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Прапор Європейського Союзу Прапор Європейського Союзу

Helmut Kohl and François Mitterrand: leaders in reconciliation

German unity and European unification are two sides of the same coin.

Helmut Kohl

France is our mother country, Europe is our future.

François Mitterrand

Life and times

Kohl was Chancellor for 16 years, the longest tenure of any German leader in the 20th century. Similarly, Mitterrand served as President of France for 14 years, the longest presidency in France’s history. Mitterrand and Kohl passed away in 1996 and 2017 respectively, after decades of service to their own countries and to the EU.

President Mitterrand and Chancellor Kohl standing hand in hand in front of a memorial wreath at the Douaumont Ossuary, Verdun in 1984.
President Mitterrand and Chancellor Kohl standing hand in hand in front of a memorial wreath at the Douaumont Ossuary, Verdun in 1984.

President Mitterrand and Chancellor Kohl standing hand in hand in front of a memorial wreath at the Douaumont Ossuary, Verdun in 1984.

A vision for Europe

Kohl and Mitterrand worked hard to bolster the post-war relationship between France and Germany, and underscored the importance of peace between their nations while pursuing European integration. The sight of the two leaders holding hands at a ceremony on 22 September 1984 to mark the 70th anniversary of the start of the First World War is an iconic and moving image that made international headlines. It showed how far France, Germany, and Europe had come since the end of the Second World War.

In recognition of their life’s work on Franco-German relations, they received the Charlemagne prize in 1988, which is awarded for work that advances European unification.

Publications

More about Kohl and Mitterrand’s life, work and contribution to the European project