INTERVIEW: INGO KRAMER
President of the Confederation
of German Employers' Associations (BDA)
Mr. Kramer, what does the EU mean to you?
We owe the unprecedented period of peace in Europe to the European Union. It forms the basis for our strong economy and social equality. However, the EU is more than just a peace project; it also stands for solidarity in difficult times. We have witnessed that during the COVID-19 pandemic. After some initial difficulties, we found a way together to support the member states, their workers and companies, and to re-open the single market across the borders. This proves more than ever that the EU is for the benefit of all. We are stronger with the EU than without it. And that is as true for us as it is for our European neighbours. Global challenges – including pandemics – are not constrained by borders. Germany and all other member states are too small on their own to be able to address current global challenges and geopolitical problems.]
What opportunities are there for Germany's EU Council Presidency?
We are on a difficult journey back to normality. The world has been changed by the COVID-19 pandemic and the consequences are going to be with us for a long time. The global economy has been plunged into a deep recession. This context gives Germany a unique opportunity to influence the future of the European Union positively. The new Commission has placed many initiatives on the agenda which will be dealt with during Germany's EU Council Presidency. These include the new long-term EU budget, including the Recovery Fund proposed by German Chancellor Merkel and French President Macron, the Green Deal, and future relations with the United Kingdom. Germany will have to make compromises on critical issues.
What are the priorities for businesses?
This fresh start urgently needs to be accompanied by a long-term vision for the EU. As an economy, we want the EU to be the world’s most attractive economic area, leading in digitalisation, promoting future-proof education policies in the member states and strengthening social partners across Europe. We also need the European Union to be stronger on a global scale. The EU must be able to speak with one voice if it is to act on an equal footing with the USA or China. We must also regain confidence in the EU as a whole, and critically scrutinise the alleged added value of fragmented national responses in a globalised world.
What is the role of the economy here?
The strategy for a fresh start after the crisis demands that politics and business work closely together. A well-functioning social partnership has once again proved its worth: the social partners placed their common responsibility above their differences during the COVID-19 crisis. The economy wants to get actively involved and put its full weight behind shaping this fresh start, together with our companies and qualified employees. A strong Europe cannot exist without a strong and competitive economy. Strong in competition and socially balanced– those are Europe’s unique characteristics in the world. However, the EU needs to leave the necessary space to enable this.
What can we learn from one another in Europe?
Each member state has its own strengths. For example, in Germany we have a well-functioning reconciliation of interests. However, trade unions and employers sitting down at the table to find solutions to difficult issues together is not yet working as well througout Europe. The EU needs to give social partners space and should not try to regulate everything politically itself.
Can you give some concrete examples of this?
An EU minimum wage politicises wage issues – and pushes the responsible social partners aside. An EU unemployment reinsurance scheme would mean that urgently needed reforms in national labour markets to boost competitiveness would not be implemented. After the pandemic, the EU needs to focus on tackling major challenges. It must maintain and develop its own single market, act worldwide as a defender of open and fair trade and become a true player in foreign affairs and security policy.