Is there anyone more qualified to tell us why we should nurture and preserve the blessings of the Maastricht Treaty than Dr Theodor Waigel? Probably not.
When he placed his signature under the text of the Maastricht Treaty in 1992, Waigel – then German Minister of Finance under the legendary Chancellor Helmut Kohl – needed but a single pen stroke to kill the Deutschmark, the currency that had brought great prosperity to post-war Germany. Surrendering the D-Mark, to which the German people were extremely attached, was in fact part of a complex game that the German government was playing with France, Europe’s other leader, to complete the reunification of East and West Germany.
In Europe Calling’s lengthy interview with him in late 2016 at his office in Munich’s Nymphenburger Straße, Waigel – now 77 but as lively as ever – explained why he was proud to have signed the Maastricht Treaty in 1992 on behalf of Germany.
In his view, the younger generations must be allowed to grow up in a modern, international society in which the idea of war between the two largest countries was simply unthinkable. “We must appreciate that we in Western Europe are enjoying an historically unparalleled period of peace. The Monetary Union and the European project in general have made an unmistakable contribution to that peace. That is what the discussion should be about.”
With tears in his eyes, Waigel recounted how he recently came across the bayonet that his father had wielded in hand-to-hand combat during the First World War, hidden in a secret place on his renovated farm in Bavaria.
Waigel, born on 22 April 1939, served as Germany’s Minister of Finance until 1998. After retiring from politics, he devoted himself to his old passion, the law, a pursuit in which he remains active despite his age.
Waigel also plays a prominent role at the annual Munich Security Conference. He is further a highly active member of the Christian Social Union (CSU), the most important political party in Bavaria, and its sister party, Angela Merkel’s Christian Democratic Union of Germany (CDU). Waigel became a member of the Bavarian Christian democrats in 1960, when he was a student. He was party chairperson from 1988 to 1999.
In 2009, the CSU appointed the former Finance Minister honorary party chairperson. Waigel shares this title with Edmund Stoiber, another eminent name in German politics. Waigel is married to Irene Epple, a former Olympic Alpine skier. He has two children from a previous marriage.