"Enabling people to live in freedom and democracy"

Former Ambassador Peter Hartmann on the Two Plus Four Agreement "Enabling people to live in freedom and democracy"

France and the United Kingdom, former occupying powers, initially had reservations about German reunification. On 12 September 1990, though, the Treaty on the Final Settlement with Respect to Germany, also known as the Two Plus Four Agreement, finally reunited the two German states. At that time, Dr Peter Hartmann worked for Helmut Kohl at the Federal Chancellery. In this interview, he talks about the obstacles and important milestones on the road to German reunification.   

Dr Peter Hartmann

Dr Peter Hartmann was Deputy Director-General of the Federal Chancellery's Directorate-General 2, Foreign, Security and Development Policy, under Chancellor Helmut Kohl. He later served as Ambassador to the United Kingdom and France.

Photo: Bundesregierung/Jesco Denzel

You were right in the thick of things at that time as Deputy Director-General at the Federal Chancellery. How did the negotiations with the Allies on German reunification come to be launched in 1989?

Peter Hartmann: The upheaval in Hungary and Poland influenced the mood in the German Democratic Republic, or GDR. But it was the people of the GDR, with their peaceful revolution and their call for reunification, who paved the way, who brought down the Berlin Wall and opened the border. It was thanks to them that the German question found itself on the international agenda at the end of 1989. Politicians were forced to act. Not only the governments of the two German states, but also, because of the given legal situation, the governments of the United States, the United Kingdom, France and the Soviet Union.

The United Kingdom and France had reservations about German reunification, but eventually they did agree to the Two Plus Four Agreement. Why?

Hartmann: The road to negotiations was more difficult than we had anticipated. The American government was quick to publish its views on German reunification in December 1989. The two other western powers involved, France and the UK, let it be known that they had serious reservations. They were concerned that a reunited Germany would tip the balance of power in Europe to their disadvantage. At a meeting with the Soviet President Mikhail Gorbachev, the British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher even demanded that he take steps to prevent German reunification.

It is certainly in no small way thanks to the resolute stance of the USA that France and the UK finally agreed to begin negotiations. The Soviet government also blocked for a long time. President Gorbachev didn’t give the go-ahead for negotiations until the end of January 1990 – even in Moscow they had realised by then that there was nothing they could do to prevent the GDR collapsing.

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You were present at some of the negotiations that led to the Two Plus Four Agreement. What was your impression? 

Hartmann: It was clear from the outset that the really thorny issues would only be decided at top political level, outside the framework of the negotiations per se. This was true above all of the question of NATO membership of a reunited Germany, which was highly contentious until the very end. Chancellor Helmut Kohl and Federal Foreign Minister Hans-Dietrich Genscher finally managed to resolve the issue in mid-July at a meeting with President Gorbachev.

Why are the negotiations actually referred to as the Two Plus Four negotiations?

Hartmann: Federal Foreign Minister Hans-Dietrich Genscher, who was responsible for the negotiations on our side, proposed the formula "2+4" in preliminary talks, to underline the fact that the two German states did not stand under the tutelage of the four powers. After a fair amount of discussion, his proposal was accepted on the sidelines of a meeting of NATO and Warsaw Pact foreign affairs ministers in Ottawa.

If you look back today at the developments at that time, what was the most emotional moment for you in the long process of reunification?

Hartmann: For all participants, myself included, it was a genuinely emotional moment when the ministers of foreign affairs of the six states involved signed the Treaty on the Final Settlement with Respect for Germany, as the agreement is officially known, on 12 September 1990 in Moscow. The celebrations in Berlin on 3 October 1990, the Day of German Reunification, which I was also able to attend, marked the end of the process.

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After coming to power, Mikhail Gorbachev introduced a large number of reforms in the Soviet Union, under the banner of glasnost (openness) and perestroika (restructuring). They were intended to give the Eastern Bloc states the freedom to take their "own path to socialism". The response of the GDR’s leadership was muted – and as a result the GDR collapsed in 1989 as mass demonstrations continued unabated. The Two Plus Four Agreement in 1990 sealed German reunification. In it, the occupying powers terminated "their rights and responsibilities relating to Berlin and to Germany as a whole". The fall of the Berlin Wall laid the foundations for the enlargement of the European Union to embrace Eastern European states. In 2004 and 2007 most of the former Eastern Bloc states acceded to the Union.

The Two Plus Four Agreement was an important milestone in German history. What did it mean for the development of Europe?

Hartmann: In my time as State Secretary from 1995 to 1998 my work focused on development in Central and Eastern Europe. I believe that the accession of these countries to the European Union was and is a crucially important success story for the whole of Europe. This would all have been inconceivable without German reunification. 

After all, it was not only about enabling the Germans in the German Democratic Republic to live in freedom and democracy, but to make this possible for everybody in Europe.

Your diplomatic career took you to both the United Kingdom and France as Ambassador?  Did you see attitudes towards reunification change over time?

Hartmann: When I took up the post of Ambassador in London and later in Paris, the original fears that a reunified Germany would become overly dominant in Europe no longer played any real role. Even during my time in London, however, criticism was increasing that there was "too much Europe". Things were quite different in Paris. By then there was already a high level of agreement between our two countries on fundamental European issues. 


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