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Harmed the Party (December 22, 1999)

CDU general secretary Angela Merkel summarizes Helmut Kohl’s merits but also criticizes his role in the CDU party donations scandal. Kohl had come under scrutiny for using donations totaling 1.5 to 2.0 million DM for party-related purposes – the problem being that the funds had been deposited into special accounts and had not been listed as donations on party account statements. He refused to name the donor. With this article, Merkel set the tone for her party, the CDU, and distanced herself from her political mentor. According to Merkel, the CDU had to reform itself; the Kohl era has come to an end.

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The Actions to which Helmut Kohl Admitted Have Harmed the Party

Many people have designated November 30, 1999, as the end of the Kohl era. That was the day when Helmut Kohl, in a statement to the party’s executive committee and to the press, took political responsibility for a secret account that was kept in addition to the regular accounts of the [CDU] party treasury. And immediately people suggested that the end of the Kohl era might also represent a new opportunity.

But such rash words could only be spoken by those who don’t allow themselves to grasp the full extent of the tragedy of this November 30, 1999 – the tragedy for Helmut Kohl, the tragedy for the CDU. This tragedy becomes clearer when one looks back at the previous year, at the previous fourteen months. What a defeat the party suffered on September 27, 1998. For the first time in the history of the Federal Republic of Germany, a chancellor and his administration were voted out of office by the electorate. But what incredible election victories followed in 1999: the CDU scored a landslide victory in the elections to the European Parliament; it remained firmly in power in Bremen and Berlin; it triumphed in the SPD bastions of Hesse, Saarland, and Brandenburg; it achieved absolute majorities in Thuringia and Saxony and sensational results in the local elections in North Rhine-Westphalia. What a comeback for Helmut Kohl – from defeated chancellor to honorary citizen of Europe, cheered in Germany’s pedestrian shopping zones, and celebrated on the tenth anniversary of [the fall of the Berlin Wall on] November 9 [1989]. And then this: anonymous donations, secret bank accounts, repayments, Kohl’s declaration on November 30, 1999, Kohl’s statements on the ZDF* television broadcast, “What now, Mr. Kohl?”

The actions to which Helmut Kohl admitted have harmed the party. Not only did it lose the state subsidy of 50 Pfennig per donated Deutschmark (DM) for the 1.5 to 2 million donated Marks that were declared and received by Kohl but not listed in party account statements – that is, as much as 1 million DM in total. And not only is the party threatened with repayments in the millions. The party – and not Kohl alone – also has to explain how such a thing could have happened after the Flick affair.** Keeping one’s word and placing that above the law might be understandable for a lawful action but not an unlawful one.*** This is about Kohl’s credibility, the CDU’s credibility, and the credibility of political parties in general.

Kohl served the party. He was its chair for twenty-five years, which is half the CDU’s history. He was able to win four Bundestag elections as the top candidate, but in 1998 it was no longer enough – not enough for Kohl and not enough for the CDU. By this point, at the latest, it had become clear that nothing would be as it had been. The era of Kohl’s party chairmanship was gone forever. Never again would he lead the CDU as its chancellor candidate in a Bundestag election. Since then, people talk about his past achievements; there is talk of a monument: a monument to the chancellor of the NATO Dual-Track Decision against the Soviet threat, to the chancellor of unification, to the chancellor of European integration.

* ZDF stands for Zweites Deutsches Fernsehen [Second German Television], a popular public television channel in Germany – eds.
** The Flick affair was a German political scandal in the early 1980s involving political contributions to political parties by the Flick company, a major German multinational corporation – trans.
*** Kohl refused to name the source of the illegal donations, saying he had promised that he would not reveal the donor’s identity – trans.

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