History of Germany

West Germany and the Community of Nations

At the end of World War II, Germany was a defeated nation occupied by foreign powers. It had lost its national sovereignty, and the world saw it as a pariah, guilty of crimes without parallel in history. In addition to rebuilding their shattered country in a physical sense, most leading German politicians saw their main goals in the coming decades as restoring their country's reputation, regaining its sovereignty, and becoming once again a member in good standing in the community of nations.

The figure who dominated West Germany's politics in its first two decades was Konrad Adenauer, a politician totally committed to restoring his country to an honored place among nations. He saw little likelihood that the Soviet occupation of East Germany would soon end; hence, he sought to build a strong West Germany firmly attached to the Western community of parliamentary democracies. As president of the Parliamentary Council, Adenauer had played a leading role in the process of finalizing and passing the Basic Law in 1949.

Even before he participated in fashioning the country's constitution, Adenauer had had a long and eventful political career. Born in 1876 in Cologne, he studied law and economics and became active in local politics. As a member of the Catholic-based Center Party, he became the mayor of his home town in 1917. The National Socialists deposed him in 1933, and, after the attempt on Hitler's life on July 20, 1944, he was arrested and imprisoned for four months. After the war, the United States reinstalled him as mayor of Cologne. The British military authorities, however, fired him from this position because of alleged incompetence. In March 1946, Adenauer became chairman of the CDU in the British occupation zone and, after having shown extraordinary leadership in the deliberations on the Basic Law, became the first chancellor of the newly formed state.

One of Adenauer's main goals was regaining his country's sovereignty. Although the Basic Law gave full legislative, executive, and judicial powers to the new FRG and its Länder , certain powers were reserved for the occupying authorities. The Occupation Statute, drawn up in April 1949 by the foreign ministers of the Four Powers, gave the occupation authorities the right to supervise the new state's foreign policy, trade, and civil aviation, as well as the right, under special circumstances, to assume complete control over their own occupation zones.

By means of another statute, the Ruhr Statute, likewise concluded in April 1949, the administration of the resources and industrial potential of the Ruhr area was also kept under foreign control. In the past, the area had been a key element in the building of Germany's military machine. France, in particular, sought safeguards against future threats to its national security by arranging the creation of the International Authority for the Ruhr, which, under the direction of France, Belgium, the Netherlands, and Luxembourg, controlled the distribution of the area's resources.

Although the Ruhr Statute was designed to prevent Germany from ever again becoming a threat to its neighbors, it later served as the first instrument of economic cooperation for the region. In conformity with the Petersberg Agreement of November 1949 with the Western Allies, the FRG became a member of the International Authority for the Ruhr and was granted the right to establish consular relations with foreign countries. Furthermore, the dismantling of German industrial plants in the Ruhr area was largely stopped, and Germany was allowed to again build merchant ships. The winning of these important concessions was Adenauer's first major success as chancellor.

In the spring of 1950, French foreign minister Robert Schuman recommended the creation of the European Coal and Steel Community (ECSC) to revive European economic cooperation and prevent future conflict between France and Germany. According to Schuman's plan, countries willing to place their coal and steel industries under an independent authority could join.

Once again, Adenauer seized the opportunity to further integrate West Germany into Western Europe. Against the SPD's strong opposition, the FRG entered into negotiations with France, Belgium, the Netherlands, Luxembourg, and Italy on the formation of the ECSC. Negotiations were successfully concluded in June 1952. The ECSC superseded the International Authority for the Ruhr and laid the foundations of the future European Community. Adenauer's conciliatory but resolute foreign policy also secured the admission in 1951 of the FRG into the Council of Europe, a body established in May 1949 to promote European ideals and principles.

Another important step for the FRG on its path toward reentry into the community of nations was Adenauer's unwavering position on restitution to the victims of Nazi crimes. Of particular significance was the normalization of relations with Israel and with the Jewish people in general. Although the terrible atrocities that had occurred during the war could not be undone, material restitution could at least improve the lot of the survivors. In 1952 a reparations agreement with Israel was arranged that called for the payment of DM3 billion to the Jewish state over the next twelve years. Additional agreements with Jewish organizations provided for restitution to Jewish victims throughout the world. Through such actions, the FRG sought to meet its obligations as the legal successor to the German Reich, a position it had accepted since the FRG's founding.

Rearmament and the European Defense Community

The outbreak of the Korean War in 1950 convinced Western leaders of the growing threat of international communism. The United States began to encourage the Europeans--the FRG in particular--to contribute to their own defense. For Germany, five years after having lost the most devastating of all wars, this meant forming an army, a step unthinkable for many Germans. Germany's rearmament was also anathema to some of its neighbors, especially France. As the Korean War continued, however, opposition to rearmament lessened within the FRG, and China's entry in the war caused France to revise its negative position toward German rearmament.

To contain a newly armed Germany, French officials proposed the creation of the European Defense Community (EDC) under the aegis of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO). Adenauer quickly agreed to join the EDC because he saw membership as likely to increase his country's sovereignty. The treaties establishing the EDC were signed in May 1952 in Bonn by the Western Allies and the FRG. Although the Bundestag ratified the treaties, the EDC was ultimately blocked by France's parliament, the National Assembly, because it opposed putting French troops under foreign command. The French veto meant that a new formula was needed to allay French fears of a strong Germany.

The negotiations surrounding the planned rearmament of the FRG and the creation of the EDC provoked a Soviet countermeasure. After a second East German proposal for talks on a possible unification of the two Germanys failed because of the FRG's demands for free elections in the GDR, the Soviet Union put forth a new proposal to the Western Allies in March 1952. The Soviet Union would agree to German unification if the Oder-Neisse border were recognized as final and if a unified Germany were to remain neutral. If the proposal were accepted, Allied troops would leave Germany within one year, and the country would obtain its full sovereignty.

Although the offer was directed to the Western Allies, its content was aimed directly at the West German public and aroused lively discussion about the country's future. Adenauer was convinced, however, that even if the Soviet proposal were serious, an acceptance of the plan would mean Germany's exclusion from the community of Western democracies and an uncertain future. Together with the Western Allies, which did not wish to act without his consent, Adenauer continued to demand free elections supervised by the United Nations (UN) in all of Germany as a precondition for negotiations. The Soviet Union declined and abandoned its proposal. Adenauer was harshly criticized by the opposition for not having seized this opportunity for unification. As his impressive victory in the Bundestag elections of 1953 clearly demonstrated, however, Adenauer had acted according to the wishes of the overwhelming majority of West Germans.

Adenauer's decision to turn down the Soviet proposal was convincing evidence that the FRG intended to remain firmly anchored in the Western defense community. After plans for the EDC had failed because of the French veto, negotiations were successfully concluded on the Treaties of Paris in May 1954, which ended the Occupation Statute and made the FRG a member of the Western European Union and of NATO. On May 5, 1955, the FRG declared its sovereignty as a country and, as a new member of NATO, undertook to contribute to the organization's defense effort by building up its own armed forces, the Bundeswehr.

The FRG contributed to NATO's defense effort by building up the Bundeswehr, an undertaking that met with considerable opposition within the population. For many, the memories of the war were still too vivid. To avoid separating the army from the country's civilian and political life, as was the case during the Weimar Republic, laws were passed that guaranteed civilian control over the armed forces and gave the individual soldier a new status. Members of the conscription army were to be "citizens in uniform" and were encouraged to take an active part in democratic politics. Although West Germans generally remained less than enthusiastic about their new army, the majority accepted the responsibility of sharing the burden of defense with the United States and the other members of NATO.

By 1955 the Soviet Union had abandoned efforts to secure a neutralized Germany, having become convinced of the FRG's firm position within the Western Alliance. Following the Four Power Conference in Geneva in July 1955, Chancellor Adenauer accepted an invitation to visit Moscow, seeking to open new lines of communication with the East without compromising the FRG's firm commitment to the West. In Moscow in September, he arranged for the release of 10,000 German war prisoners. In addition, without having recognized the division of Germany or the Oder-Neisse line as permanent, West German negotiators also established diplomatic relations with the Soviet Union.

The Soviet Union had recognized the GDR as a state in 1954, and the two countries maintained diplomatic relations with one another. The FRG had not, however, recognized the GDR. And to dissuade other countries from recognizing East Germany, Adenauer's foreign policy adviser, Walter Hallstein, proposed that the FRG break diplomatic relations with any country that recognized the GDR. The proposal was based on the FRG's claim, as a democratic state, to be the only legitimate representative of the German people. The Hallstein Doctrine was adopted as a principle of West German foreign policy in September 1955 and remained in effect until the late 1960s.

Another important development in the FRG's relations with its neighbors was that the Saarland rejoined the FRG in 1957. After World War II, France had attempted to separate this region economically and politically from the rest of Germany. In 1947 the Saarland received its own constitution and was virtually autonomous. During negotiations leading to the Treaties of Paris, the FRG and France agreed, in the Saar Statute, that the Saarland should become a territory under the control of the Council of Europe. However, in the referendum of October 1955, which was supposed to confirm the Saar Statute, Saarland voters rejected the statute by a two-thirds majority, an indication that they wished their region to become part of the FRG. On January 1, 1957, the Saarland became a West German Land .

In addition to his success in building a close and firm relationship with the United States, another of Adenauer's great foreign policy achievements was reconciliation with France, with which Germany had been locked in rivalry and conflict for centuries. In spite of remaining disagreements on the areas of European integration and NATO, a basis for the development of more normal relations between their two countries was forged upon a good personal understanding between Adenauer and French president Charles de Gaulle, who had assumed the French presidency in 1958.

The German-French Friendship Treaty (Élysée Treaty), which went into effect in January 1963, called for regular consultations between the two governments, semiannual meetings of the chiefs of state, and a youth exchange program. The treaty was seen by many as a positive step in the history of a difficult relationship between the two countries. Of greater importance to the majority of West Germans, however, was the country's relationship with the United States and its secure place within the Western defense community.

Social Market Economy

Germany's economic growth during the first decades after the war at times overshadowed its marked success at joining the international community. In 1945 the country's economy was shattered. A good part of what survived was later dismantled and carried off by the victorious Allies. Within Germany there was much argument about how to rebuild the economy and what its nature should be. Socialist politicians argued for a central distribution system, extensive state controls, and the nationalization of banks and industry. Their main opponent was Ludwig Erhard, a liberal economist appointed to head the office of economic affairs in the Bizone, who later became minister for economics and ultimately FRG chancellor (1963-66), succeeding Adenauer.

Erhard's concept of a socially responsive market economy based on free trade and private enterprise, aided by the infusion of capital through the Marshall Plan, proved to be the ideal basis for the strong recovery of the West German economy, culminating in the economic miracle (Wirtschaftswunder ) of the 1950s. In some areas, for instance in housing and in agriculture, prevailing circumstances required the introduction of price controls and subsidies. Controls to prevent the formation of cartels and to foster monetary stability also remained the state's responsibility. The state likewise furthered the accumulation of private capital and protected ordinary citizens by establishing a generous system of social services that included statutory health, unemployment, and pension insurance programs.

West Germany's economy functioned very well for several decades, and the country became one of the world's wealthiest. Thanks to the strong social welfare component and the system of codetermination, which gave workers in factories some say about their management, West German industry enjoyed a long period of labor peace. The export-oriented economy received another boost with the creation of the European Economic Community by the Treaty of Rome in March 1957. West Germany was one of the EEC's founding members.

Ludwig Erhard and the Grand Coalition

Konrad Adenauer assumed the chancellorship of the newly founded FRG in 1949, at the age of seventy-three. From the beginning, his primary foreign policy goals had been the achievement of German reunification through a policy of strength, the building of strong relations with the United States, and reconciliation with France.

Until the elections of 1961, Adenauer had enjoyed the support of a healthy CDU/CSU majority in the Bundestag. Various domestic issues and very likely also the Berlin crisis, however, reduced the CDU/CSU's strength in the Bundestag and forced the formation of a coalition government with the FDP. The work of this government was impeded by differences of opinion from the outset. Following the resignation of FDP cabinet members in protest over a controversy surrounding the arrest of Rudolf Augstein, editor of the newsmagazine Der Spiegel , for allegedly having reported classified material concerning NATO exercises, the working climate of the coalition deteriorated. Forced to accept the resignation of his powerful minister of defense, Franz Josef Strauss, who had had Augstein arrested, and facing an erosion of support within the CDU, Adenauer resigned on October 15, 1963.

Ludwig Erhard succeeded Adenauer as chancellor. Under Erhard's leadership, the CDU/CSU-FDP coalition remained in power until 1966. Erhard's more liberal economic policy toward the East European states that maintained diplomatic relations with East Germany made maintaining the Hallstein Doctrine difficult. In addition, his position of favoring close coordination of German foreign policy with the United States was resisted by the "Gaullists," even those in his own party, who favored a continuation of Adenauer's close relations with France.

The CDU/CSU did well in the elections of 1965, but relations with the FDP had deteriorated. A recession and a budget crisis caused the FDP to drop out of the coalition. Erhard ruled with a minority government for a short time, but after the opposition's significant gains in several Land elections, his party formed a new coalition government with the SPD. Erhard resigned as chancellor in November 1966, less successful in that position than he had been as the "father of the economic miracle."

When the CDU/CSU entered into a coalition with the SPD in December 1966, West Germany was experiencing unprecedented economic troubles. High unemployment, a relatively high budget deficit, and an unexpected rise in support for right-wing groups, such as the National Democratic Party of Germany (Nationaldemokratische Partei Deutschlands--NPD), brought West Germany's largest parties together to form what was called the Grand Coalition. Kurt Georg Kiesinger (CDU), who had served as minister president of Baden-Württemberg, was appointed chancellor; Willy Brandt (SPD), the governing mayor of Berlin, became vice chancellor and minister of foreign affairs; and Karl Schiller (SPD) was appointed minister for economics. Considered by many as "unnatural" because the coalition partners came from opposite ends of the political spectrum, the coalition was seen as a temporary solution needed to gain the cooperation of the trade unions and stabilize the economy.

Germany History Contents

SOURCE: Area Handbook of the US Library of Congress