AbstractsPolitical Science

The Embattled Chancellor: Konrad Adenauer's fight for political survival from 1949 to 1951

by Tabea Hildegard Wanninger

Institution: Leiden University
Year: 2016
Keywords: Konrad Adenauer; Federal Republic of Germany
Posted: 02/05/2017
Record ID: 2069330
Full text PDF: http://hdl.handle.net/1887/42392


The rise to power of Konrad Adenauer was an unexpected one. At the ‘young’ age of seventy-two, the long-time mayor of Cologne won the first free democratic election in Germany since 1933, becoming the chancellor of the newly-founded Federal Republic. At that time little known outside the British sector, Adenauer was able to overcome considerable initial internal opposition and successfully built a Kanzlerdemokratie (Chancellor Democracy) that would last fourteen years. He is nowadays almost unanimously considered the founding father of ‘post-war Germany.’ His present-day popularity, however, tends to obscure his problematic first years in office. If known at all, Adenauer’s problems are regularly described as mere bumps in his farsighted path towards regaining sovereignty for the country. This thesis challenges this common view by highlighting domestic and international issues, arguing that his early position was much direr than is often anticipated. Adenauer’s national challenges centered on his dealings with the Allied High Commissioners representing the victorious Western nations. The country’s lack of sovereignty was blatantly obvious as the Western powers not only maintained a veto right over any law passed by parliament, but excluded pivotal policy areas such as foreign and defense policy from the government’s remit. Criticized by the opposition as Erfüllungspolitik (compliance politics), Adenauer tenaciously worked on gradually shifting the relationship from the humble representative of a defeated country towards an ‘inferior partnership’ based on respect and cooperation. The Petersberg Accord in November 1949 brought some improvements in the occupation status, but all-in progress was frustratingly slow and indecisive. At the same time, the chancellor was under immense pressure from a restless population to quickly improve an abysmal and further deteriorating economic situation. An increasingly vocal opposition led by Kurt Schumacher exploited Adenauer’s precarious position, sensing a chance to topple the government. The heightened tensions of the Cold War culminating in the outbreak of hostilities on the Korean peninsula ‘rescued’ Adenauer’s chancellorship. Under the forceful leadership of the U.S. State Department the Allies fundamentally changed their approach towards Germany. Within a very short timeframe the country ‘mutated’ from defeated foe to indispensable ally against any Soviet aggression in Europe, also triggering a change in attitude by the High Commissioners. Even more important for the survival of the chancellor, the worldwide economic boom caused by the Korean War greatly benefitted the German export industry, being widely considered as the starting point of the following Wirtschaftswunder (economic miracle). Now Adenauer’s policy of West integration bore tangible results, and with soaring approval ratings he could cement an almost unassailable position for years to come. Adenauer’s international challenges were dominated by the contentious relationship with France. His overarching… Advisors/Committee Members: Dassen, Patrick Dr (advisor), Gehrig, Sebastian Dr (advisor).