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Willy Brandt on the International Implications of Unification (February 5, 1990)

In this wide-ranging interview, former chancellor and honorary SPD chairman Willy Brandt discusses the international and domestic implications of Gorbachev’s decision to give the green light to German unification. Brandt emphasizes the need to proceed deliberately to find acceptable diplomatic solutions and cushion the shock of the transition to a market economy.

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“Unification is in the Bag”
Willy Brandt, honorary SPD-chairman, on Gorbachev, Modrow, and Germany’s future

SPIEGEL: Mr. Brandt, Soviet head of state and party leader Mikhail Gorbachev has dropped his objections to German unification, and GDR Minister President Hans Modrow has surprisingly proposed a step-by-step plan for it. Is unification imminent?

BRANDT: The events show that things in Europe are changing at a newly accelerated pace. But even after these statements by Gorbachev and Modrow we still have to prepare ourselves for unification in stages. It will start with a treaty community, with a joint government committee, with a soon to be formed joint parliamentary body, composed of equal parts from East and West [paritätisch], with a number of other organs dealing with practical matters like the economy, the currency, and the environment.

SPIEGEL: But everything is happening faster than originally assumed.

BRANDT: Yes. We will experience the transition from a treaty community to a confederation, that is, to a state alliance, to a German alliance in the form of a community of the two German states, more rapidly than most people had thought. What’s new right now is that Modrow said that the sovereignty rights of the two states could also be transferred to joint institutions relatively quickly. That is important, because he said it after he’d been in Moscow. One might now presume that the Soviet Union would no longer object to the creation of something that lies halfway between a confederation and a federation in terms of national and international law. And then others wouldn’t be able to object either. That’s a new situation.

SPIEGEL: It is true, then, as you put it, that “it’s in the bag”?

BRANDT: Unification, in principle, is in the bag. Gorbachev has put it in negative terms: there are no fundamental objections anymore. I put it positively. Since Germans want it anyway – though the form is still up for negotiation – and if the Four Powers no longer have any fundamental objections, then one could say: It’s happening or has already happened.

SPIEGEL: Now there’s talk again of a step-by-step plan. Recently you gave the impression that unification was imminent.

BRANDT: That’s incorrect. I’m aware that such an impression arose from some quotations and headlines. As I said in Rostock, Magdeburg, Gotha, and Eisenach, and at the party congress of the Social Democrats in Berlin in December: the unity of the people has been growing since November 9th. Unity from the bottom up is evident everywhere that people meet. And it’s also starting to assume concrete form from the top. Confederation and federation are also concrete manifestations of unity.

SPIEGEL: With the distinction that in a confederation, two states and two citizenships remain.

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