The convictions of a realist: concepts of ‘solidarity’ in Helmut Schmidt’s European thought, 1945–82
This article reconstructs concepts of ‘European solidarity’ in Helmut Schmidt’s political thought. Tracing Schmidt’s beliefs from the late 1940s to the period of his chancellorship and beyond, it shows how his concepts of European solidarity were shaped by the lessons he drew from the political and economic catastrophes of the 1920s and 1930s. The article reveals how Schmidt developed a largely functionalist understanding of ‘European solidarity’ that was grounded in both his generational experience and the piecemeal logic of European integration he derived from Robert Schuman and Jean Monnet. Schmidt believed that ‘European solidarity’ was not a given, but that it had to be consciously constructed through mutually beneficial intra-European cooperation. He was guided by two central convictions: that the interdependence of European economies made their cooperation both necessary and desirable; and that Germany’s unique historical burden and geostrategic location meant that its foreign policy always had to be embedded in a wider European framework. As West German Chancellor from 1974 to 1982, Schmidt then sought to translate these convictions into practice, trying to avoid a relapse into 1930s protectionism whilst at the same time hoping to avoid perceptions of German dominance in economic matters. Yet, he remained highly sceptical of any attempts to transfigure West European integration into a greater ‘European identity’, believing that the Cold War context made any such attempts futile since true European solidarity could only be practised on a pan-European scale. Putting these views in a broader context, the article concludes that Schmidt’s thoughts offer valuable insights into the relationship between constructions of ‘European solidarity’ and notions of ‘crises’, and suggests that the analysis of his pragmatic approach adds to new, less teleological narratives of European integration that are now emerging in the historiography.