1975 An evening with Willy Brandt

On Wednesday 10th of September, 1975 (SPD chairman and former Chancellor) Willy Brandt came to see our group of 17 Foreign Service trainees. I wrote down a report on that meeting some days later:

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Brandt made a rather relaxed impression and looked much better than last year after his resignation from the office of Federal Chancellor. He spoke very open and without notes. His main topic was: „The role of a party chairman, especially of a ruling party, in foreign policy“. His main interest was first of all Europe, then the Mediterranean area from Portugal to Turkey. He also included the Atlantic dimension. For the third world he said to have only „few time“. (May be Erhard Eppler took the title of his book „Few time for the Third World“ from this fact).

At the end of the debate he was asked about his former strong engagement with the inner-German policies. His face became very tense and icy: „I must disappoint you – with that I do not want to have to do anything any more, you will understand why!“ You could feel how pure emotion broke through the shell. The affair about the GDR-spy Guillaume seems to have left deep scars on Brandt.

In his contribution Brandt very much stressed the importance of personal relations and meetings. He stressed more than once that his visit to Moscow in June was co-ordinated with the Chancellor and the Foreign Minister in detail. Both could be happy that the close personal contact he maintains with Breshnew can be made useful for German policy. The important changes during the last years have also changed the view on these personal relationships.

He said that he was linked to Pompidou as well as to Ted Heath in a very personal way. Just before the conference in The Hague Heath had asked him what he should do to bring Britain into the European Common Market. Brandt recommended to go directly to Paris for that. „And you would not mind ?“ asked Heath. Brandt said „not at all“ and helped to bring about the special meeting between Heath and Pompidou, that distended the situation. Now the close relationship between Helmut Schmidt and Giscard d’Estaing is fundamental for Europe.

Brandt explained his idea of graded integration („abgestufte Integration“) in Europe, which must relieve the system of the convoy where the slowest ship marks the velocity of integration. England and Italy could not go further for the time being. Therefore Germany and France being the spine of the Community must progress (which includes the Benelux countries).

Recently he had asked the archives to give him the word-by-word protocols of the talks held between de Gaulle, and the Chancellors Adenauer and Erhard – and himself as Ruling Mayor of Berlin, and also of the talks he had with Pompidou. „It became clear to me that with the transition to Chancellor Erhard the whole quality of French-German relations had to change, because both could never find a common language.“

As Mayor of Berlin he actually spoke more often with de Gaulle than later as Minister of Foreign Affairs where the „étage“ did not fit any more. Willy Brandt is still convinced that the German-French relationship in Europe must have the first and most important priority. He has somewhat different reasons for this view than Adenauer had, but in the end he fully agrees on that with Adenauer.

The Mediterranean countries, especially Portugal and Greece, Brandt called them „the European periphery“ must be included in the graded integration, but only according to their state of development, e.g. by special trade agreements.

Brandt mentioned the role of the Socialist International as one of the rails for foreign relations of the Social Democratic party SPD. He is not very happy that this group had been revived because it is very much oriented towards the past. He would have preferred a Union of European Socialists including the Mediterranean countries and Scandinavia.

The SPD has a lot of international contacts (managed by an office with 3 persons) beyond the Socialist International. These relations are not limited to parties of the same family or friends of the SPD.

Many African one-party-systems are incompatible with the goals of the Socialist International, but closely look to German Social Democracy. These contacts especially in developing countries are organized through the Friedrich-Ebert-Foundation. This allows to progress with a long-term perspective, it even allows to support parties that are officially illegal.

However „unchaste“ pretentions e.g. for weapons have always been rejected. The FRELIMO in Mozambique and others always got humanitarian aid and aid for education (in Zambia). The Angolan MPLA. always called communist, had first of all asked the SPD for help and only went to the Soviets when their demand for weapons had not been met.

Official contacts were especially good with Nyerere (Tanzania), Kaunda (Zambia) and Senghor (Senegal).

Sometimes a certain double track approach, only possible for a party, could be helpful. Soon we may see some of the 12 American Representatives who always demonstrated against the Vietnam war (and whom we may have excluded from our public services because of their extremism) advancing into government positions. Therefore it is good if for example Jusos (The Young Socialists in the SPD) could speak to them. They had had a similar position that he himself, as Willy Brandt, never approved because for him they were too one-sided.

During the war in Algeria the chairman of the Jusos, Hans-Jürgen Wischnewski, held close contact to the Algerian Liberation Movement FLN – annoying the French. The SPD had tolerated this and if asked dismissed it as irrelevant Juso-talk. In Paris the party was even in denial of those contacts. Later, when de Gaulle gave up Algeria (as the only person who could afford to confront the French people with this decision, although he thought about a number of different models for a solution), then the contacts Wischnewski had established became extremely important.

Jean Monnet recently had praised his concept of „graded integration“ – but the German government can not officially promote this policy. But as a party chairman he could line out some tendencies.

Brandt said that it is now urgent to help the people around Soares in Portugal. Willy Brandt said he did not only know the amount of money coming from the communist world to Portugal, but he knew also about weapons the GDR was sending to arm communist militias in Portugal.

They took away his newspaper from Soares and he will personally not enter any government before the newspaper is given back to him. By the way Portugal is another example how useful long-term contacts can be. He feels ashamed telling that he let Soares wait for a whole night when they first met – he would not do that today. But the SPD paid for his maintenance in exile in Paris and allowed him to found the Portuguese Socialist party in Germany. Brandt had doubts if Soares was a statesman, but he definitely has the masses of the people behind him.

Some of the military, which is still the real power in Portugal after the revolution, are not at all communists – even if this is often claimed. Our concepts of a party cannot be transferred one-to-one to other countries. Brandt believes that the resignation of Gonzalves and the new government under Azevedo is already a progress. But the battle of Portugal is not yet over.

Greece definitely shows that there is no natural law that democracy is always bound to loose. Brandt mentioned the different ways that were used to get people out of Greek prisons. The SPD also intervened in the background for the half-illegal Spanish Socialist leader Felipe Gonzales, with the effect that procedures against him were silently dropped. The politician Mavros in Greece got free after threatening with a demarche hat never was made: the Ambassador showed the text to his Greek counterpart but did not give it to him. That was enough to free Mavros. Brandt mainly mentioned cases of prominent prisoners.

The Mediterranean starts to move. Spain has a chance for a gradual transition, because most people there want to avoid another Civil War, however communists start to arm themselves. But these communists in Spain would be very uncomfortable for Moscow. The support for Spanish democrats is now extremely important. A short time after getting a democratic government Spain could and should become a full member of the European Community.

In France we see the People’s Front with Mitterand-Socialists and Communists in government. Brandt believes that Giscard wants to draw the French Socialists into government (he even said this to Willy Brandt), to separate them from the communists. However Mitterand is an intelligent person, one should only hear him speak about communist tactics in a closer circle – Willy Brandt would look harmless there. In Italy we have to wait for the time, when the communists enter government. They were nearer to the Christian Democrats than to the Nenni-Socialists.

Yugoslavia is another factor of insecurity in Europe. Nobody knows who will come after Tito. However he just met Tito recently and found that in spite of his age he looked much more healthy than Breshnew. Greece had found a very able leader with Karamanlis. Brandt knew him for a long time, they became friends during the exile of Karamanlis in Paris. He also wants to get to a fast solution in Cyprus against strong resistance from the group around Mavros. Karamanlis would be able to sell this to the Greek people.

Democracy in Greece is not at all safe. In this perspective one has to see the application of Greece for EG membership. We cannot plainly reject that. But the debate must be followed in a way that as a result we get a longer transition period in the sense of „graded integration“ – more would also be difficult to explain to Turkey.

In Turkey party contacts to Ecevit have been strengthened, also trying to influence him to follow a more moderate line towards Cyprus. The Turks are actually the main barrier to any solution and he, Willy Brandt has more sympathy for the Greek side. But he cannot say this in public. In both countries, Greece and Turkey they feel disappointed by NATO and hope for the Europeans because of their troubled relationship to the USA. If nothing happened both countries could be tempted to lean towards the East preferably within a Balkans context.

The example of Karamanlis shows that parties can have very different faces. When Minister Ehmke from Brandt’s Chancellor’s office explained to him his main views, Karamanlis said: „You should run for my party“.

During the debate we also touched on some topics of interior politics. There was a row about an officer from Chile (under Pinochet) being trained in Germany. Brandt thought that the man had been chosen mainly for his links to Germany. He could understand Minister of Defence Leber that one cannot bluntly send the officer home to Chile.

Asked for his relations to the foreign policy experts in his party Brandt said, he certainly could not hide his presence, but the relationship was very relaxed since he had no more ambitions at least in foreign policy.

Asked about the decrees against radicals in public offices („Radikalenerlass“) Brandt said that he was unhappy with that decision although he himself participated in formulating the decrees. At that time he had to stop the friends from the SPD in Hamburg who would have preferred an outright prohibition of the new DKP (German Communist party). Especially the snooping around in personal biographies was disgusting. However he made clear that there is no legal claim to be employed in public service and that the laws on public servants are valid (especially the rules on loyalty to the constitution).

It would have been better to have argued with the public service law. He found the verdict of the Constitutional Court mainly positive. Now we must wait until we know how this is translated into a legal form.
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