Written by Etienne Deschamps,
During the night of 9 to 10 November 1989, with absolutely no warning, the Berlin Wall opened at the same time as the communist government of the German Democratic Republic collapsed. For the first time in nearly 30 years, East Berliners could travel freely to the other side of the Iron Curtain: history was made, and the Cold War was coming to an end. A month later, the Brandenburg Gate officially opened, restoring free movement between the two German states. In less than a year, Germany regained both its unity and its sovereignty. This was a source of great satisfaction for the European Parliament, which was involved in the preparations for the reunification. Since 1990, the third day in October is celebrated as the Day of German Unity (‘Tag der deutschen Einheit’). Saturday 3 October 2020 marked the 30th anniversary of German unification, an event which profoundly changed the course of European integration.
This year, the European Parliament took the opportunity to pay tribute to this historic event, through an entirely virtual exhibition. The exhibition, entitled ‘It was 30 years ago: The European Parliament, the fall of the Berlin Wall and German reunification‘ is freely available in 24 languages on Europeana, the EU’s online library. The exhibition was launched in September by the Parliament’s liaison office in Berlin during the 2020 Berlin Lights Festival ‘Berlin leuchtet’, where the motto this year was ‘United’. The online exhibition aims to shed light on the important role played by the European Parliament and its increasing involvement in the process. It relates directly to the events that took place between 9 November 1989, when the Berlin Wall fell, and 3 October 1990, when Germany was reunified. However, the exhibition really begins in the middle of the Cold War, with the construction of the Berlin Wall, in August 1961, and illustrates the reaction of the then European Community. It also recalls that on numerous occasions from the 1960s to the 1980s, the European Parliament sought to uphold human rights and fundamental freedoms in the world, particularly in countries on the other side of the Iron Curtain.
However, the archive photos, texts and documents reproduced in the exhibition – which in some cases have never been displayed in public – also demonstrate what the consequences of unification would be for the European Parliament. For several months, the European Parliament provided a forum for the European leaders tasked with preparing Germany’s unification. In response to the political, economic and institutional implications of this historic moment for the European Community, the Members of the European Parliament supported German unification, and increasingly called for democratisation and respect for human rights in Central and Eastern Europe. For the European Parliament, the prospect of German unification was an historic opportunity to overcome the division of Europe. However, it was also a chance to consolidate political balances, promote détente, and encourage peace processes, to stimulate cooperation among the peoples of Europe and strengthen democracy and pluralism throughout the continent. This explains why Parliament set up a temporary committee with the task of assessing the effects of German unification on the European Community. The exhibition also provides information regarding the issue of the German Democratic Republic (GDR) representatives’ participation in parliamentary work. What would their status be? How many of them would there be and how would they be appointed? Would they have voting rights? Not forgetting the logistical issues … In the end, they were given observer status. Some would later be elected Members of the European Parliament in the June 1994 European elections. Finally, the exhibition also shows that, despite the speed of events, the Parliament played a key role in the adoption of all the necessary legislation to integrate the ex-GDR, as part of the united Germany, into the Union.