BERLIN — In a setting heavy with history, Chancellor Helmut Kohl on Thursday addressed the first session of an all-German Parliament since the collapse of Nazism and affirmed his newly united country's commitment to European unity.
"The completion of German unification provides a great chance--I'd like to say the chance, to accelerate the process of European unity," he said. "Let there be no question, we want a political union in Europe, not an enlarged customs union."
The statement, made in what was effectively the Kohl government's first state of the union message to a united Germany, is likely to further ease worries that problems in absorbing the shattered former East region might erode German commitment to the ideal of European political union.
Kohl also formally presented plans for billions of dollars in new government spending to extend new telephone, electricity and road networks into what was East Germany.
The chancellor spoke in the 19th-Century Reichstag building, where so much of Germany's checkered history has unfolded.
Although the old West German Parliament had held brief, symbolic sessions in the Reichstag annually from the mid-1960s, Thursday's sitting was the first there by an all-German legislative body since December, 1932, the month before Hitler came to power.
After its initial session, the Parliament will return to Bonn, where it will stay until a decision is made after elections scheduled for Dec. 2 on whether to relocate to Berlin.
Kohl's comments on European unity were considered important, especially to the many representatives of Germany's European neighbors who were guests at the session. Among them, and introduced at the start, were the commanders of the U.S., British and French forces in Berlin, whose presence guaranteed West Berlin's security from the end of World War II until last Tuesday.
Through the long years of division, West Germans were among the strongest emotional as well as financial backers of the European Community, often re-channeling any sense of national patriotism into European idealism.
Germany has by far the largest population in the 12-nation community, and any wavering of its commitment would have a significant impact both on the integration process itself and the manner in which other member states view Germany.
The timing of this renewed commitment is also important because the community plans to set up formal commissions in December to begin substantive work on the task of building an economic and political union among the 12 countries.
In language more decisive than at any time in recent weeks, Kohl also pledged a united Germany's continued cooperation with France in the push for this deeper European integration. Strong Franco-German cooperation is considered essential to progress in this area, but the close ties in recent months have been disturbed by French apprehensions over German unity and a personal rift between Kohl and French President Francois Mitterrand.
Departing from his prepared text, Kohl described the Franco-German relationship as of "existential importance."
"This was one of the decisive prerequisites for the progress of the last 30 years," Kohl said. "For the next five years, it will be more important."
In his hourlong address, Kohl urged Germans to join together to overcome the difficulties presented by unification.
He announced plans to spend $4.5 billion over the next 18 months for 1.5 million new telephone connections in the eastern regions, $6.6 billion for local community improvements and a $13-billion, five-year program to modernize the electricity network.
Addressing critics among the main opposition Social Democrats who have complained about the costs of unification, the chancellor asserted that the cost of continued division would have run far more.
"If anyone takes these gigantic sums into consideration, isn't it more sensible to invest . . . in the unity of our fatherland," he challenged.
Despite the sense of occasion that accompanied the Reichstag sitting, the mood in the chamber remained remarkably informal and light.
Although the Reichstag is associated with Hitler's years of infamy, Parliament never met in the building during his years in power. The final session came six weeks before Hitler won the chancellorship in January, 1933. Less than a month later, fire swept the Reichstag, and the arrest of a Dutch Communist in connection with the incident was used by Hitler to obtain greater law-and-order powers.
He quickly forced through a law enabling him to suspend basic individual rights.
Heavy fighting between German and Soviet forces in the final days of World War II destroyed the building, which was rebuilt in the late 1950s as a home for a future united German parliament.