Holger Kunze: voice of the mechanical engineering industry in Brussels

Holger Kunze is Director of the German Engineering Federation VDMA European Office in Brussels

Holger Kunze’s work actually thrives on personal contact with the upper echelons of the EU Commission: The 54-year-old lawyer has been managing director of the Brussels office of Europe’s largest industrial association: the German Engineering Federation VDMA since 2005. But now, he has to maintain his network from home because of the COVID-19 pandemic. “Surprisingly, contact with decision-makers has barely suffered,” says Kunze. “In fact, we are particularly active in talks at the moment.”

Because the interest of mechanical engineering companies in European policy is enormous: Mechanical engineering is directly affected by the green transformation and digitalization. At the same time, the industry has huge potential to shape this transformation: “Our companies produce technologies that are absolutely necessary for the EU to achieve its goals,” says Kunze. “They are the suppliers of all industries and thus make the enormous upheavals possible in the first place.”

“Hidden champions” no longer a role model

But now, of all times, the economic model of the approximately 3,300 VDMA companies is increasingly “falling behind” with the EU Commission, says Kunze. Gone are the days when medium-sized industrial companies with a high export quota were considered a role model in Brussels – and the association’s demands always fell on sympathetic ears with the then Commissioner Günther Oettinger. Today, many regulations are geared towards large companies like Facebook and Google, which are more visible to the public. And not on the numerous “hidden champions” who are world market leaders in a highly specialized niche.

That is why the VDMA is currently seeking intensive talks with the Commission. “We agree on what the EU targets for digitalization and decarbonization address,” says Kunze. He adds that the industry sees the transformation as an opportunity. “That’s why we don’t understand why they’re putting a spoke in our wheel.”

A European life

This particularly frustrates Kunze as a “full-blood European”, as he calls himself. Having grown up in Hanover, he became enthusiastic about the European idea during an Erasmus study year in Leuven. He began his professional career in 1998 in the Brussels office of a German law firm. There he dealt with EU competition law and environmental law. “But that was too technical for me,” he says, “I wanted a broader, more political view of EU issues.”

When the VDMA expanded its office in Brussels in 2000, it was Kunze’s chance to get closer to business and politics. He himself is not a mechanic, “But I am fascinated by the business model of these mostly family-run companies. How they conquer the world with innovation.” In 2005, he took over as head of the office. After all these years in Brussels, he says: “Times have never been more exciting.”

He also leads a European life in his private life: He met his wife in Leuven, and he speaks Dutch at home with his two 19- and 22-year-old children. Kunze, who likes to play tennis and take photographs in his spare time, feels rooted in Belgium. He is no longer an EU expat like many others. Adrian Meyer


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