Death of a European

Kohl's Last Great Act

  • Why it matters

    Why it matters

    Helmet Kohl wanted his funeral to mark a celebration of his life’s most important political project: the European Union. In so doing, he appears to want to send a posthumous message to his successor, Chancellor Angela Merkel.

  • Facts


    • Helmet Kohl was one of the main architects of The Maastricht Treaty, signed in 1992, which formally established the European Union and led to the euro.
    • In 1984, Helmut Kohl and French president François Mitterrand held hands at the historic battlefied of Verdun, a moment that came to symbolize German-French reconciliation.
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Helmet Kohl standing in front of an EU flag in 2004. Source: DPA

On July 1, Helmut Kohl will be officially honored with an elaborate ceremony in Strasbourg, France. It will be something of a state funeral without a state. Helmut Kohl wanted it that way, intending the commemoration to mark a European event, one that would take place not in Germany, but in the parliament of the European Union, the supranational organization he did so much to advance.

It was more than three decades ago in Verdun, on the battlefields of the First World War, that Mr. Kohl clasped the hand of François Mitterrand in a historic gesture of reconciliation that symbolized Europe’s advancement toward political and economic union. Now, in his death, Kohl is managing one last, grand European act. The coffin of the German chancellor will lie in state in France before being taken by boat on the Rhine River to the German town of Speyer, near his childhood home. According to the wishes of his widow, the former chancellor will be buried there without a German state funeral.

In recent years, moments of lofty European symbolism have come with dark overtones. Five years ago, for instance, as the euro crisis roiled, the European Union was unexpectedly awarded the Nobel Peace Prize. In the midst of crisis, European leaders found themselves sitting next to each other in Oslo’s festively decorated city hall, yet the occasion was anything but joyful. Martin Schulz, the current social democratic candidate for German chancellor, who, at the time, was president of the European Parliament, compared the European Union to the family in Thomas Mann’s novel, “Buddenbrooks.” The first generation created the family fortune, the second generation inherited it, and the third squandered it.

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