Of all the members of the German political class, I was one of the first to start contacts with the communist leadership in the middle '60s in what came to be known as détente. There may not have been clear-cut concepts underlying the Ostpolitik that followed, except that my friends and I were convinced that it was necessary for the Germans as a nation to build up friendly, neighborly relations with, most specifically, Poland, Czechoslovakia and the Soviet Union.
In the '70s Brezhnev was at the peak of his political clout and, though he didn't show this publicly, obviously feared another war. My conversations with him made it clear that Brezhnev's views were not shared by others. Once, after Andrei Gromyko had harangued for many minutes, I said half jokingly to Brezhnev, "See, that's the Russian way." Brezhnev replied, "Gromyko isn't Russian; he's Belorussian." At that point Gromyko stiffened and said, "The Belorussians are the best Russians." Everybody laughed; but there was something to that. Nobody in Bonn at that time thought there would be unification in this century. Our initial goal was to achieve reconciliation and better relations with our communist neighbors. German-French relations were absolutely vital to me. Before I was 30 I had met Jean Monnet, and later I became a member of the so-called Monnet Committee, where I first met my very close friend Giscard. And under the guidance of Monnet I had learned early that it was necessary for Europe and particularly for us Germans to achieve a very close and reliable relationship with the French.
The French went further than one could have expected so shortly after the war. They offered us reconciliation. This process resulted from the Schuman Plan, the Treaty of Rome, the European Union and the landmark Elysée treaty between De Gaulle and Adenauer. In this regard I was on Adenauer's side from the beginning, although otherwise I didn't like the man. It was absolutely vital that any successors to Adenauer had to pursue his policies vis-à-vis France and his policy on integration of Europe. When I became Chancellor in 1974 it was without doubt that I would follow these same policies. About the same time Giscard became President of France, and we entered into a period of very close cooperation that, by the way, some people in America and in Europe didn't like too much. I never saw it as a choice between Paris or Washington.
After serving as Finance and Defense Ministers, Helmut Schmidt was Chancellor of West Germany from 1974 to 1982
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