the GDR sufficiently into account.[140] Mitterrand inquired and learned from Helmut Kohl that the Chancellor hadn`t bothered to speak to the Prime Minister of the GDR, Hans Modrow, as to his plan to have the GDR included into the `Schengen space´, and later Mitterrand was informed by Modrow himself, that indeed no one had spoken to him about that plan.[141] “This Schengen affair”, Mitterrand concluded, in a conversation on January 29, 1990 with the Italian President Francesco Cossiga, “is very symptomatic … . The Germans have a tendency to regard the GDR as being part already of the organisations [to which Federal Germany belongs].”[142]

The German-Polish Border

Perhaps George Bush had the right sense when he spoke on December 2, 1989 to Mikhail Gorbachev about Helmut Kohl and said: “But his rhetoric, you must understand, is emotional and possibly some politics, but mostly emotion.”[143] Perhaps the electoral considerations of the Chancellor in Bonn didn`t fit with the legal determination of the President (and trained lawyer) in Paris. Perhaps a confusion of purposes reigned. The idea of the Chancellor, to lend the strongest possible support to Germany`s recognition of the German-Polish border through a resolution of the parliament of a unified Germany, might have stood against the view of the President that this recognition logically had to be part of the final settlement of the `German question´ and hence of the new ordering (in consent with everyone) of Germany`s – unified Germany`s – place in the middle of Europe. Be that as it may, Helmut Kohl and Franҫois Mitterrand got caught up in another friction. It bore on the definitive determining of the Oder-Neisse line as the German-Polish border. It lasted from the fall of 1989 to the summer of 1990. And it harmed their mutual understanding of the intentions of `the Germans´ in pursuit of their reunification.

To have `Germany´ unified within the borders of the Federal Republic of Germany and the German Democratic Republic was clearly stipulated by the Four Allies, at relevant occasions, by a direct reference to these borders or, mostly, to `the principles of the Helsinki Final Act´. Pragmatically, Chancellor Kohl had nothing different in mind. The conflict with the French President arose when, in Mitterrand`s view, (a) Kohl failed, stubbornly, as it seemed, publicly to commit himself as Chancellor of West Germany, in unequivocal terms, to a definitive determining of the Oder-Neisse line as the German-Polish border and (b) brought up the idea that this could be done only by the parliament of a unified Germany (hence after the unification and, consequently, the restoration of a fully sovereign Germany).

“I in the FRG cannot act for a united Germany”, Helmut Kohl stated, when he met with George Bush on February 24, 1990. “The Poles”, he had explained just before, “should realize that binding decisions must come by an all-German parliament in an all-German state.” And he had assured: “We will be uniting three parts: the FRG, the GDR, and Berlin.” Mildly, George Bush warned him, however: “On the Polish border, it has cycled over here as an issue.”[144] In fact, the apparent unwillingness of the Kohl government and, in particular of the Chancellor himself, to come out for a definitive determining of the Oder-Neisse line was at that time widely critized in the American media by aggressive, if not hostile articles. The issue was understood as a “first test of German intentions” in view of the greater status of a unified Germany.[145]

Mitterrand had warned Kohl since November 3, 1989, on several occasions when they saw each other or talked with each other on the phone. “You are going to run into a serious crisis”, he had said to him with regard to his position on the German-Polish border. “Aren`t you in the process of arousing all suspicions? This can make your unification difficult.” Each time, well aware of the fact that the Americans[146] and the British shared the French view[147], he had said to Kohl: “Nothing will be possible as long as you do not recognize the intangibility of the Oder-Neisse border”. But with a “lovely perseverance” the Chancellor had continued with conducting himself in his way. “That`s understood”, he would reply in personal conversations, but he would never say anything of the sort in public. “He didn`t want to commit himself.”[148]

In any case, at a Cabinet meeting on March 7, 1990 the French government asserted its position concerning the issue of the borders of a unified Germany. “France will not be an obstacle to the unity of the two States if the people of each of them decide so. But the consequences of the unification concern us as much as the Germans themselves. The unity of the two German States can be admitted only within the frame of existing borders of the two States.”[149] The last sentence implied again that a unification of Germany couldn`t be settled if the German-Polish border issue wouldn`t be settled as well. Hence the unilateral declaration on the German-Polish border issued by the West German Parliament on March 8, 1990 was judged by the Mitterrand government as insufficient. “It is necessary for both Germanies and Poland,” the President held, “to enter into negotiations for a settlement on the border before unification. … It is necessary that the Four [France, the United States, the USSR, and Great Britain] take public stands along these lines.”[150] “It will take an international act”, Mitterrand told Kohl on February 15 at a dinner in the Élysée, after a difficult moment of their conversation on that evening. Kohl finally acceded, responding “Yes, allright”. So the French report of their meeting has it.[151] In the German report on the meeting, however, there is no mention of that reply.[152]

Eventually, the border issue was channeled into concluding and juridical forms within the realm of international law. They are well known: At the first ministerial conference of the two-plus-four negotiations on May 5, 1990 in Bonn, the American Secretary of State declared that the Germany to be unified should be “made up of the FRG, the GDR, and Berlin, nothing more, nothing less.”[153] On June 21, the West German and the East German Parliament promulgated an identical resolution in which they reiterated their desire to confirm, by a treaty of international law with Poland, the Oder-Neisse line as the definitive border between Poland and Germany. Art. 1, Sect. 2 of the Treaty on the Final Settlement with Respect to Germany (September 12, 1990) stipulated: “The united Germany and the Republic of Poland shall confirm the existing border between them in a treaty that is binding under international law.”[154] This German-Polish treaty was signed on November 14, 1990 in Warsaw by the German and the Polish Foreign Minister. It took effect on January 16, 1992.


As the conflicts just described smoldered, President Mitterrand began to evoke the adversity that certainly should not happen: `The Germans´ would rush to get their reunification, in disregarding the `consequences´. And he drastically put this into the symbolism of calamitous years in European history, of “1913” mostly, but also “1914” or “1919”, to be sure that he got his message across: Would you wish that everyone around Germany opposes the country in forming an alliance against it? The French President who spoke in this way was Mitterrand, the exhorter. The purpose of the message was to have by all means avoided what it symbolically conveyed.

The kind of irritation that could apparently be aroused by `the Germans´ in those momentous months, in late 1989 and early 1990, can be discerned in a note that Jacques Blot, head of the European desk in the French Ministry of Foreign Affairs, wrote on December 4, 1989. “After the speech of Chancellor Kohl at the Bundestag,” Blot stated, “the German policy is clear: the hour of the reunification has arrived … The unity, that`s the affair of the Germans and of themselves alone. In the speech of the Chancellor, not a word on the Allies, not a word on the neighbors, not a word on the borders …. Let us not deceive ourselves: Mr. Kohl has given the international Community to understand that Germany is no longer under tutelage and that she alone has to decide about her fate. We must take note of this and, as far as we are concerned, draw the consequences.”[155]

Savage diction of this kind was not the style of Mitterrand. His modes of speech included irony, the telling of exemplary anecdotes, philosophical and historical observations, sarcasms, and, at the appropriate moment, phrases of particular clarity and firmness (such as the ones quoted in this article), or, as in this case, exhortations. Thus, on December 16, 1989, he told George Bush: “As I said to Kohl, German reunification must not go forward any faster than the EC. Otherwise, the whole thing will end up in the ditch.”[156] On January 18, 1990, he remarked, in a meeting with Hungarian President Mátyás Szűrös: “We are obsessed by the idea of avoiding that Europe returns to the situation of 1919.”[157] At a meeting of Mitterrand, Kohl and the Swiss President Jean-Pascal Delamuraz on December 15, 1989, the Chancellor had affirmed: “I try to reduce the speed [of the reunification process].”[158] Yet, on February 13, 1990, it appeared to Mitterrand, as he said to Italian Prime Minister Giulio Andreotti, that there were, if one compared the development of Germany`s reunification with that of Europe`s unification, two “trains”: one at a speed of 100 km/h, and one not faster than a local train.[159] And Kohl himself told George Bush just a few days later, on February 24: “My ten-point program of last November has been swept away.”[160]

“If the rhythms of development are different,” Mitterrand postulated on November 30, 1989, “there will be an accident (Si les rythmes sont différents, il y a accident).”[161] This was the historical insight that moved the French President to evoke those calamitous years in European history throughout the fall and winter 1989-90.[162] Secretary of State Baker wholeheartedly agreed. On December 16 he had joined President Bush for a talk with Mitterrand. “Following the hour-long meeting”, Baker later recalled, “Mitterrand in the press conference said that we must deal with the `German problem´ in a `harmonious way´. As he delicately put it, `If the horses of the team don`t move at the same speed, there`ll be an accident.´ Avoiding that accident … would become my [Baker`s !] central diplomatic project in the new year.”[163]

“Allying” with Margaret Thatcher

Mitterrand knew of course, as did the policy-makers in Washington,that a strengthening of the European integration was an essential, if not crucial part of the response to the looming `accident´. Margaret Thatcher, in contrast, did not share this `European´ perception. She didn`t realize – or didn`t wish to realize – what the French President was acutely aware of: with Germany`s reunification, if it was handled well, the European construction would gain momentum. Mitterrand found this desirable. Thatcher, with her stance towards `Europe´, had blocked her mind to this insight. Their views here were incompatible. It is therefore difficult to see why Mitterrand should have thought of forming an alliance with Thatcher against Germany on the country`s way to its reunification, just to have as a result a failure of the European project for which he had been fighting – in conjunction with Helmut Kohl – so much and for so long.

“She [Margaret Thatcher] should try to bind the Germans into the EC”, Helmut Kohl told George Bush at their meeting on December 3, 1989.[164] However, as she stated for example at a dinner in London on March 11, 1990, to which the French Ambassador had invited, in order to discuss Germany`s reunification and the European construction, Margaret Thatcher completely ruled out the option that the European Community could by itself become a force of political attraction; for her it should be just an association for free trade. She didn`t see, she said further, which “concrete ideal one could offer in the name of Europe and in which way this could help to keep the Germans on the right track as they had become much too powerful for not dominating the structure within which one tried to lock them up.”[165]

Margaret Thatcher, though, through her position as Prime Minister of Great Britain, was an important figure in the configuration of political leaders who were profoundly involved in the process concerning a reunification of Germany. Her colleagues had to understand, or better: had to `read´ her, as a member of the `team´, in Mitterrand`s language, that should `move at the same speed´. Helmut Kohl, in talking on February 24, 1990 with George Bush about Thatcher, confessed that he felt helpless: “I can`t understand her. I can`t do anything about her.” Bush, in the same conversation, had gentle, slightly condescending words to say about her: “We don`t fear the ghosts of the past; Margaret does. … I called Margaret today just to listen to her, which I did for an hour. … Margaret told me today that everyone expects German unity (although six months ago she felt differently).”[166]

Mitterrand`s approach was intricate, skilled. Having been a keen observer (and interpreter) of Thatcher for quite some time (we briefly spoke of it above), he carried in 1989-90 a distinct image of her in his mind. It was, in terms of characterology, permeating, and, besides, thoroughly political. He pursued what he wished to pursue, and Thatcher understood what she had wished to understand. In a conversation with Kohl on June 27, 1989 he explained the procedure: “When she has yielded, she says: I have won. She has character, but she yields and she loves propaganda.”[167] Douglas Hurd described the procedure in the following way: “At Strasbourg, as was his habit, he [Mitterrand] juggled with ideas when talking to her, summoning the same thought that, as in the past, Germany could only be restrained by Britain and France acting together. But this was just intellectual play. … his constant juggling with ideas, phrases and historical comparisons was a pastime, not a prelude to action.”[168] And, quite notably, Hurd added: “Before she met Mitterrand again in Paris a month later I warned Margaret Thatcher in a long minute that in public he was speaking in favor of unification and there was no evidence of any serious French effort to check the impetus.”[169]

Much has been made of the meetings of Mitterrand and Thatcher on September 1, 1989 at Chequers and on December 8 at Strasbourg at which they allegedly allied `to prevent or at least to slow down the unification of Germany´. We just have reviewed the issue of such an alliance. A scrutiny of the available documents might be of further help. As to the meeting at Chequers, there is, on the British side, but a footnote in the volume containing British documents.[170] The accounts it presents are confounding (and Attali is there again). Mitterrand was accompanied at the meeting by Roland Dumas, Elisabeth Guigou, and Hubert Védrine. Guigou took notes and those handwritten notes, making up altogether 20 pages, can now be consulted in the Archives Nationales.[171]

The handwriting is largely illegible. Some hours of attempts at deciphering have allowed us to discern the course of the conversation and to comprehend, in a fragmentary way, parts of it. At the very beginning of the conversation, so Guigou`s note tell us, Margaret Thatcher raised the subject of “Germany”: “That`s the most preoccupying matter.” There is a distance between our views, Mitterrand explained, in replying. “One has to understand the German problem”. It is “normal”, he said, that the country wishes to “regain its political power” through its “economic power”. But the “one leads to the other”, Thatcher interjected, a view which Mitterrand evidently didn`t share. And their exchange started to diverge: Thatcher painted on the historical wall the threat of a Germany “dominating” Europe, while Mitterrand accentuated his objective of a Gemany within the “binding structures” of a European community that “works”.

The longest part of Mitterrand`s and Thatcher`s conversation at Chequers – it lasted, Guigou later recalled, an hour – dealt with the next steps to take for the intergovernmental conference. Thatcher refused to give her assent to Mitterrand`s plan to have a working group convened that would prepare those steps. The French President replied that the working group would meet, regardless of the number of participants. Two days later the meeting took place, and the British were present.[172]

As to the personal communication between Mitterrand and Thatcher at Strasbourg, the available documentary evidence is insufficient again. Apparently they met twice, but both on the British and the French side only one conversation is documented.[173] The British document consists in a detailed letter from Charles Powell, fully written out,[174] whereas the French document comprises just some scribbled jottings.[175] Certain observations of the two interlocutors quoted in the first document suggest indeed a conflation of views pointing at an alliance in opposition to Germany. Mitterrand spoke in a way, according to Powell`s letter, that couldn`t but please Margaret Thatcher. The French document, though, presents a different picture. Here, Mitterrand does evoke again “1913”, but then adds a phrase that isn`t to be found in Powell`s letter: “However, the existence of the EEC [European Economic Community] changes all”. Similarly, the accounts on the subject of a Four Power meeting contrast significantly. The British document shows Mitterrand quite inclined to have such a meeting held. The French document, in contrast, has him saying: “I haven`t decided what my position is concerning a quadripartite meeting.”

The visit to the GDR (December 20 – 22, 1989)

Should Mitterrand have made his visit to the GDR? He himself had doubts. One of his diplomatic advisors counselled him not to go, upon the return from some days of exploring and assessing in early December the situation in East Germany.[176] Yet, he went, encouraged, it should be noted, by Helmut Kohl and George Bush. In Strasbourg, at the European summit, Kohl and Mitterrand breakfasted together on the morning of December 8. Among other things, they spoke about Mitterrand‘s plan to visit the GDR. He didn‘t see “reasons”, the President said, “to turn down” [the invitation of the East German government]. “But I question myself about this voyage”, he added. Kohl responded: “On the day you depart, call.” Mitterrand again expressed doubts. “I shall examine the question [of making the visit or not]. But it‘s difficult to back off.” Kohl, after this new expression of doubt, spurred Mitterrand: “If all will be as it is, go ahead (allez-y).”[177] Just before Mitterrand departed for the GDR on December 20, he and President Bush talked with each other on the phone. After the exchange of greetings, Mitterrand said: “I am going in a few minutes to the German Democratic Republic.” Bush responded: “I know you are. It will be a very important trip.”[178]

Mitterrand left Paris in the afternoon. During the morning he had presided over the weekly Cabinet meeting. As usual, Roland Dumas as Minister of Foreign Affairs, had presented an overview of the “international situation”. As to the President`s visit to the GDR he explained: “The President starts his visit to the GDR, where he has been preceded by Kohl, this afternoon. This trip allows a `hands-on experience´ of the reality of the relationship between the two Germanies. The business people of the German Federal Republic are already very present in the GDR. For want of having it done on the political level right now, the unification is in the process of producing itself by osmosis.”[179]

For some years the visit to the GDR had been part of deliberate efforts of the French government to enhance its own Ostpolitik, not without a sense of competition with regard to Germany. Thus, the governmental machinery in Paris was fully at work on this visit in the autumn of 1989. Under the assumption that the GDR would continue to exist for some additional years, the visit was intended as the final act in the enhancement of France`s Ostpolitik, Hubert Védrine explained later in an interview.[180] The President therefore was accompanied by managers of major French business companies, and a number of governmental agreements with the GDR were prepared for being signed during his visit. Interestingly, the European Commissioner for External Relations and Trade, Frans Andriessen, at the same time was about to arrange a trade and cooperation agreement between the EC and the GDR, as, again interestingly, Mitterrand was told on December 6 by an advisor`s note.[181]

The competitive context of Mitterrand`s visit becomes distinctly apparent if one calls to mind the visits that other political figures made to the GDR in December 1989. Helmut Kohl went to Dresden, Willy Brandt to Magdeburg, Richard von Weizsäcker to Potsdam, Hans-Dietrich Genscher to Eisenach and Halle, Rita Süssmuth and Norbert Blüm to Leipzig. Kohl and Mitterrand of course were the major competitors[182] – together with the American Secretary of State. James A. Baker went to Potsdam on December 12, 1989. Concerning the reunification of Germany, he attributed to the United States, as we have already noted, the role of `leadership´. And therefore, as he later explained, he had to precede the French President: “I knew President Mitterrand was planning to visit the GDR the next week, and I wanted to demonstrate American leadership by going there first.”[183] After all, as he asserted a day after his visit at a meeting of Foreign Ministers in Brussels, the American Secretary of State “had gone to Potsdam to lend Modrow [Prime Minister of the GDR] legitimacy.”[184]

During his visit Mitterrand had a number of political conversations. At each he articulated a plain view on the reunification. “I`m not taking any hostile position on reunification.” (Conversation with Manfred Gerlach, president of the GDR State Council).[185] “France is not alarmed by the problem of unity, it is a matter of historic reality.” (Conversation with Prime Minister Modrow).[186] “The position of France is: If elections in East and West produce the result that a majority of the German people votes for a reunification, no one can then oppose it, no one can interfere”, he let Gregor Gysi, head of the SED-PDS party, know in a conversation.[187]

Concluding Remarks

The role of France in the process of Germany`s reunification can be ascertained. The traces in the historical material are abundant. They hardly lead to a historiography whose argument consists in taking France and, in particular, the country`s President, Mitterrand, to task. In De Legibus Cicero, just before he calls Herodotus the “father of history”, declares that in the writing of history the standard by which everything is to be judged is the truth. Only a few sentences later he envisages a program of historiography as a competitive striving for the glory and honor of one`s own country.[188] Evidently, there are tensions in the understanding of history and some wisdom is required. Perhaps Helmut Kohl offered an example when he said on December 3, 1989 to George Bush: “I have always planned carefully with President Mitterrand. … Mitterrand is wise. He knows it would be bad to oppose this [Kohl`s Ten Point Plan]. But he wants it to proceed moderately.”[189]



[1] I should like to extend my sincere thanks to Jean-Charles Bedague, for his assistance as to my research in the Archives Nationales (Pierrefitte) and to Jean Musitelli, for his careful reading of the text and his most valuable advice. The article was completed on April 8, 2016.

[2] The term „historiography“ relates here to historical writing in the European world.

[3] Cicero, On the Laws, I, 1. Translation quoted after Cicero, On the Republic. On the Laws, transl. Clinton W. Keyes (= Loeb Classical Library, Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1928). However, after having bestowed the title “father of history” upon Herodotus, Cicero adds at once that “one finds in the works of Herodotus… innumerable fabulous tales”.

[4] Plutarch, On the Malice of Herodotus, 1: “And this is exactly what Herodotus does, flattering some people in the basest possible manner, while he slanders and maligns others. Hitherto no one has dared to expose him as a liar.” Translation quoted after Plutarch, Moralia, Vol. XI, On the Malice of Herodotus. Causes of Natural Phenomena, transl. Lionel Pearson (=Loeb Classical Library, Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1965).

[5] See, for instance, Encyclopaedia Britannica Online, s.v. “historiography”, and the remark there: “The disagreements of diplomatic historians do suggest that political and national passions play an unusually part in their interpretation of diplomatic history.” (, accessed on January 15, 2016). And furthermore: John Keegan, The Battle for History: Re-Fighting World War Two, (New York: Vintage Books, 1996); Daniel Little, Philosophy of History, in: The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy (Winter 2012 Edition: htttp://, last accessed on April 5, 2016); A Companion to the Philosophy of History and Historiography, ed. Aviezer Tucker (Walden, MA: Wiley-Blackwell, 2009), Introduction; Jeremy M. Black, Clio`s Battles: Historiography in Practice (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 2015).

[6] See for instance: Philip D. Zelikow, A Diplomatic History of German Unification, 1989-1990, Ph.D. thesis (Ann Arbor: UMI 1995), the section “Who Gets the Credit?”, 681-687; Manfred Schmidt, Gerhard A. Ritter, The Rise and Fall of a Socialist Welfare State. The German Democratic Republic (1949-1990) and German Unification (1989-1994), transl. David R. Antakl, Ben Veghte (Berlin-Heidelberg: Springer, 2013), 183: “… the United States was prepared to protect the internal unification process from external obstruction by exerting its influence on the members of NATO and by winning the support of Prime Minister Thatcher and President Mitterrand.”

[7] Timothy Garton Ash, In Europe`s Name. Germany and the Divided Continent (New York: Random House, 1993), 390. Ash doesn`t offer for his assertion any supportive evidence.

[8] Tony Judt, Postwar. A History of Europe Since 1945 (London: William Heinemann, 2005), 640. Judt doesn`t offer for his assertion any supportive evidence.

[9] Georges-Henri Soutou, The German Question as Seen From Paris, in Imposing, Maintaining, and Tearing Open the Iron Curtain. The Cold War and East-Central Europe, 1945-1989, eds. Mark Kramer/Vit Smetana, (Lanham: Lexington Books, 2014), 235.

[10] Manfred Schmidt, Gerhard A. Ritter, The Rise and Fall of a Socialist Welfare State, 172.

[11] Hans-Peter Schwarz, Helmut Kohl. Eine politische Biographie (München: Deutsche Verlags-Anstalt, 2012 = Pantheon Ausgabe 2014), 560.

[12] Helmut Kohl, Erinnerungen. 1982-1990 (München: Droemer 2005), 988, 1014, 1033. – In the following all translations from German are mine, T.S.

[13] Claus J. Duisberg, Das deutsche Jahr. Einblicke in die Wiedervereinigung 1989/1990 (Berlin: Wolf Jobst Siedler, 2005), 105. – Margaret Thatcher`s criticism of Mitterrand in her political memoirs is, because of the harshness of her words, in particular remarkable. See Margaret Thatcher, The Downing Street Years (London: HarperCollins 1993), 791, 796-798.

[14] German Embassy, London, Witness Seminar. Berlin in the Cold War, 1948-1990. German Unification, 1989-1990 (London: Lancaster House, Friday 16 October 2009), 94. See also Hans-Dietrich Genscher, Erinnerungen (Berlin: Siedler 1995), 691f.

[15] Witness Seminar, 102.

[16] Mikhail Narinskiy, Gorbatchev, Mitterrand et la Réunification de l`Allemagne: La Fin de la Guerre Froide, in: Guerres mondiales et conflits contemporains, no. 258, 2015, 27-55. – In the following all translations from French are mine, T.S.

[17] And, once again, I stress that, given the limits of this article, a few examples could be cited only.

[18] Auswärtiges Amt, „2+4“. Die Verhandlungen über die äußeren Aspekte der Herstellung der deutschen Einheit. Eine Dokumentation, Bonn 1991; Hanns Jürgen Küsters/Daniel Hofmann, eds., Dokumente zur Deutschlandpolitik: Deutsche Einheit. Sonderedition aus den Akten des Bundeskanzleramtes 1989/90 (München: Oldenbourg, 1998); Berlin Allied Museum (ed.), “Let Berlin be Next.“ George Bush and German Unification. The Telephone Conversations of U.S. President George Bush and Chancellor Helmut Kohl (October 23, 1989 – October 3, 1990), publication to accompany the exhibition, 10 November 1999 to 13 February 2000 (Berlin: Allied Museum, 2000); Aleksandr Galkin/Anatolii Chernyaev, eds., Mikhail Gorbachev i Germanskii vopros: sbornik dokumentov 1986-1991 (Moscow: Ves’ mir, 2006; German edition: Helmut Altrichter et al, eds., transl. Joachim Glaubitz, Michael Gorbatschow und die deutsche Frage. Sowjetische Dokumente 1986-1991, München: Oldenbourg 2011); Foreign and Commonwealth Office, Documents on British Policy Overseas, Series III, Vol. VII, German Unification, 1989-1990, Patrick Salmon et al., eds. (London: Taylor & Francis, 2009/London-New York: Routledge 2010 – henceforth: DBPO); Svetlana Savranskaya et al., eds., Masterpieces of History. The Peaceful End of the Cold War in Europe, 1989 (Budapest: Central European University Press 2010); Diplomatie für die deutsche Einheit: Dokumente des Auswärtigen Amts zu den deutsch-sowjetischen Beziehungen 1989/90, Andreas Hilger, ed., (München: Oldenbourg 2011); Horst Möller et al., eds., Die Einheit. Das Auswärtige Amt, das DDR-Außenministerium und der Zwei-plus-Vier-Prozess (Göttingen: Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht, 2015); The National Archive, Washington:; The George Bush Presidential Library and Museum:; the Wilson Center`s International History Project: .

[19] Maurice Vaïsse, Christian Wenkel. eds., La diplomatie franҫaise face à l`unification allemande (Paris: Éditions Tallandier, 2011).

[20], last accessed on April 5, 2016.

[21] Some collaborators of Mitterrand kept documents, usually in the form of copies, when they departed from the Élysée. If afterwards such documents could be consulted, they were referred to subsequently in publications under the label “private archive”.

[22] Like in Philip Zelikow`s study (see note 5).

[23] Gerhard A. Ritter, Hans-Dietrich Genscher, das Auswärtige Amt und die deutsche Vereinigung (München: C.H.Beck, 2013). On p. 78, for instance, Ritter speaks of „the attempts of Mitterrand and Thatcher to agree on a common policy for a curb (Eindämmung) on the German danger and for reviving the Entente cordiale of the time before 1914” which, as he adds, failed however.

[24] Ibid.,41-51, 77-79.

[25] Ibid., 208.

[26] Mary Elise Sarotte, 1989. The struggle to create post-cold war Europe (Princeton, New Jersey: Princeton University Press, 2009).

[27] I quote from the third (and Paperback) Edition: Princeton 2014.

[28] On page 285, note 8, and on page 304, notes 24-26.

[29] Paperback Editon, XIII.

[30] It might be possible that Sarotte had in mind Mitterrand`s essay De l`Allemagne, De la France (Paris: Odile Jacob 1996), in which Mitterrand speaks mainly about the reunification of Germany and, in a smaller part, on the “reactions” from outside France to his election in 1981. A third part entitled “Pièces à l`appui” (Supporting documents) presents certain documentary pieces indeed: nine excerpts (!) from press conferences, interviews, speeches, from the years 1988, 1989, 1990, 1994, 1995. In citing the essay in a note, Sarotte refers to it as – Mitterrand`s “memoirs” (Sarotte, 1989 (2009), 240, note 25, my emphasis, T.S.).

[31] Jacques Attali, Verbatim I Chronique des années 1981-1986 (Paris: Fayard, 1993); II Chronique des années 1986-1988 (1995), III, Chronique des années 1988-1991 (1995).

[32] Jean Bothorel, Le dernier livre d`Attali: accusation de plagiat, in: Le Figaro, May 19, 1993, 22; Joseph Macé Scaron, Les libertés prises par `l`historien´. Divers épisodes du récit de l`ancien collaborateur [Robert Badinter] de Mitterrand semblent bien éloignés des faits reels, in: Le Figaro, May 19, 1993; Roger Cohen, Literary Piracy is charged in France, in: The New York Times, May 19, 1993; Elisabeth Schelma, “Verbatim”: les fausses confidences, in: Le Nouvel Observateur, May 20, 1993; Jacques Cordy, D`anciens ministers se plaignent , l`éditeur attaque Jacques Attali accusé de plagiat, in: Le Soir, May 21, 1993; Jacques Attali accusé de plagiat, in: L`Humanité, May 22, 1993; Roger Cohen, Verbatim or Verboten, in: The New York Times, May 23, 1993; “Verbatim”: la vérité maltraitée, in: Le Figaro, May 26, 1993. – The plagiarism of which it is spoken in those articles refers to a book prepared by Elie Wiesel and based on conversations he had had with Mitterrand. Wiesel and his publisher in Paris discovered that considerable parts of that book had been included into “Verbatim”. – Robert Badinter, Laurent Fabius, Pierre Mauroy, Jack Lang were the former ministers in Mitterrand governments who pointed out and rejected false informations given on them in “Verbatim”.

[33] Le Figaro, May 19, 1993, 22.

[34] Documentary Note by Hubert Védrine, Sur le livre de Jacques Attali, „Verbatim“, May 19, 1993; Archives Présidentielles (= cited in the following by “Arch. Prés”. – The present author could consult Mitterrand`s presidential archive in the Élysée before it was transferred in 1995 to the Archives Nationales). – After the appearance of Vol III of Verbatim in 1995 Mitterrand issued a communique stating his “most express reservations” about the book. See: Franҫois Mitterrand exprime ses “réserves” sur “Verbatim” in: Libération, Oct 7, 1995. Libération assumed that Mitterrand was particularly irritated by the way he appears in Verbatim with regard to Germany`s reunification.

[35] Telephone conversation Joachim Bitterlich – Tilo Schabert, July 1, 1993. Documentary note on the conversation in the author`s archive.

[36] Tilo Schabert, Affaire «Verbatim». De nouveaux éléments à charge, in: Le Point, No. 1093, August 28, 1993, 26-27. Some of Bitterlich`s remarks were included in that article. They were taken up by The New York Times and the International Herald Tribune on August 30, 1993, in the article “Kohl Upset Over French Leak”. In Germany this led to articles too, see: Emil Bölte, Aus dem Élysée frisch auf den Markt. Jacques Attalis Buch verärgert den Kanzler, in: Generalanzeiger (Bonn), August 31, 1993, 3; id., Kohl protestiert bei Mitterrand, in: Westdeutsche Allgemeine Zeitung, August 31, 1993. The second article is: Im Reich der Fiktion. Jacques Attalis “Verbatim”, in: Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung, No. 272, November 23, 1993, 12; followed by: Ein Anti-Mitterrand. Attalis groteske Verzerrungen im Mantel der Authentizität, in: Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung, No. 62, March 13, 1996, 10.

[37] Pierre Favier/Michel Martin-Roland, La Décennie Mitterrand, vol. 3, Les défis: 1988-1991 (Paris: Seuil, 1996), 37-38 (on p. 38 the word „imposture“ is used to characterize the nature of Verbatim); Pierre Hassner in the section “Épilogue à plusieurs voix” in Samy Cohen (ed.), Mitterrand et la sortie de la guerre froide (Paris: Presses Universitaires de France, 1998), 455 (“The problem ‘Attali’ becomes annoying. If one cannot use these three volumes, if they are full of lies and incorrectness, somebody should take the trouble and separate the wheat from the chaff.”); Frédéric Bozo, Mitterrand, la fin de la guerre froide et l`unification allemande (Paris: Odile Jacob, 2005), 11-12, 380-381. – And the harsh criticism in the media continued too. See: Mathias Reymond, (Grosses) appriximations et (vastes) emprunts. Quelques rappels sur le cas Attali in: Les Mots sont Importants. Net, Nov. 21, 2009, (accessed on April 7, 2016).

[38] Wilfried Loth, Helmut Kohl und die Währungsunion, in Vierteljahreshefte für Zeitgeschichte, Vol. 61, 4, 2013, 455-480, here p. 460, note 12; Attali`s work is, according to Loth, a „publication of documents“ and “doubts” about its “trustworthiness” are “not justified”; Michael Sutton, France and the Construction of Europe, 1944-2007 (New York-Oxford: Berghahn Books, 2007), 275f.: “Attali`s reliability as a witness has often been questioned … But it does not at all mean that Attali`s voluminous testimony should be systematically discounted or disbelieved.”; Georges-Henri Soutou, The German Question as Seen From Paris, 233. For Soutou Verbatim is „a very important source, even though its veracity has often been unjustifiably challenged …, an essential document, as long as the readers are not allowed to see the originals in the National Archives.” (However, an access to the originals is possible, see above).

[39] Hans Jürgen Küsters, La Controverse entre le Chancelier Helmut Kohl et le Président Franҫois Mitterrand à propos de la réforme constitutionelle de la Communauté Européenne (1989/1990), in: Thérèse Bitsch (ed.), Le couple France-Allemagne dans les institutions européenes. Une posterité pour le plan Schumann? (Bruxelles: Établissement Émile Bruylant, 2001), 487-516 (with references to Verbatim on pages 490, 492, 494, 505, 514); Alexander von Plato, The end of the Cold War? Bush, Kohl, Gorbachev and the reunification of Germany (Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan, 2015), 94-99; Hans-Peter Schwarz, Helmut Kohl, 976, 983-984, 997; see also the numerous references to Verbatim in: Wilfried Loth, Europas Einigung. Eine unvollendete Geschichte (Frankfurt: Campus, 2014), 454-458. – The volumes of Verbatim are variously called “Attali`s diary” (von Plato, 92), “Attali`s extensive notes” (Schwarz, 560), “Attali`s records” (Loth, 456).

[40] Mary Elise Sarotte, 1989 (edition of 2014), 258, note 54: “The veracity of Attali`s memoirs have been challenged …, and Kohl`s memoirs also deviate from primary sources in parts, so neither source is reliable, but they provide more details of the emotions of the event [the Dinner of European heads of government on November 18, 1989] than the British summary.”

[41] See for example Schabert, Affaire “Verbatim”, in: Le Point, No. 1093, 28 August 1993, 26–27; id., Ein Anti-Mitterrand. Attalis groteske Verzerrungen im Mantel der Authentizität, in: Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung, No. 62, 13 March 1996, 10.

[42] All persons mentioned were close advisers to President Mitterrand: Jean-Louis Bianco as Secretary General of the Élysée, Hubert Védrine, Loïc Hennekine, Jean Musitelli, Pierre Morel as diplomatic advisors, Elisabeth Guigou as advisor for European and Economic Affairs, Admiral Lanxade as head of the President`s military advisors.

[43] Letter of Ronald Reagan to Franҫois Mitterrand, Message reҫu sur le télétype bleu, 26 janvier 1983 (Arch.Prés.) As to the context and the importance of the speech see: John Vinocour, Mitterrand Presses Nato To Be Firm, in: The New York Times, Oct. 15, 1983 (accessed on February 5, 2016).

[44] Verbatim I, 389.

[45] Jean-Louis Bianco, Conseil des ministres du mercredi 6 septembre 1989, Report dated from September 7, 1989 (Arch. Prés.).

[46] Verbatim III, 301.

[47] Letter of Margaret Thatcher to Mikhail Gorbachev, in French translation, date in handwriting “17.11.89”, with an handwritten short note by Jean-Louis Bianco (“JLB”) to the attention of Mitterrand, and Mitterrand`s usual encircled “vu” to indicate that he had “seen” the document (Arch. Prés.).

[48] Verbatim III, 338.

[49] Our emphasis.

[50] Verbatim III, 338.

[51] Hubert Védrine, NOTE. A.s la sécurité en Europe: l`avenir des alliances; la C.S.C.E. et le Sommet à 35; la confédération, 29 janvier 1990 (Arch. Prés. The note kept in the archive is annotated by Mitterrand: “Note à garder FM”, which evidently means that the President had taken notice of it).

[52] Verbatim III, 403-404.

[53] Loïc Hennekinne, Note pour le Président de la République, 14 février 1990 (Arch. Prés.). Mitterrand put on the note his usual “vu”.

[54] Cf. Dokumente zur Deutschlandpolitik: Deutsche Einheit, 795-811, for the German reports on the conversations; Aleksandr Galkin/Anatolii Chernyaev (eds.), Michael Gorbatschow und die deutsche Frage. Sowjetische Dokumente, 317-337, for the Russian reports in German translation; Aleksandr Galkin/Anatolii Chernyaev (eds.), Mikhail Gorbachev i Germanskii vopros: sbornik dokumentov 1986-1991, 339-360, for the Russian reports.

[55] Verbatim III, 417-418.

[56] Ibid., 417.

[57] Amiral Lanxade, Note à l`attention de Monsieur le Président de la République. 2 juillet 1990 (Arch. Prés.).

[58] Two studies that emerged out from an authorized admittance to the Presidential Archives in the Élysée before 1995: Pierre Favier/Michel Martin-Roland, La Décennie Mitterrand, (the passages on Germany`s reunification are to be found in vol. 3, Les défis, 159-262); and Tilo Schabert, Wie Weltgeschichte gemacht wird. Frankreich und die deutsche Einheit (Stuttgart: Klett-Cotta, 2002, French edition, rev. and enlarged: Mitterrand et la réunification allemande. Une histoire secrete (1981-1995), Paris: Grasset 2005; American edition: How World Politics is Made. France and the Reunification of Germany, Columbia-London: University of Missouri Press, 2009). Subsequent studies: Frédéric Bozo, Mitterrand, la fin de la guerre froide et l`unification allemande; Marion Gaillard, La politique allemande de Franҫois Mitterrand (1981-1995), Thèse de doctorat (Paris: Institut d`Études Politiques, 2007); Georges Saunier, France, the East European revolutions, and the reunification of Germany, in: Wolfgang Mueller/Michael Gehler/Arnold Suppan (eds.), The revolutions of 1989. A handbook (Wien: Verlag der Österreichischen Akademie der Wissenschaften, 2014), 385-401. The relevant publications of former actors should of course be noted too: Hubert Védrine, Les mondes de Franҫois Mitterrand (Paris: Fayard, 1996), esp. 423-457; Bertrand Dufourcq, 2+4 ou la négociation atypique, in: Politique étrangère, Année 2000, vol. 65, no. 2, 467-484; id., Pour Mitterrand tout s`articule autour de l`idée de la construction européenne, in: Toute l`Europe, Oct. 10, 2010: ( construction-europ.htm; accessed on February 5, 2016); Jean-Louis Bianco, Mes années avec Mitterrand (Paris: Fayard, 2015), esp. 236-251. See furthermore the chapter “L`adieu au mur” in: André Fontaine, La Tache Rouge. Le roman de la guerre froide (Paris: Éditions de la Martinière, 2004), 479-505.

[59] Report on the conversation between the President of the Republic and M. George Bush, Vice-President of the United States, June 24, 1984 (Arch. Prés.).

[60] See Alain Peyrefitte, C`était de Gaulle, vol. 1, La France redevient la France (Paris: Éditions de Fallois), 116.

[61] President Mitterrand abhorred meetings. The way of his collaborators to communicate with him was sending him notes. Thus, there is a huge amount of notes that reveal a President on whom policy deliberations concentrate and from whom decisions originate.

[62] While working with his staff, Mitterrand habitually took advice also, on whatever he whished, from persons outside the Élysée and the government.

[63] For further information see the chapter “Des règles et des méthodes du Président” in: Michel Schifres/MicheSarazin, L´Élysée de Mitterrand (Paris: Éditions Alain Moreau, 1985), 109-124; Pierre Favier/Michel Martin-Roland, La Décennie Mitterrand, vol. 1, Les ruptures, Chapter 3 on “Governing”, 529-542; Tilo Schabert, A Classical Prince: The Style of François Mitterrand, in: Barry Cooper/Charles Embry (eds.), Philosophy, Literature and Politics (Columbia-London, University of Missouri Press, 2005), 234-257.

[64] The presence of Jacques Attali in the configuration can hardly be perceived authentically, as the archival documentation on it is very poor.

[65] Schabert, Wie Weltgeschichte gemacht wird, 63-88; id., Mitterrand et la réunification allemande, 67-93; id.,

How World Politics is Made, 12-33¸ see also Jean Musitelli, Dans l`atelier de la politique mondiale, in: Karl-Heinz Nusser et al. (eds.), Politikos – Vom Element des Persönlichen in der Politik (Berlin: Duncker & Humblot 2008), 17-21.

[66] See–Mitterrand.pdf (accessed on April 5, 2016).

[67] Interview with Hubert Védrine in Paris, April 21, 1995 (Record of the interview in the author`s archive).

[68] Witness Seminar, 59 and 76.

[69] Roland Dumas, Note à l`attention de Monsieur le Président de la République, May 2, 1989 (Archives Nationales/Pierrefitte (henceforth: AN), AN, AG/5(4)CDM/33.

[70] Elisabeth Guigou, Note pour le Président de la République. Objet: Ordre du jour du Conseil Européen, December 4, 1989, AN, AG/5(4)4133. Emphasis in the original.

[71] Conversation Franҫois Mitterrand, Roland Dumas, Jacques Attali, Elisabeth Guigou, Hubert Védrine, après le petit déjeuner avec Kohl et avant reprises des séances, AN, AG/5(4)CD/73.

[72] On the concept of a political characterology see: Amanda Anderson, The Way We Argue Now: A Study in the Cultures of Theory (Princeton: Princeton University Press 2006), 129-135; Hans-Jörg Sigwart, Political Characterology: On the Method of Theorizing in Hannah Arendt’s Origins of Totalitarianism, in: American Political Science Review, Vol. 110, No. 2, May 2016, 265-277.

[73] See for instance the American records on the two meetings of Mitterrand and Bush on April 19, 1990 at Key Largo, Florida: Memorandum of Conversation, 19.04.1990, subject: Meeting With President Mitterrand of France, (–Mitterrand[1].pdf and–Mitterrand [2].pdf. (last accessed on April 5, 2016, this date refers to all other further consultations of the documents accessible via the Bush Presidential Library).

[74] Jean-Louis Bianco, Conseil des ministres du 31 janvier 1990, Report dated from January 31, 1990 (Arch. Prés.).

[75] See the section “1913” below, and Schabert, Wie Weltgeschichte gemacht wird, 321-335; id., Mitterrand et la reunification allemande, 341-356; id. How World Politics is Made, 163-174.

[76] The contention was taking place at a dinner in the Elysée. The French report on the conversation, written by Elisabeth Guigou, vividly depicts Kohl`s agitation; at one point Guigou added behind Kohl`s name the remark: “très rouge/very red”. (Dîner F. Mitterrand/H. Kohl 15 février 1990 à l`Élysée, Arch. Prés.). The German report, written in Amtsdeutsch/officialese, conveys, in contrast, the impression of a much more evenhanded conversation.

[77] Jean-Louis Bianco, Conseil des ministres du 15 février 1989, Report dated from March 2, 1989 (Arch. Prés.). Mitterrand referred here to the European summit on June 25-26, 1984 at Fontainebleau. After much bartering Thatcher didn`t receive the full rebate on the British contribution to the European budget that she had requested. In the end, she had to accept just a rebate of 66% – the cause for her tears observed by Mitterrand.

[78] The note is handwritten, without any date or reference. In a handwriting other than that of Cheysson it is marked: “1983 ou 84? mars” (Arch. Prés.).

[79] Report (by Jean Musitelli) of the Mitterrand-Bush meeting on May 21, 1989, at Kennebunkport (Arch. Prés.). The American report on the meeting is not publicly accessible.

[80] Ibid.

[81] See Schabert, Wie Weltgeschichte gemacht wird, 290-298, 301-320, 441; id., Mitterrand et la réunification allemande, 309-318-339, 487; id., How World Politics is Made, 154-161, 262-263.

[82] See, for instance: Ministère des Affaires Étrangères, Direction d`Europe, Fiche. Objet: Position de la France sur la reunification de l`Allemagne, May 14, 1987, (accessed on February 29, 2016).

[83]For the text of the press conference see: (accessed on March 1, 2016).

[84] Mitterrand put down the sentence on a sheet of paper in preparation of his press conference after the Dinner on November 1989 to which he had the heads of governments of the member states of the European Community invited. The document is reproduced on p. 415 in Schabert, Wie Weltgeschichte gemacht wird and on p. 454 in id., Mitterrand et la réunification allemande.

[85] See, for instance: De Gaulle will auf Wiedervereinigung dringen, in: Die Welt, March 24, 1966, 3; De Gaulle und die Oder-Neiße-Frage, in: Neue Zürcher Zeitung, July 22, 1967, 2; Oder-Neisse Frontier Supported by De Gaulle. French President Calls Postwar Line Dividing Poland, Germany Permanent, in: The Blade (Toledo: Ohio), Sept. 7, 1967. See, furthermore: Vaïsse/Wenkel (eds.), La diplomatie franҫaise face à l`unification allemande, 62-64.

[86] On the objectives or “conditions” as they were generally discussed in France in the fall and winter of 1989 see: Roland Höhne, Frankreich und die deutsche Einheit–Die Reaktion der Öffentlichkeit auf den Wiedervereinigungsprozeß im Jahre 1989/90 in: Lendemains, Vol. 16, No. 62, 1991, 106-119.

[87] Ministère des Affaires Étrangères, Direction des Affaires Juridiques, Note A/S: De l`Allemagne, Oct. 24, 1989 (Arch. Prés.). – On Oct. 30, 1989 followed a note, written by Jacques Blot, Director of the Direction d`Europe; it proposed, in view of an “international conference” on Germany, “explorative consultations between the Four Allies and the two German states”, and envisioned indeed an “agreement worked out by the Four Powers and the two German states”. The note is accessible at the Archives Natíonales under the symbols AG/5(4)EG/212 or AG/5(4)CDM/33 or electronically:

[88] See See: Bertrand Dufourcq, 2+4 ou la négociation atypique; id., Pour Mitterrand tout s’articule autour de l’idée de la construction européenne.

[89] “In this context [the situation in Europe in the fall of 1989] no one fails to understand the necessity to keep the Atlantic Alliance alive. … You know my commitment in this respect.” Letter of Franҫois Mitterrand to George Bush (quoted in translation after the French original version), November 24, 1989 (Arch. Prés.)

[90] See his conversation with US deputy secretary of state Lawrence Eagleburger on January 29, 1990, Compte-rendu de l`audience accordée par le Président de la République, Lundi 29 Janvier à 17h00 à M. Eagleburger (Arch. Prés.); to the report, written by Hubert Védrine, is, in handwriting, added the year “1990”, and the remark that copies were sent on Jan. 30 to, among others, the Minister of Defense Chévènement and Foreign Minister Dumas. As to further evidence, see Schabert, Wie Weltgeschichte gemacht wird, 464-466; id., Mitterrand et la réunification allemande, 515-520; id., How World Politics is Made, 284-288, and the reports on the two meetings between George Bush and Franҫois Mitterrand in April 1990 on Key Largo, see above note 72.

[91] See: Memorandum of Conversation, 19.04.1990, subject: Meeting with President Mitterrand of France, (–[1].pdf., last accessed 5 April 2016). According to the French report of the meeting, Arch. Prés. Mitterrand told Bush: “United Germany must remain in NATO”.

[92] See for a reasoning of this kind: Tony Judt, Postwar, 640 (“Indeed, the French were banking on Gorbachev to veto German unity … ”); Hans-Peter Schwarz, Helmut Kohl, 560-561; Hanns Jürgen Küsters, in: Deutsche Einheit, 79.

[93] See Wolfgang Mueller, The USSR and the Reunification of Germany 1989-90, in: The revolutions of 1989, 321-353, here: 330-337; Mikhail Narinskiy, Gorbatchev, Mitterrand et la réunification de l`Allemagne, 29, 33-34.

 [94] Aleksandr Galkin/Anatolii Chernyaev (eds.), Mikhail Gorbachev i Germanskii vopros: sbornik dokumentov 1986–1991, 463–464 (for the Russian original) and Aleksandr Galkin/Anatolii Chernyaev (eds.), Michael Gorbatschow und die deutsche Frage. Sowjetische Dokumente 1986–1991, 430.

[95] Report (by Jean Musitelli) of the Mitterrand-De Mita meeting, June 3, 1988 (Arch.Prés.).

[96] Mitterrand to the President of South Korea, Roh Tae Woo, at their meeting on November 30, 1989 (Report of the meeting, Arch, Prés.).

[97] Report (by Jean Musitelli) of the Mitterrand-Jaber meeting, Sept. 22, 1988 (Arch. Prés.).

[98] Minute from Mr. J.N. Powell (Policy Planning Staff) to Mr. Ramsden, German Reunification, in: DBPO,, Series III, Vol. VII, German Unification, 58 (our emphasis).

[99] Ibid., 76.

[100] Ibid., 223.

[101] See: Memorandum of Conversation, 16.12.1989, subject: Meeting With President Francois Mitterrand of France, (–Mitterrand.pdf., last accessed 5 April 2016).

[102] Ibid.

[103] Report of the Mitterrand-Schmidt meeting at Latche, Oct. 7, 1981 (Arch. Prés.). Report of the Mitterrand-Schmidt meeting at Latche, 7 October 1981, Arch. Prés. – The German report on the meeting can be found in: Akten zur Auswärtigen Politik der Bundesrepublik Deutschland – 1981, Vol. III: 1. Oktober bis 31. Dezember 1981 (München: Oldenbourg, 2012), 1536–1544. According to this report Chancellor Schmidt started to mention the subject of Germany`s reunification with the sentence: „No German politician seriously thinks of a possibility for a reunification still in this century.”(p. 1543). A moment later President Mitterrand took up the subject too. “Mitterrand believes that certainly some time will pass before the reunification. But it lies in the logic of history, which doesn’t shock him, by the way. The objective and subjective facts which are an obstacle to it today – the existence of the Soviet empire above all – could some day change more rapidly as one thinks today.” (p. 1544).

[104] Report of the Mitterrand-Kohl meeting in Bonn, Oct. 21, 1982 (Arch. Prés.). – The Akten zur Auswärtigen Politik der Bundesrepublik Deutschland for the year 1982 do not include a report on that Mitterrand-Kohl meeting.

[105] Report of the Mitterrand-Kohl meeting at Bad Kreuznach, Oct. 30, 1984 (Arch. Prés.).

[106] See Interview with German television (ZDF) on Feb. 23, 1982; Interview with Cable Net Works (Atlanta) on March 24, 1984; Interview with London Times on Oct. 24, 1984; Interview with German television (ZDF) on Oct. 16, 1987; Interview with German television  (ARD) on Oct. 18, 1987. The texts of the interviews were originally published by the Press Office of the Élysée. They can now be consulted also in the respective volumes of La politique étrangère de la France. Textes et Documents.

[107] Our emphasis.

[108] Press Conference of Mitterrand and Gorbachev on July 5, 1989; Interview with five European newspapers on July 27, 1989; Press Conference at Caracas, Oct. 10, 1989; Press Conference of Mitterrand and Mario Soares (President of Portugal), Oct. 18, 1989; Press Conference of Mitterrand and Kohl, Nov. 3, 1989; Press Conference in Copenhagen on Nov. 10, 1989; Press Conference in Athens, Nov. 29, 1989. t. 16, 1987; Interview with German television  (ARD) on Oct. 18, 1987. The texts of the interviews were originally published by the Press Office of the Élysée. They can now be consulted also in the respective volumes of La politique étrangère de la France. Textes et Documents.

[109] “That the Germans desire the reunification is perfectly logical and normal.” – “Its history turns [the Federal Republic of Germany] toward the East, all the more so since the reunification of Germany is one of its objectives and strongest desires.” – “The difficulty arises when it comes to integrating Germany`s preoccupation into relations between Western nations and Franco-German relations.” Report of the Cabinet meeting on May 3, 1989 (Arch. Prés.).

[110] Report (in excerpts) on the Gorbachev-Mitterrand meeting on December 6, 1989 in Kiev in: Aleksandr Galkin/Anatolii Chernyaev (eds.), Mikhail Gorbachev i Germanskii vopros: sbornik dokumentov 1986–1991, here: 287 and 288; for the German translation in Michael Gorbatschow und die deutsche Frage. Sowjetische Dokumente 1986–1991, here: 267 and 268.

[111] Jean-Louis Bianco, Conseil des ministres du 14 février 1990, Report dated from February 15, 1990 (Arch. Prés.).

[112] See: Memorandum of Conversation, 19.04.1990, subject: Meeting With President Mitterrand of France, (–[2].pdf, last accessed 5 April 2016).

[113] On December 18, 1989 the West German Ambassador in Paris sent a message to Bonn on the subject of the „position of France with regard to the German question“. In that message the Ambassador observed: “Mitterrand has, as always, the most far-reaching view. He is evidently convinced that the reunification will come, but wishes to assist in steering the process towards an orderly course, to avoid in particular an impairing of the European integration process.” See Horst Möller et al., eds., Die Einheit, 180.

[114] See above note 85.

[115] Ministère des Affaires Étrangères, Le Chef du Centre d`Analyse et de Prévision (Jean-Marie Guehonno), Note/S: La question allemande, September 12, 1989, p. 5 (AN, AG/5(4)CDM/33.

[116] On November 14, Mitterrand told Gorbachev in their telephone conversation: “France is Federal Germany`s friend.” (Report of the Mitterrand-Gorbachev telephone conversation, Nov. 4, 1989 – Arch. Prés.). On December 16, 1989, Mitterrand said, as already reported, to Bush: “We are friends of Germany.” (see above).

[117] Hubert Védrine, Note. A/s: réflexions sur la question allemande, Oct. 18, 1989 (Arch. Prés.).

[118] See Secrétariat Général du Gouvernement, Report on the Cabinet Meeting of December 13, 1989 (Arch. Prés.).

[119] Jean-Louis Bianco, Conseil des ministres du 31 janvier 1990, Report dated from Jan. 31, 1990 (Arch. Prés.).

[120] Letter from Sir M. Alexander to Sir P. Wright, Brussels, 18 Sep. 1989 (DBPO, Series III, Vol. VII, German Unification, 1989-1990, 31). Our emphasis.

[121] Draft Paper on German Reunification, FCO (= Foreign and Commonwealth Office), Oct. 11, 1989, ibid., 50. Our emphasis.

[122] The German Question, FCO, Oct. 20, 1989, ibid., 66.

[123] East/West Relations, FCO, Dec. 12, 1989, ibid., 170.

[124] Sir C. Mallaby (Bonn) to Mr. Hurd. The German Question: Our Public Line, Jan. 5, 1990, ibid., 190. Our emphasis.

[125] See Michael R. Beschloss/Strobe Talbott, At the Highest Levels. The Inside Story of the End of the Cold War (Boston: Little, Brown and Company, 1993), 138; James A. Baker, III, The Politics of Diplomacy. Revolution, War and Peace 1989-1992 (New York: G.P. Putnam`s Sons, 1995), 165.

[126] When Baker discussed the events in Germany on October 15 while giving a speech in New York, he still deliberately avoided the term “reunification” and used the word “reconciliation” instead. See The Politics of Diplomacy, 162-163; Zelikow, A Diplomatic History of German Unification, 223-224, and: Bartholomew Sparrow, Brent Scowcroft and the Call of National Security (New York: Public Affairs, 2015), 368-372.

[127] See R.W.Apple, Jr. Possibility of a Reunited Germany is No Cause for Alarm, Bush Says, in: The New York Times, Oct. 25, 1989 (, accessed on March 1, 2016). In a note which German Foreign Minister Hans-Dietrich Genscher received on November 16, 1989 from the head of the American desk in the Ministry, the “very cautious” attitude of the American President is emphasized. See Horst Möller et al., eds., Die Einheit, 138.

[128] See Baker, The Politics of Diplomacy, 167-168.

[129] See ibid., 168; Philip Zelikow/Condoleezza Rice, Germany Unified and Europe Transformed. A Study in Statecraft (Cambridge, Mass: Harvard University Press, 1995) 132-133; Zelikow, A Diplomatic History of German Unification, 288-291.

[130] George Bush: Outline of Remarks at the North Atlantic Treaty Organization Headquartes in Brussels, Dec. 4, 1989,, accessed on March 1, 2016.

[131] Baker, The Politics of Diplomacy, 168. – In A World Transformed, the book he co-authored with George Bush, Brent Scowcroft, Bush`s security adviser, gives a blunt account of the reasoning which led to the American “principles”. “Kohl`s ten points provided a basic approach to cooperation and possible reunification for the two Germanies”, Scowcroft writes, “but from our perspective they ignored the international and security aspects, especially a united Germany`s relationship to NATO and the issue of boundaries. … I thought the principles focuses squarely on the issues Kohl had omitted.” (A World Transformed (New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1998), 196-197). – At one point the policy makers in Washington considered “to create a `Western cocoon´ around Kohl”. See Michael R. Beschloss/Strobe Talbott, At the Highest Levels, 188.

[132] In a diplomatic telegram of the Quai d`Orsay, dated from December 14, 1989, the discussion is described that took place at the summit with regard to the wording of the paragraph. While the Germans, it is reported, wished to have the phrasing used, without any changes made, that had been applied in the letter on German unity addressed to the Soviet government at the signing of the Treaty if Moscow, other delegations found it inappropriate, under the current circumstances. The Chair of the summit – Mitterrand, Dumas and their collaborators – took up the task then to combine the German text with a number of precisions, like the “peaceful and democratic character of the [reunification] process”. The end result, the report concludes, “illustrates the formula of the President” (Mitterrand). See: Ministère des Affaires Étrangères, TD Diplomatie 26102, Dec. 14, 1989, AN, AG/5(4)EG/59. See also Schabert, Wie Weltgeschichte gemacht wird, 427-429; id., Mitterrand et la réunification allemande, 470-473; id., How World Politics is Made, 250-253.

[133] Conclusions of the Presidency – European Council – Strasbourg – 8 and 9 December 1989,, 15 (accessed on March 10, 2016).

[134] See Elisabeth Guigou, Note pour le Président de la République. Objet: Union Économique et Monétaire, June 24, 1989 (Arch. Prés.).

[135] Ibid. See furthermore the two accounts of Elisabeth Guigou recorded by Georgette Elgey on October 11, 1989 and on December 3, 1989 (Arch. Prés.). In her second account Guigou reports that Kohl had “asked Genscher no longer to express himself [on the subject of the intergovernmental conference]. He used his constitutional prerogatives to forbid Genscher any initiative.”

[136] Report of the Mitterrand-Kohl meeting on October 24, 1989 (Arch. Prés.); Account of Elisabeth Guigou recorded by Georgette Elgey on December 13, 1989.

[137] See the report on the meeting Dumas-Genscher on October 26, 1989 in: Horst Möller et al., eds., Die Einheit, 124-125.

[138] For further information see (accessed on March 15, 2016).

[139] See Secrétariat Général du Gouvernement, Report on the Cabinet Meeting of December 20, 1989 (Arch. Prés.).

[140] Jean-Louis Bianco, Conseil des ministres du vendredi 13 décembre 1989, Report dated from December 15, 1989 (Arch. Prés.).

[141] See Report on the meeting Mitterrand-Gysi, in: Horst Möller et al., eds., Die Einheit, 200. – Mitterrand recounted the “French experience over the Schengen Agreement” also to Margaret Thatcher at their meeting on January 20, 1990, see DBPO, Series III, Vol. VII, German Unification, 1989-1990, 218; and the French report on that meeting (Arch. Prés.). – At his meeting with Irish prime minister Charles Haughey on February 15, 1990, Mitterrand mentioned “the Schengen story” again and explained that he did not understand the Kohl government`s behavior: “As long as there are two states, we deal with two states.” (Report of the Mitterrand- Haughey meeting in Paris, February 15, 1990. – Arch. Prés.).

[142] Report on the Mitterrand-Cossiga meeting on January 29, 1990 (Arch. Prés.).

[143] Memorandum of Conversation, 02.12.1989, subject: First Restricted Bilateral Session with Chairman Gorbachev of Soviet Union (, last accessed 5 April 2016), 5. Memorandum of Conversation, 02.12.1989, subject: First Restricted Bilateral Session with Chairman Gorbachev of Soviet Union (, last accessed 5 April 2016), 5– When Kohl was asked a few years after the reunification whether the definitive “end” of the former German regions in the East – Silesia, Eastern Prussia, Eastern Pomerania – had moved him, he answered: “It moved me deeply. Those territories constituted one third of the Reich`s area … That has absolutely nothing to do with nationalism or chauvinism. There is the injustice of expulsion, and you can`t find a single responsible person today who would deny it … the victims of those events were, in a way, held accountable for acts they did not commit. They have been made to bear the responsibility in the name of Germany and in the name of German history, as it were. That posed a big, a very big problem for me and, in the final analysis, I didn`t understand the discussions we had in late 1989, early 1990, when people continually repeated that I had immediately to recognize the Oder-Neisse border.” See: Ekkehard Kuhn, Gorbatschow und die deutsche Einheit. Aussagen der wichtigsten russischen und deutschen Beteiligten, (Bonn: Bouvier, 1993), 172.

[144] See: Memorandum of Conversation, 24.02.1990, subject: Meeting with Helmut Kohl, Chancellor of the Federal Republic of Germany, (–Kohl.pdf., last accessed 5 April 2016).

[145] See Jens Knappe, Die USA und die deutsche Einheit. Amerikanische Deutschlandpolitik im Kontext von veröffentlichter und öffentlicher Meinung 1989/90 (München: Forschungsgruppe Deutschland, 1996), 141-142.

[146] „It would be good to have Kohl state his position [the recognition of the German-Polish border] publicly“, President Bush said to Mitterrand on April 19, 1990, when they discussed the “agreement regarding Polish borders”. See: Memorandum of Conversation, 19.04.1990, 1:07–2:15 pm, subject: Meeting With President Mitterrand of France, (–[2].pdf., last accessed 5 April 2016).See: Memorandum of Conversation, 19.04.1990, 1:07–2:15 pm, subject: Meeting With President Mitterrand of France, (–[2].pdf., last accessed 5 April 2016).

[147] At the “Witness Seminar” in London, Lord Powell observed: “She [Thatcher] took very seriously, and had been making seriously the point about recognition of the border, since the meeting of the EC in November in Paris, and she repeated that point time and again; she could not understand why Chancellor Kohl did not come out earlier and explicitly acknowledge the border, and she was determined to smoke him out in that, which had some effect.” (Witness Seminar, 92-93).

[148] Report (by Loïc Hennekinne) of the Mitterrand/Dumas/Rocard-Jaruzelski/Mazowiecki/Skubiszewski meeting in Paris, March 9, 1990 (Arch. Prés.), and Report (by Caroline de Margerie) of the Mitterrand/Dumas/Rocard-Jaruzelski/Mazowiecki/Skubiszewski meeting in Paris, March 9, 1990 (Arch. Prés.).

[149] See Secrétariat Général du Gouvernement, Report on the Cabinet Meeting of March 7, 1990 (Arch. Prés.).

[150] See: Memorandum of Conversation, 24.02.1990, subject: Meeting With Helmut Kohl, Chancellor of the Federal Republic of Germany, (–Kohl.pdf., last accessed 5 April 2016).

[151] Report of the Mitterrand-Kohl meeting on February 15, 1990 (Arch. Prés.).

[152] Dokumente zur Deutschlandpolitik: Deutsche Einheit, 848-849.

[153] Ministère des Affaires Étrangères, Compte Rendu, A.S. – Première session ministérielle du Groupe des Six: Bonn (5 mai 1990), May 17, 1990 (Arch. Prés.).

[154] See for the text of the treaty: (accessed on April 5, 2016).

[155] Ministère des Affaires Étrangères, Direction d`Europe, Le Directeur, Note A/s: Réunification allemande et processsus européen, December 4, 1989, AN, AG/5(4)EG/212.

[156] See–Mitterrand.pdf, last accessed on April 5, 2016.

[157] Report on the Mitterrand – Szűrös meeting on January 18, 1990 (Arch. Prés.).

[158] Report on the Mitterrand – Delamuraz – Kohl meeting on December 15, 1989 (Arch. Prés.).

[159] Report on the Mitterrand – Andreotti meeting on February 13, 1990 (Arch. Prés.).

[160] See Memorandum of Conversation, 24.02.1990, subject: Meeting With Helmut Kohl, Chancellor of the Federal Republic of Germany, (–Kohl.pdf., last accessed 5 April 2016).  – For the German report see Dokumente zur Deutschlandpolitik: Deutsche Einheit, 861.

[161] Source: Report on the Mitterrand – Roh Tae Woo (President of South Corea) meeting, November 30, 1989 (Arch. Prés.).

[162] The leader of the Gaullist party and Mayor of Paris, Jacques Chirac, spoke of the same danger as Mitterrand, but used another symbolism. While overcoming the “system of Yalta”, he stated, one should not fall back into that of “Sarajevo”. See cablegram of December 18, 1989 by the West German Ambassador in Paris, in: Horst Möller et al., eds., Die Einheit, 178-185, here: 183.

[163] Baker, The Politics of Diplomacy, 175-176. – See also the information provided by the British Ambassador in Washington in his message of January 30, 1990 to the Foreign and Commonwealth Office: “[Bush adviser] Blackwill commented that the worst situation would be one in which the two Germanys simply went their own way without any consultation with the respective allies.” (DBPO, Series III, Vol. VII, German Unification, 1989-1990, 231).

[164] See Memorandum of Conversation, 03.12.1989, subject: Meeting with Helmut Kohl, Chancellor of the Federal Republic of Germany, (–Kohl.pdf., last accessed 5 April 2016), 4.

[165] Cablegram of Ambassador Luc de La Barre de Nanteuil to Roland Dumas, March 13, 1990 in. La Diplomatie Franҫaise face à l`unification allemande, 255-264, here: 261.

[166] See Memorandum of Conversation, 03.12.1989, subject: Meeting with Helmut Kohl, Chancellor of the Federal Republic of Germany, (–Kohl.pdf., last accessed 5 April 2016), 4.

[167] Report on the breakfast meeting Mitterrand – Kohl (at the European Summit in Madrid), June 27, 1989 (Arch. Prés.).

[168] Douglas Hurd, Memoirs ( London: Little, Brown 2003), 383.

[169] Ibid. – For the text of the minute of Douglas Hurd see: DBPO, Series III, Vol. VII, German Unification, 1989-1990, 208 – 211. – And furthermore: „I do not believe Franҫois Mitterrand believed a bit of what he said to her”, William Waldegrave declared at the “Witness Seminar” in London. “… he was having fun, but he was also moving Britain to the sidelines, which is never far from French policy.” Witness Seminar, 62.

[170] DBPO, Series III, Vol. VII, German Unification, 1989-1990, 79.

[171] Cote AG/5(4)/CD/75. Dossier 2, sous-dossier 14.

[172] See the account of Elisabeth Guigou recorded by Georgette Elgey on October 11, 1989 (Arch. Prés.).

[173] For the British side see: Preface, DBPO, Series III, Vol. VII, German Unification, 1989-1990, XVII.

[174] Letter from Mr. Powell (Strasbourg) to Mr. Wall, December 8, 1989, ibid., 164-166.

[175] Fm/Thatcher vendredi 8 déc 89 à Strasbourg, 18h45, AN – AG/5(4)/CD75, Dossier 2, sous dossier 15.

[176] See also the account on the visit in Schabert, Wie Weltgeschichte gemacht wird, 450-456; id., Mitterrand et la reunification allemande, 498-507; id., How World Politics is Made, 271-278.

[177] Report on the Mitterrand-Kohl meeting over breakfast, Saturday, December 8, 1989, AN – AG/5(4)CD/73. – For the German report see: Dokumente zur Deutschlandpolitik: Deutsche Einheit, 628-631, here: 629.

[178] See: Memorandum of Telephone Conversation, 20.12.1989, subject: Telephone Conversation with President Francois Mitterrand of France, (–Mitterrand.pdf., last accessed 5 April 2016), 1. (Our emphasis).

[179] See: Secrétariat Général du Gouvernement, Report on the Cabinet Meeting of December 20, 1989 (Arch. Prés.).

[180] Interview with the present author in Paris on June 12, 1996.

[181] Caroline de Margerie, Note pour le Président de la République, December 6, 1989, AN – AG/5(4)/4160. See also the Document No 144 concerning the relationships between the EC and the GDR, in: Dokumente zur Deutschlandpolitik: Deutsche Einheit, 705-706.

[182] In the interview already mentioned (see note 178 above) Védrine asserted that Mitterrand with his visit wanted “to put pressure” on Kohl, in order to make clear that France was there to “accompany” the reunification process. See furthermore Horst Teltschik, 329 Tage. Innenansichten der Einigung (Berlin: Siedler 1991), where on p. 60 he states that Kohl “ought even to have gone to the GDR before Mitterrand”.

[183] Baker, The Politics of Diplomacy, 173 (our emphasis).

[184] See Letter of Douglas Hurd to Ambassador Mallaby in Bonn, in DBPO, Series III, Vol. VII, German Unification, 1989-1990, here 172. See furthermore, ibid, 174.

[185] Report of the Mitterrand-Gerlach meeting, December 20, 1989 (Arch. Prés.).

[186] Report on the Mitterrand-Modrow meeting, December 21, 1989, in: Horst Möller et al., eds., Die Einheit, 191-196, here: 192.

[187] Report on the Mitterrand-Gysi meeting, December 21, 1989, in: ibid., 196-204, here 198.

[188] On the Laws, I, 1-2.

[189] See: Memorandum of Conversation, 03.12.1989, subject: Meeting with Helmut Kohl, Chancellor of the Federal Republic of Germany, (–Kohl.pdf., last accessed 5 April 2016), 3.

Tilo Schabert

Tilo Schabert is a Board Member of VoegelinView and a Professor Emeritus at the University of Erlangen-Nuremburg. He is the author of several books, with the latest being How World Politics is Made (Missouri, 2009) and The Second Birth: On the Political Beginnings of Human Existence (Chicago, 2015).

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