BONN — Publicly expressing doubts about the European unity timetable for the first time, Chancellor Helmut Kohl warned Monday that such a union is the only way to avoid war on the Continent.
In a television interview at the Austrian lake where he is vacationing, Kohl acknowledged the possibility that the 1999 deadline for implementing a single European currency may not be met.
But the German leader cautioned against any easing of the Maastricht Treaty guidelines for forming a monetary union.
"Under no circumstance should we loosen the very strict conditions for national economies, for the budget and debt situation," Kohl told SAT-1 television in a wide-ranging interview broadcast Monday night.
If insisting on these criteria results in having to shove back the currency timetable "by one to two years," Kohl said, then no harm would be done.
The treaty calls for a single currency and a central European bank by the end of the decade.
"The important thing is indeed that something is happening in this century which no one in the previous 90 years of this century believed possible," Kohl said, "that after two world wars . . . it's possible to really build this Europe."
European unity is the Continent's only safeguard against conflicts like those in the former Yugoslav republics, he added.
"War in Europe is only avoidable through European union, and for that reason, political unity is the most important of all," Kohl said.
The chancellor raised questions about the likelihood that military intervention can solve the problems in war-torn Bosnia-Herzegovina, and he reiterated Germany's resolve to stay out of any NATO military action there because of sensitivities about Nazi atrocities in Yugoslavia during World War II.
"I don't believe it's a solution . . . to end the whole thing militarily," Kohl said, noting that experts think a warlike intervention "with soldiers, weapons and with bombs and planes" would cost hundreds of thousands of soldiers' lives.