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Helmut Kohl

Kohl, Helmut (hĕl-mŏt kōl) [key], 1930–, German politician, chancellor of West Germany (1982–1990) and reunified Germany (1990–98). He was named chairman of the Rhine-Palatinate Christian Democratic Union (CDU) in 1966 and was elected state premier (1969–76). He then became (1973–98) chairman of the national CDU, leading the opposition in the West German Bundestag, where he engineered a no-confidence vote against Helmut Schmidt (1982) and became chancellor.

Conservative and pro-American, he led the CDU to convincing victories in 1983 and 1987. During his administration, West Germany prospered and became increasingly influential in world affairs. Harnessing momentum for reunification starting in 1989, when East Germany began to disintegrate, Kohl successfully campaigned for the CDU there (Mar., 1990), winning a mandate for speedy reunification. Having accomplished that goal in October, he led the CDU to victory in nationwide elections (Dec., 1990) and became the first chancellor of reunified Germany. He held the post until 1998, when the CDU was defeated at the polls by the Social Democrats led by Gerhard Schröder.

In 1999, Kohl became embroiled in a serious scandal as the existence of more than $1 million in secret campaign contributions to him and other financial irregularities during his administration came to light. Refusing to disclose the source of funds paid to him and with his reputation in shambles, Kohl was forced to resign (2000) as honorary chairman of the CDU. In 2001 he agreed to pay a 300,000-mark fine in exchange for an end to the criminal investigation into his role in the campaign contributions scandal. He retired from the Bundestag in 2002.

The Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia, 6th ed. Copyright © 2012, Columbia University Press. All rights reserved.

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