Financial Leaders Discuss German Reunification

In commemoration of the 25th anniversary of German reunification, former World Bank President Robert Zoellick and former German Federal Finance Minister Theo Waigel discussed the continued implications of the reunification at the sixth installment of the Herbert Quandt lecture series in Gaston Hall Thursday.

Hosted by the BMW Center for German and European Studies, the Hanns-Seidel Foundation and the Konrad-Adenauer-Stiftung Washington Office, the event marked the first Quandt lecture in six years. The series was established by the CGES in 1997 to promote dialogue on German-American relations.

School of Foreign Service Dean Joel Hellman introduced the two speakers, both of whom were involved in the aftermath of the reunification. Zoellick was the primary negotiator for the United States in the Two-Plus-Four Agreement that created a sovereign German state, while Waigel led efforts to establish the euro in the 1990s.

Chair of the Hanns-Seidel Foundation Ursula Männle and Deputy Chief of Mission of the German Embassy Phillip Ackerman also joined the discussion as guest speakers.

All speakers recognized the key role that the United States, under former President George H.W. Bush, played in the unification of East and West Germany.

“There can’t be any doubt that without the support and help of Washington, it would have been much more difficult to achieve German unification,” Männle said. “This was primarily possible because the United States stood by Germany and gave their full support for unification.”

Waigel said that the establishment of a common currency united the previously separated country.

“It was a stellar effort performed in a short period of time,” Waigel said.

Because the currency treaty was signed in 1990, Waigel said that Germany has seen significant changes to both its political and economic landscape.

“[The press conference that followed] was facilitated by a shy, somewhat reserved lady who was a deputy press spokesman for [East Germany]. Her name was Angela Merkel. That too shows how much things have changed,” Waigel said.

According to Waigel’s calculations, the reunification has cost Germany 1.5 to 2.1 trillion throughout the past 25 years. However, in retrospect, Waigel called the monetary union and the unification “a masterpiece of diplomacy.”

Zoellick, who worked closely with Waigel during the reunification, was responsible for garnering support for the German unification process in the U.S. government.

Zoellick said that the reunification occurred primarily due to the haste with which the negotiating parties acted on the opportunity.

“This was an opening. This was an opportunity. People had to act fast,” Zoellick said.

However, Zoellick said that Germany continues to be confronted with many issues 25 years after the reunification.

“Germany now has still many challenges, but it has a rare and unique opportunity to shape the future of Europe and to shape the future of the transatlantic community,” Zoellick said.

Zoellick attributed some of these issues to the diplomatic relationship between Germany and the United States since the reunification.

“I think this is due to shortfalls on both sides, and both sides taking advantage of each other. I believe, this is [going to be] one of the challenges for the next U.S. president, to sit down with German colleagues and recognize each other’s perspectives, especially the different perspectives,” Zoellick said.

In a question-and-answer session following the lecture, audience members asked questions about the volatility of the European economy and currency today, as well as the professional preparation that allowed Waigel and Zoellick to be at the forefront of the reunification.

Waigel attributed his involvement in the reunification to his longstanding belief in the opportunity for German unity, while Zoellick credited his participation to his knowledge of history, the diplomatic process and calculated risk-taking.

Ann-Kathrin Merz (SFS ’19), who attended the event, said it demonstrated the continued relevance of the reunification.

“It’s amazing to think that it’s only been 25 years since Germany was reunified, and to see how real and still powerful this topic is for these politicians and speakers and all of these people who lived through,” Merz said.


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