Joachim Lang’s interest in Europe is no secret. Last year, he published an entire book on the subject. As Director General of the Federation of German Industries (BDI), Lang also influenced the association’s orientation, giving it a significantly higher profile in terms of European policy. Whether the industry association will maintain this course after Lang’s departure at the end of May remains to be seen.
The topic has accompanied him throughout his career. Born in 1967 in Wuelfrath near Wuppertal, Lang studied law and political science in Tuebingen and Bonn, where he also worked in the Bundestag. He earned his doctorate, passed the second state examination, and finally earned a master’s degree in European Studies.
He then worked for a long time in political institutions: in the Ministry of Defense, in the secretariat of the Bundesrat, in the parliamentary group of the CDU/CSU, in the Federal Chancellery. There he coordinated the German government’s European policy during the German EU Council Presidency in 2007. He accompanied Chancellor Angela Merkel to her appointments in Brussels and thus “got to know the EU institutions from a very pragmatic side,” he says. “That’s where you experience firsthand how Europe and all its machinery really works.”
Joachim Lang also noticed the deficits of the European Union even more strongly there. Today, he calls for a more realistic approach to the weaknesses: “It didn’t help that the friends of Europe didn’t want to talk about the EU’s deficits in the past,” he says. “They thought that by doing so, they were hurting Europe. But by negating the problems – which are normal and understandable in an extended family of 27 members – they didn’t do the EU any favors, such as with the architecture of the eurozone or EU migration policy.” Lang’s strategy: name and overcome the negative aspects – while emphasizing what is going well in Europe.
No longer looking on from the sidelines
Joachim Lang describes himself as a “convinced and ardent European”, repeatedly emphasizing the added value that the EU has, especially for Germany. Together with BDI President Siegfried Russwurm, he has published an anthology entitled “The European Alternative. The message: Europe should not be “looking on from the sidelines” in the power struggle between the USA, China, and Russia, as it has been up to now. Europe could be an alternative, a sociopolitical role model – if only it were successful. Europe must wake up, establish the social market economy as a successful model and itself as a geopolitical force.
But for that, Europe needs internal strength and unity. “The EU must exert more political pressure and demand that the member states return to a common path,” says Lang. To convince individual actors of the European idea, the EU institutions need to bring them along more: To make projects such as the taxonomy or the Green Deal as realistic as possible, the EU should involve those directly affected, especially companies, more.
Lang advocates jointly defining goals and instruments earlier and drawing up a plan for the steps that can be taken to achieve the goal. “Investors from abroad are holding back in Europe. Many are not clear about the order in which necessary steps must be planned and implemented.”
Joachim Lang considers the General Data Protection Regulation to be a success: “Even if opinions still differ about the success of the GDPR, the Europeans have at least managed to think forward together on a regulation and provide a blueprint for similar regulations worldwide – we should do that more often.” He suggests sharing ideas with other countries such as China or the US in the process of creating regulations. That way, technical standards could be agreed upon, and companies could be spared high adaptation costs. Leonie Düngefeld