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Friday, 2 March, 2001, 19:35 GMT
Kohl's legacy: Burnished or tarnished?
People celebrate 10 years of the fall of the Berlin Wall
Mr Kohl presided over historic episodes in Germany
By European analyst William Horsley

The decision of a Bonn court to lift the threat of prosecution against Helmut Kohl has boosted his attempt to save his long-term reputation as the chancellor of German unification.

The court's decision means that little now seems to stand in the way of Helmut Kohl's overriding wish to go down in history as a world statesman. He will have no criminal record.

Yet Mr Kohl has admitted that he broke the law on party funding. And his opponents say he must still bear the political responsibility.

The figure who for 16 years as Chancellor was the top representative of Germany's democracy and its commitment to the rule of law has defied the law, by refusing to give details of the secret donations he received.

Helmut Kohl at a conference of his CDU Party
Scandal harmed Mr Kohl and the CDU
That could well increase public cynicism in the country's political and legal system.

The ruling Social Democrat and Green politicians say they will still try through a parliamentary committee to make Mr Kohl reveal the secrets of the party slush funds he controlled.

The committee is charged with finding out whether the donations were made as bribes to win lucrative contracts from the German government.

The former Chancellor firmly denies this.

Bribes trial

But a much-publicised trial is under way in France into bribes allegedly paid by the former state-owned oil firm Elf Aquitaine, and one suspected trail leads to Germany and to Mr Kohl's Christian Democratic Union.

The German opposition has complained that the criminal inquiry was dropped because of the "lack of courage" of the prosecutors' office.

For the past year, the scandal around Helmut Kohl has seriously harmed the CDU's level of support, and the party has been mired in internal arguments about leadership and Mr Kohl's position as well as about policies.

As of now, the Social Democrats under Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder are clearly ahead in the opinion polls, with general elections due to be held late next year.

The end of the court case against Mr Kohl will make the political climate easier for the Christian Democrats.

But the damaging effects in terms of the image of German politics may be felt for years to come.

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See also:

03 Oct 00 | Europe
Kohl's mark on history
03 Oct 00 | Europe
Germans mark decade of unity
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