Kohl urges Germans to accept European unity

September 26, 1992|By Carl Schoettler | Carl Schoettler,Berlin Bureau

BERLIN -- Chancellor Helmut Kohl capped a week of attack and maneuver yesterday with a vigorous defense before the German Parliament of the Maastricht Treaty for European unity.

"Germany is our fatherland," Mr. Kohl said. "Europe is our future."

Reading slowly and carefully, with furrowed brows, from a prepared text, he said the European Community faces decisive tests in the coming days and weeks.

"If we don't now take the chance offered by Maastricht," the chancellor said, "the community will be thrown back many years."

Consideration of the treaty began yesterday in the Bundesrat, Germany's upper house. In the Bundestag, the law-making lower house that will decide the outcome, the debate will begin Oct. 8.

Mr. Kohl's arguments were met with modest applause from supporters and uneasy murmuring from the opposition. His speech was broadcast on national television.

Public opinion in the last couple of weeks has shifted away from ratification as Germans watched Europe's currency markets storm around their cherished mark.

They don't mind seeing it as a pillar of strength, offering cheaper vacations and cheaper bananas, as British, Italian and Spanish currencies sink and the mark buys more of everything produced abroad -- except, perhaps, in Japan.

But Germans have become wary of losing the stability of the mark in a common European currency, one of the goals of the Maastricht treaty. The pact also envisions common foreign and defense polices, and a common European citizenship.

Mr. Kohl nevertheless underlined his faith in the European Monetary System. He said it was an important basis for progress in the integration of Europe.

"The turbulence in the money markets has lead to a difficult situation in Europe," he said. "But these experiences have strikingly confirmed the concept of the Treaty of Maastricht for economic and monetary union."

He defended the tight money policies of the Bundesbank, the German central bank, which has been blamed in Britain and Italy for the crises in the pound and the lira because of high interest rates here.

"Their primary task as an independent bank of issue is and remains the protection of the stability of money in Germany," he said.

The power of the Bundesbank -- and Germany -- was demonstrated yesterday when the French franc was stabilized at its highest value against the mark in six weeks.

The Bundesbank joined with the French central bank to protect the franc against currency speculators who hammered the British pound out of the European Monetary System and into de facto devaluation.

Mr. Kohl began a week of bolstering support for the Maastricht treaty in Paris, conferring with President Francois Mitterand after France's razor-thin acceptance of the treaty.

Thursday, he was at the first east Germany regional conference, assuring doubtful east Germans that the economic upturn remains a priority with his government.

TC His misjudgment of the cost of German unification, and subsequent government borrowing to pay the bills, are widely seen as the impetus for the Bundesbank's tight money policies. The cost of unification now is calculated at $250 billion.

Mr. Kohl was in Brussels later yesterday, attending a meeting of Christian Democratic leaders who joined him in support of the Maastricht treaty.

The leaders declared: "All [EC] member states must make the necessary efforts to fulfill the conditions of [economic] convergence which are laid down in the treaty."

The others were Dutch Prime Minister Ruud Lubbers, Luxembourg Prime Minister Jacques Santer, Belgian Prime Minister Jean-Luc Dehaene and Greek Prime Minister Constantin Mitsotakis.

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