Opinion: Helmut Kohl makes history once again | Opinion | DW | 01.07.2017

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Opinion: Helmut Kohl makes history once again

The European Union has paid homage to former German Chancellor Helmut Kohl in the first-ever European ceremony of its kind. It marked a historic moment of self-validation, says Ines Pohl.

Throughout his life, Helmut Kohl had an outstanding sense of when the time was right. It was his instinct and his uncompromising resolution that ended the division of Germany and thus paved the way for the European Union as we know it today. He recognized the historic opportunity as such, took action and did not allow himself to be deterred from his purpose - with a disregard for consequences that led to some collateral damage, including on the personal front.

The former German chancellor thus did not just make friends. But with these qualities, he created the foundation for the house of Europe, which is currently in no very good state. Member states are questioning the EU's raison d'être amid a new burgeoning of nationalism. The Britons have already decided to leave, and under Donald Trump, the USA is anything but a reliable ally.

Pohl Ines Kommentarbild App

DW's editor-in-chief, Ines Pohl

EU flag as symbol

And now, amid all these new uncertainties, comes the memorial ceremony for Helmut Kohl. Heads of states and government from all over the world traveled to the seat of the European Parliament in Strasbourg to bid farewell to one of the key founding fathers of the European Union in the first-ever European ceremony of its kind. The Spanish royal house was represented, along with many of Kohl's political companions over the years. From east, south, north and west. In their midst was Helmut Kohl's coffin, which, at his wish, was draped not in the German flag, but the European one.

The words of European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker were moving. Donald Tusk, the president of the European Council, and others were, in contrast, somewhat technocratic in their praise for Kohl's achievements. At the end, German Chancellor Angela Merkel gave a personal speech in which she thanked Helmut Kohl for the fact that she could now stand where she was in a free Europe.

Clinton: Hitting the nail on the head

But it was Bill Clinton, the former president of the United States, who made it clear to all what was actually happening at the ceremony: that Helmut Kohl was making history once more, at that very moment - during a phase that is so dangerous for Kohl's great lifetime achievement, a united Europe.

Bill Clinton spoke of the finite nature of life, of legacies and responsibility. There, in Strasbourg, over the coffin of Helmut Kohl, the spirit of the European Union suddenly reappeared: the call to achieve a harmony based on mutual respect, in which a war on European soil is never again possible.

Theresa May, the British prime minster, who is leading her country in negotiations on Brexit, suddenly lost any appearance of threat; she became something exotic that had no place there.

Helmut Kohl returned to life once more. Bidding farewell became an act of self-validation that is full of future hope. This is the kind of energy that Europe needs. It was a historic moment that Helmut Kohl would have liked.