Next Monday (5 May) marks twenty years since the Paris agreements came into force granting West Germany full sovereignty....
Next Monday (5 May) marks twenty years since the Paris agreements came into force granting West Germany full sovereignty....six years after the state had been given rights of self-government under the auspices of the occupying powers...and ten years after the victorious Allies had divided the German state into power sectors at the end of the Second World War.
West Germany today in the most economically dynamic state in Europe, and one of the largest trading nations in the world. In only thirty years, the country has rebuilt its shattered industry and decimated transport system to become a highly efficient and productive state.
The initial momentum for this huge reconstruction programme came in the form of United States' aid under the Marshall Plan. Industrial centres like Frankfurt, Cologne, Hamburg and many others devastated by blanket air bombing and bitter street fighting were redesigned and restructured from among the ashes and ruins of war. The basis of West Germany's solid prosperity is iron, steel, motor vehicles, engineering, shipbuilding, electrical goods and chemicals. In 1974 the real rate of growth in the country's Gross National Product (G.N.P.) was 1.5 per cent and -- despite the world problems of inflation and rising prices of oil and raw materials -- it is estimated to increase to between 3 and 3.5 per cent during 1975.
It was this thorough post-war reconstruction and re-equipment of industry that has given West Germany its undisputed position of economic security. In other European states, the impetus for re-equipment was lacking, modernisation was slow and consequently efficiency impaired. By 1974, the rate of inflation in West Germany was only 7.5 per cent...compared to figures double that--and more--in other western countries.
But it was not outside finance alone that helped West Germany in its swift post-war recovery. Successive governments have adopted progressive policies of controlled construction and consolidation. The men who guided West Germany's advance from 1949 to 1966 were Konrad Adenauer, Chancellor from 1949 to 1963, and his Finance Minister and successor Professor Ludwig Erhard. They are considered to be the architects of the state's "Economic Miracle".
Chancellor Adenauer, head of the Christian Democrat Party, held firm control over West Germany politics for 14 years. He was regarded as one of the elder statesmen of Europe and an important force behind the movement for European co-operation and the subsequent establishment of the European Economic Community (Common Market). The twin aims of economic reconstruction and the reunification of a divided Germany wee the trademarks of Adenauer's leadership...and were closely pursed by Professor Erhard when he was elected to the Chancellorship following Adenauer's resignation in 1963 at the age of 87.
The power of the Christian Democrat Party in German politics began to fade gradually following Adenauer's departure. By 1966 a crisis in the coalition government led by Professor Erhard led in turn to his resignation. He was replaced by Dr. Kurt Kiesinger, elected to office with the help of the leader of the powerful Bavarian wing of the Party. Three years under what became known as the "Grand Coalition" followed...a government composed of a mixture of Christian Democrats, Christian Socialists and Social Democrats.
Federal elections in 1969 finally brought an end to the years of Christian Democrat dominance. The Social Democrat Party of the former Mayor of West Berlin, Willy Brandt, emerged as the largest gainers...but not the largest party. An accommodation with the small Free Democrat Party was achieved, and Herr Brandt became the fourth West German Chancellor since 1949.
The change of leadership signalled a vital change in foreign policy. Chancellor Brandt embarked on a series of talks with Communist state leaders, and in 1970 made German history when he met the East German head-of-state Willi Stoph for the first time. The meeting heralded a completely new phase in inter-German relations, resulting in "Good Neighbour" treaty of December 1972 formally establishing East-West German relations and opening the way for both countries to become members of the United Nations. Willy Brandt also held talks with the Soviet Union and Poland which resulted in the signing of important treaties covering trade and relations.
The new policies caused a mixture of support and criticism at home...and in November 1972 federal election results gave the Social Democrats a conclusive victory, making them the largest party in the German Bundestag. Chancellor Brandt was a popular leader but in May 1974 he tendered his resignation following severe popular and parliamentary criticism of his conduct in the Guillaume spy case. He was succeeded to office by former Finance Minister Helmut Schmidt, regarded as a modern technocrat with a very efficient style of leadership.
Herr Schmidt has broadly followed the policies of his predecessor both at home and in foreign and European affairs. West Germany is a very important member of the E.E.C. and has maintained a firm grip on Community policy. At home, the West Germany economy seems to be suffering less from the worldwide sickness of inflation. The country retains its place as one of the most prosperous and progressive states not only in Europe but also in the world. In less than thirty years, that achievement may indeed be justly described as an "Economic Miracle".