The Ordering of a Superstate


BERLIN/MAGDEBURG (Own report) - The medieval, Europe-wide German Reich is a valid model for the union of European countries today. So says the Berlin State Minister for Culture, Bernd Neumann. According to him, the memory of the Holy Roman Empire of the German Nation reveals "an inner historical consistency" with the founding and steady expansion of the European Union. These remarks are a preparation for the festivities in Berlin for the fiftieth anniversary of the European Economic Community (EEC), to which the Federal Chancellor, Angela Merkel, has invited the German Pope, Joseph Ratzinger. Ratzinger is a committed supporter of the "Imperial Ideal" (Reichsidee) and is to speak on the "spiritual foundations" of Europe in the German capital. This government offensive to revitalise the Imperial Ideal will underline the German leadership of the EU and confirm fears in France, Great Britain and almost all the states of eastern Europe. Sections of the German elites are warning against an all-too-public assertion of German hegemony.

Great Significance

As the Berlin State Culture Minister Bernd Neumann said, the German Reich of the Middle Ages can "from today's viewpoint" serve "as a valid model of the functioning order of a superstate".[1] Neumann took this opportunity when he opened an exhibition last Sunday (27 August) which is dedicated to this supposed historical exemplar ("The Holy Roman Empire of the German Nation, 962 - 1806"). Because of the prominence of the exhibition (partly in the state-controlled Historical Museum in Berlin), the individual stands and total content of the exhibition are attracting remarkable public interest. The Culture Minister's intervention has strengthened the political charisma of the exhibition. He is a committed supporter of the Federal Chancellor. It touches on "every great trend (...) which makes very clear to us the inner historical legitimacy and consistency of European unification", said Neumann on Sunday. The explicit aim of the organisers is "to examine the past of Old Europe in a time of fundamental inner and external reorientation".[2] According to the organisers, they have traced "structures and developmental processes" which are "of great significance for the federal construction of Europe".

The Europe of Tomorrow

The public references to the structures of the medieval Reich which are evident in Neumann's position used to be the province of the extreme right, or confined to clerical-conservative circles - at any rate since the Second World War. This was the opinion of the CSU (Christian Social Union) politician and grandson of the Austrian Kaiser, Otto von Habsburg who made it known at the end of the Seventies that "the European integration of our times (...) follows the grand outline and principles of the Reich, which survived 1806, because they are of lasting validity".[3] Similarly, the Pan-Europa Union, an association of EU supporters close to the CSU insisted that "the eternal function of the Reich must be renewed in the Europe of tomorrow in the interest of the West".[4] Similarly, Joseph Ratzinger, the present Pope Benedict XVI acknowledged that the origins of today's EU should acknowledge "a common imperial ideal (Reichsidee)".[5] In recent years, conservative newspapers have opened their columns to new advocacy for the "Reich".[6]

The Papal Speech

As the Speaker of the Bundestag Norbert Lammert (CDU) has now informed us, he has invited a supporter of the imperial ideal, Joseph Ratzinger, to Berlin next year. The invitation was extended to Ratzinger last Monday by the Federal Chancellor at a reception in Castel Gandolfo. The German Pope will be in Berlin to attend the festivities for the fiftieth anniversary of the Treaty of Rome and will grace the proceedings with a speech. The German press already reports that the religious consecration will validate the European Economic Community (EEC) and will be dedicated to "the spiritual foundations of Europe's political unification".[7] The invitation legitimates the "Reich" concept of a stable co-operation of Church and State. It will be a particular affront to France, a founder member of the EEC. Paris is committed to secularism and the separation of Church and State has been a principle of French public life since the revolution of 1789.

Central Europe

The Berlin Culture Minister's speech of last Sunday will also affront those European states lying to the east and south of Germany's borders. The Minister made an obvious allusion to Poland and the Czech Republic when he said that the Holy Roman Empire of the German Nation was "a part of the past of many European states". According to Neumann "Germany and Central Europe are historically and culturally indissolubly linked together".[8] By this the State Minister recalled the earlier German hegemony to the east of Germany's present frontiers, which the Federal Republic has tried to reassert since 1990.


The reawakening of the Reich myth has run into sharp criticism. In a press interview, the historian Heinrich August Winkler pointed to the significance of the Reich myth for Nazi propaganda. According to Winkler it was decisive "that the Reich was always something else and more than a normal national state". When, in 1939, Hitler proclaimed the Protectorate of Bohemia and Moravia over the rump of Czechoslovakia, legal historians of pan-German views confirmed that this act was quite in line with the old Imperial ideal which had always been supranational. Winkler warns of new tensions between European states. "Incantation of the Reich" would "unavoidably create fears of German demands if it became again the model for the ordering of Europe".[9] As criticism of the well-know historian Winkler has been prominently publicised for three weeks, [10] the Minister's speech can be clearly understood as an undoubtedly intentional rebuttal on behalf of German Reich propaganda.

[1] Kulturstaatsminister Bernd Neumann eröffnet Ausstellung "Heiliges Römisches Reich Deutscher Nation 962-1806"; Pressemitteilung des Presse- und Informationsamts der Bundesregierung 27.08.2006
[3] Otto von Habsburg: Karl IV. Ein europäischer Friedensfürst, München/Wien 1978
[4] Monatsinformationen der Paneuropa-Union, Januar 1977
[5] see also Habemus Europam and A Son of Germany
[6] see also Reichwerdung and Heiliges Reich
[7] Lammert lädt Papst in den Bundestag ein; Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung 28.08.2006
[8] Kulturstaatsminister Bernd Neumann eröffnet Ausstellung "Heiliges Römisches Reich Deutscher Nation 962-1806"; Pressemitteilung des Presse- und Informationsamts der Bundesregierung 27.08.2006
[9], [10] "Erste Macht Europas"; Der Spiegel 32/2006