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1965-69 - Kurt Georg Kiesinger

When the CDU/CSU entered into a coalition with the SPD in December 1966, West Germany was experiencing unprecedented economic troubles. High unemployment, a relatively high budget deficit, and an unexpected rise in support for right-wing groups, such as the National Democratic Party of Germany (Nationaldemokratische Partei Deutschlands--NPD), brought West Germany's largest parties together to form what was called the Grand Coalition.

Like many German establishment figures of the post-war era, Chancellor Kiesinger found his way back to the political mainstream despite having joined Hitler's NSDAP party in 1933. He had served in the German foreign office during the war, finishing as deputy head of its radio department. Klarsfeld demonstrated his close connections in this role both to Foreign Minister Joachim von Ribbentrop and the Nazi's propaganda guru Joseph Goebbels. In 1945, Kiesinger joined the CDU, rising to lead the southwestern state of Baden Württemberg and later West Germany.

Kurt Georg Kiesinger (CDU), who had served as minister president of Baden-Württemberg, was appointed Federal Chancellor; Willy Brandt (SPD), the governing mayor of Berlin, became vice chancellor and minister of foreign affairs; and Karl Schiller (SPD) was appointed minister for economics. Considered by many as "unnatural" because the coalition partners came from opposite ends of the political spectrum, the coalition was seen as a temporary solution needed to gain the cooperation of the trade unions and stabilize the economy.

The first Grand Coalition's main emphases were on economic and fiscal policy. Kurt Georg Kiesinger forged Germany’s first grand coalition between the CDU and SPD. The government managed to add new impetus to the country’s stagnating economy. Youth took to the streets after the government introduced emergency laws, giving the state special rights in case of crisis, beginning the student movement. Kiesinger’s role under Nazi rule was hotly debated in Germany.

Germany’s first Grand Coalition had an economic crisis to deal with: The economy was no longer in full swing as it had been for many years, the state was running up debts and unemployment was rising. Kiesinger’s government tackled these problems head on. For example, during this time the state awarded many contracts so that businesses would not go bankrupt and people did not become unemployed.

The pro-Atlantic forces had grow, and with the formation of the Grand Coalition of CDU/ CSU and SPD in 1966 that replaced the ineffective Erhard government, detente won the upper hand. Under Erhard, Germany had already given up the so-called Hallstein Doctrine, according to which the Federal Republic would break off diplomatic relations with any country except the USSR that recognized East Germany. With Willy Brandt, the leader of the SPD, as the foreign minister of the Grand Coalition government, Germany entered diplomatic relations with Eastern European countries and made overtures to the East Germans and Soviets.

Tensions developed between the German government and de Gaulle after 1966, an example of which was Germany’s support for Britian’s membership in the EC and de Gaulle’s second veto of Britian’s entry in 1967. The Grand Coalition also improved relations with Eastern European neighbors. West Germany took up diplomatic relations with Romania and Yugoslavia, for instance. Kiesinger also began corresponding with the then Minister-President of the German Democratic Republic, Willi Stoph.

The issue that no doubt most shaped public debate during the first Grand Coalition government was the emergency legislation it passed. Although West Germany was responsible for its own fate from 1955 onwards, the occupying powers (the United States, the United Kingdom and France) reserved certain rights. They still held the right to protect their armed forces that were stationed in Germany.

These rights would only be transferred to the German authorities when they were able to protect those armed forces themselves. In other words, the Federal Government needed to adopt legislation to cover all types of emergency situations. Students in particular protested against these new laws. They wanted to prevent the state gaining so much power so shortly after the war.

The protests against the emergency legislation set in motion great social upheaval. These developments have since been referred to as “the ’68 generation” because they began around 1968. Many young people and students called for reforms and more personal freedoms. They rejected the United States’ war in Vietnam and asked the older generation about their involvement in the National Socialists’ tyranny.

Beate Klarsfeld made global headlines in 1968 at the Christian Democratic Union (CDU) party congress in West Berlin. As Chancellor Kurt Georg Kiesinger took to the podium to begin his keynote address, Klarsfeld climbed onto the stage and slapped Kiesinger, shouting "Nazi! Nazi! Nazi!" This was her third attempt to bring international attention to Kiesinger's past; a 1967 investigative article had only succeeded in getting Klarsfeld fired from her job, and heckling Kiesinger from the viewing gallery in parliament earlier in 1968 ended in her ejection from the chamber. Klarsfeld was initially sentenced to a year in prison, but avoided jail because of her French citizenship. Later, the sentence was reduced and suspended.

A broad-based protest movement directed against all outdated authorities arose: against schools, parents and the state. Terrorist groups whose crimes were to severely shake West Germany a few years later formed around the extremist edges of this movement. The elections to the Bundestag in the autumn of 1969 ended the 20-year period of CDU/CSU government.

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