Helmut Kohl, the chancellor who presided over both German reunification and the creation of the eurozone, has died aged 87.
Kohl was a towering figure in European politics in the second half of the 20th century, serving as Germany’s chancellor for a record 16 years from 1982 to 1998. He was previously state president for Rhineland-Palatinate for seven years.
Kohl acted as a mentor for Germany’s current chancellor, Angela Merkel, handing her her first ministerial post in 1991 and referring to her as his Mädchen or girl. But relations between the two soured when Merkel turned against him after a party funding scandal in 1999.
His death was first reported by Bild newspaper, whose former editor-in-chief wrote Kohl’s biography, and then confirmed by officials from the Christian Democratic party.
Tributes poured in for the man whom the former US president George HW Bush hailed as “one of the greatest” postwar leaders, and the European commission chief, Jean-Claude Juncker, called the “very essence of Europe”.
Juncker, mourning the loss of “a great European and a very close friend”, said: “Helmut Kohl filled the European house with life – not only because he built bridges to the west as well as to the east, but also because he never ceased to design even better blueprints for the future of Europe.”
The German foreign minister, Sigmar Gabriel, called Kohl “a great statesman, a great German politician, and above all a great European, who did much not only to bring German unity but also for Europe to become one”.
“This is his great legacy. This is what we will remember him for. Our thoughts are with his family and children. A truly great German has died,” Gabriel said in a statement.
Kohl left active politics in 2002. After a fall in 2008 he suffered from impaired speech and used a wheelchair.
In April this year he was awarded €1m (£875,000) in damages over an unauthorised biography that a judge said had “deeply violated” the former German chancellor’s personal rights.
In his last public intervention, Kohl warned European leaders against “unnecessary severity and haste” after Britain’s vote to leave the EU in 2016.