The battle over perceptions of inequality and injustice could be at the heart of September’s national elections.
Former German Chancellor Helmut Kohl, the architect of Germany’s reunification, died on Friday aged 87, his party said.
“We mourn,” Kohl’s Christian Democratic Union party (CDU) tweeted with a picture of the former chancellor.
— CDU Deutschlands (@CDU) June 16, 2017
Kohl led Germany through reunification in 1990 and was chancellor of first West Germany and then the unified nation from 1982 to 1998.
He had been frail and wheelchair-bound since suffering a bad fall in 2008, and was largely house-bound in his home in Ludwigshafen, in the western state of Rhineland-Palatinate.
Chancellor Angela Merkel said Kohl was “the right man at the right time”, when the winds of change began sweeping through Eastern Europe in the 1980s.
“We all should be grateful what Helmut Kohl achieved during many years he served for us Germans and our country. He will live in our memories as the great European and the chancellor of our reunification. I bow before his legacy.”
Former US presidents George H W Bush and Bill Clinton both called Kohl the greatest European leader of the second half of the 20th century.
“Working closely with my very good friend to help achieve a peaceful end to the Cold War and the unification of Germany within NATO will remain one of the great joys of my life,” Bush said in a statement.
“Throughout our endeavours, Helmut was a rock – both steady and strong. We mourn his loss today, even as we know his remarkable life will inspire future generations of leaders to dare and achieve greatly.”
The view was echoed by German Foreign Minister Sigmar Gabriel. “A truly great German and above all a truly great European has died,” he said in a statement.
Helmut's death hurts me deeply. My mentor, my friend, the very essence of Europe, he will be greatly, greatly missed https://t.co/ikJFdzK9m0
— Jean-Claude Juncker (@JunckerEU) June 16, 2017
European Commission chief Jean-Claude Juncker also paid tribute to Kohl.
“Helmut’s death hurts me deeply. My mentor, my friend, the very essence of Europe, he will be greatly, greatly missed,” Juncker, a former prime minister of Luxembourg, said on Twitter.
“Helmut Kohl filled the European house with life – not only because he built bridges to the west as well as to the east, but also because he never ceased to design even better blueprints for the future of Europe,” Juncker added.
NATO Secretary Jens Stoltenberg described him as the “embodiment of a united Germany in a united Europe”.
“When the Berlin Wall fell, he rose to the occasion. A true European,” Stoltenberg tweeted. Belgian Prime Minister Charles Michel also called Kohl a “true European”, while Luxembourg’s Prime Minister Xavier Bettel lauded a “great statesman”.
Kohl led West Germany through a period of economic prosperity but always had an eye on East Germany amid thawing relations between the two.
After the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989, Kohl took a huge political and personal risk by pushing for a quick reunification of East and West Germany.
The move paid off and a combined Germany went on to continue West Germany’s economic miracle, albeit with the East still much the poorer.
He easily won the 1990 federal elections amid the euphoria but had a reduced majority in 1994.
By 1998 he had lost much of his political lustre and was defeated in the elections by the Social Democratic Party’s (SDP) Gerhard Schroeder.
He was widely viewed by political scholars as the mentor of current Chancellor Merkel, also of the CDU, before their relationship soured