The EU yesterday paid an unprecedented tribute to former German chancellor Helmut Kohl, one of the architects of modern Europe, in a ceremony attended by a host of leaders.
Kohl, who oversaw German reunification and was a driving force in Europe’s integration, died on June 16 aged 87.
Ceremonies at the European Parliament began a day of commemoration and mourning, culminating in his burial in the German town of Speyer.
At his widow’s request, there would be no state funeral in Germany.
The former chancellor’s coffin was taken to the parliament chamber in Strasbourg, where his successor, German Chancellor Angela Merkel, French President Emmanuel Macron and former US president Bill Clinton gave speeches.
Russian Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev also attended the ceremony, along with British Prime Minister Theresa May and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.
The speeches and a short film played to the chamber focused on Kohl’s role in German unification after the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989 and on his close cooperation with former French president Francois Mitterrand in shaping the EU.
It was the first time that the European Parliament has paid tribute to a leader in such a way.
The ceremony was proposed by European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker, whom Kohl affectionately called “junior” after the Luxemburger became prime minister at the age of 41.
On Kohl’s death, Juncker described him as “my mentor, my friend [and] the very essence of Europe.”
The parliament building in the city on the Franco-German border was ringed by steel. More than 2,000 police were on duty to protect the visiting dignitaries.
After the ceremony in Strasbourg, Kohl’s coffin was scheduled to be taken by helicopter to the German city of Ludwigshafen, where it would be transferred to a boat and taken down the Rhine to the southwest town of Speyer for his funeral service.
The arrangements have been clouded by criticism from Kohl’s elder son.
In an interview with weekly Die Zeit, he called the plans “unworthy” of his father’s role in Germany’s history.
Walter Kohl, whose mother, Hannelore Kohl, was the late chancellor’s first wife, criticized the lack of a state funeral, which was refused by Helmut Kohl’s second wife, Maike Kohl-Richter.
Helmut Kohl married Kohl-Richter, 34 years her husband’s junior, when he was 78.
One of the reasons for her refusal was lingering anger at Merkel’s treatment of her former mentor.
Merkel ousted Kohl from the leadership of the Christian Democratic Union and urged the party to drop him when he became embroiled in a party funding scandal.
Walter Kohl wants his father’s coffin to be taken to the German capital for “a national homage, an ecumenical requiem and a military farewell ceremony” near the Brandenburg Gate, where the German leader witnessed the fall of the Berlin Wall.
Due to a long-running feud with his stepmother, who jealously guards her husband’s political legacy, Walter Kohl had not had contact with his father for many years and said he learned of his death from a radio report.
He said he would not take part in the burial in Speyer.
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