Published in Nationalities Papers in 2007 and co-authored with Karl Cordell, this article demonstrates the continuity of German Ostpolitik since the late 1960s and explains it in terms of the development of, and adherence to, a set of norms to which the overwhelming majority of the German political class and public subscribes. This is not to say that Ostpolitik has not been affected by changes in the wider political environment that have occurred since the late 1960s. Rather, our point is that German Ostpolitik priorities — peace, reconciliation and “change through rapprochement” — have remained largely constant, while the opportunities for success have at times gradually and at other times rapidly increased. This broader analysis forms the context within which we will use the case study of Germany’s external minority policy as an example to illustrate this policy continuity in practice.

We develop our argument in several steps. Initially we present the framework for our analysis that is informed by a constructivist approach to international relations and foreign policy. Following a broad contextualisation of Ostpolitik since the 1960s, we examine in greater detail how one of its key components, external minority policy, has been implemented in the Cold War period and since 1989/90, illustrating the latter with three brief case studies of Poland, Russia, and Romania. We then return to the broader context of Ostpolitik and demonstrate that its defining norms have remained the same even when another major change occurred in the geopolitical environment — EU enlargement. We conclude with some general observations about the development and implementation of Ostpolitik as a norm-consistent foreign policy.