Helmut Kohl, the former German chancellor who presided over his country’s reunification and the birth of the euro, is the person most associated with the development of the European Union, according to the FT/Harris poll.

As a man who prides himself on his own sense of history, Mr Kohl would appreciate the recognition.

He was not a founding father, such as Konrad Adenauer, the former German chancellor, or Robert Schumann, the former French foreign minister. He did not have the grand sense of destiny of General Charles de Gaulle, or the radical reforming zeal of Margaret Thatcher. But he possessed single-minded dedication to the cause of European peace and integration, and the stubborn determination to see it come about, that made him a driving force of EU development for 16 of its most turbulent and formative years.

Mr Kohl was a man who seized his moment in history rather than one who made that moment. He presided not only over German reunification but also the scrapping of the Iron Curtain and the launch of the euro. As a politician, one of his greatest advantages was to be frequently underestimated by his opponents. But he never forgot a favour given nor a slight received. He had a memory like an elephant.

When Mr Kohl became German chancellor in 1982, he was regarded as a dull provincial politician, with none of the intellectual brilliance of his Social Democrat predecessor, Helmut Schmidt. Yet he not only outlasted all his contemporaries, such as François Mitterrand of France, and Baroness Thatcher, but he also drove forward the transformation of the European Economic Community into the European Union, launching the single currency, the single market, three phases of enlargement, and a common foreign and security policy.

He provided the unthreatening leadership that enabled Germany to be reunited after the fall of the Berlin Wall and the collapse of the Soviet Union. He insisted that a united Germany must remain not only bound to the EU but also its most enthusiastic supporter and financial supporter. That was how he persuaded both President Mitterrand and Lady Thatcher – both noted sceptics about reunification – to accept the process.

At European summit meetings, when difficult decisions were on the agenda to drive forward the EU – to introduce more majority voting in the Single European Act or to launch the euro in the Maastricht treaty – he would quote the words of his ageing mother to insist European integration must make another European war unthinkable. He never lost sight of that idea.

Although a scandal over party political financing soured the end of Mr Kohl’s career, that black mark obviously did not overshadow his achievements in the eyes of the FT/Harris poll respondents.

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