In the 1950s, the importance of European integration for German foreign policy was still disputed, but a decade later it had become part of the credo of all political parties, even if thematic foci varied. West Germany’s integration into the European Community facilitated the gradual expansion of its international role after the Second World War and consolidated its ties to the West. Key European political initiatives were implemented under the Adenauer, Brandt, and Schmidt administrations. Helmut Kohl, who grew up near the French border, considered the close link between European and German history to be a basic axiom of German politics, and a policy for, and with, Europe was an integral part of his foreign policy.
Transnational European institutions founded in the 1950s – the European Coal and Steel Community, the European Economic Community, and Euratom – were merged in 1965 to form the European Community (EC). The EC achieved substantial success in dismantling trade restrictions, but progress towards economic and political integration slowed in the 1960s. The French President Charles de Gaulle wanted to build a Europe that focused on the interests of national governments, but the Federal Republic of Germany favored an integrated Europe in which certain functions were transferred to supranational authorities; the concept of a Europe of fatherlands clashed with the model of a federated Europe. Great Britain’s ambivalence towards the European project lost none of its politically explosive nature even after the country became a member in 1973.
Tensions between joint European and individual national interests are a common thread throughout the history of European integration. The accession talks between the EC and Portugal and Spain are exemplary illustrations of both the stabilizing influence of the EC on newly emerging democracies and the difficulty of negotiations in which national interests were defended, particularly in the privileged area of agriculture. Even so, it was the pooling of national interests that paved the way for major advances in European causes. Collaboration between Bonn and Paris, in particular, became a gauge of the state of the European integration process. French President Valery Giscard d’Estaing and Chancellor Helmut Schmidt oversaw the introduction of the European monetary system and direct elections to the European Parliament. The Single European Act, which had its origins in a 1981 German-Italian initiative and was advanced later on under Chancellor Helmut Kohl and the French President of the European Commission, Jacques Delors, breathed new life into the EC in the 1980s. With it, the long-planned establishment of a single market was now within easy reach. Decision-making mechanisms were reformed and an economic union discussed.
The international significance and appeal of the EC increased, but member states were becoming increasingly critical, faulting the EC for its inability to advance reforms and its lack of democratic participation. In comparison to other member states, West German citizens were neither overly skeptical nor particularly enthusiastic about the idea of a unified Europe. The majority welcomed membership in the EC but disagreed as to whether membership entailed concrete benefits.
Like West Germany in the EC, the GDR was one of the “rich” countries in the Council for Mutual Economic Assistance (COMECON), which it joined in 1950. The GDR was more closely integrated with the Soviet economy than any other member state. From its beginning, COMECON was an instrument of Soviet foreign policy, but party head Nikita Khrushchev was unsuccessful in his 1962 attempt to introduce integrated economic planning; instead of the proclaimed “international socialist division of labor,” coordination mechanisms had to suffice. From the 1970s on, the Council pursued the goal of socialist economic integration. It passed a corresponding “Complex Program” and amended its charter to enhance its international role. Yet COMECON was not able to compete with the EC politically or economically at either the national or international level. Official relations between COMECON and the EC were first initiated in 1988 but quickly lapsed as a result of the events of 1989. COMECON was dissolved on June 28, 1991.