If there is a common thread in the life of Jorgo Chatzimarkakis, it is hydrogen. The day Boris Becker reached the final of Wimbledon for the first time and won, he watched the TV with one eye only. Instead, he read Hoimar von Ditfurth’s “In the Beginning, there was Hydrogen” with fascination. The teenager discovered the book by chance on a rummage table in his hometown of Duisburg.
Like many young people in the 1980s, his political socialization took place under the impression of the ecological threat. He began his studies in Bonn in the year of the Chornobyl reactor catastrophe in 1986. “At university was a wallpaper from the ÖDP inscribed: Let’s make hydrogen from solar energy.”
Almost four decades later, the 56-year-old is Head of Hydrogen Europe in Brussels, the European hydrogen association, and thus the most important hydrogen lobbyist at the EU level. Before becoming a lobbyist, Chatzimarkakis – the son of a Cretan guest worker and a mother with roots in Brandenburg – had already achieved two political careers. In his first life, he was an FDP member.
For the FDP in the European Parliament
From 1995 to 2011, he was a member of the federal executive committee of the Liberals. For many years, “Chatzi” was a popular interlocutor for the Berlin capital’s journal. Before the federal party conferences of the FDP, where Guido Westerwelle and Jürgen W. Möllemann fought fierce duels, Chatzimarkakis dictated many a trenchant quote and many a steep thesis into the blocks. In 2004, the now 56-year-old entered the European Parliament for the FDP, and in 2009 he was re-elected. In 2007, Chatzimarkakis made headlines with his suggestion the Greens and the FDP should merge. For many, this was a far-fetched idea. The two parties’ lifestyles and milieus seemed light years apart; from Chatzimarkakis’ perspective, the proposal was coherent.
Then came the break with his FDP in 2014. He resigned in a clinch and protest against his party’s European policy. Things were not going well for him in other respects, either. Plagiarism hunters had become aware of his doctoral thesis. He lost his title. He defended himself in court. To this day, he claims that he noted every citation in the footnotes. But he neglected to indicate this with quotation marks in the text.
Career attempt in Greek politics
Others might have looked for a job in business. Not so Chatzimarkakis. He is reinventing himself. He is trying to launch a political career from Greek soil. His father’s homeland was reeling from the sovereign debt crisis. It was in danger of being expelled from the euro. Chatzimarkakis founded the “Hellenic European Citizens” party in Greece. In 2014, he also stood for the party in the European elections but failed to make it into parliament. For a time, he was Greece’s special ambassador.
In 2015, he begins his third career in Brussels as a hydrogen lobbyist. It starts as a one-man show. In the meantime, Hydrogen Europe has grown up. 40 employees now work for his association, which is something of a hydrogen BDI in Brussels. In addition, there are ten external consultants. It currently resides in Brussels, not far from the fine boutiques of Louise. Chatzimarkakis is the CEO of an association that has 420 members across Europe. And he wants to grow even further. “They say we have a freeze on admissions. I can deny that.”
‘I see myself as a German shepherd’
From the very beginning, Chatzimarkakis has been following attempts to build a hydrogen economy in Europe. “In 2018, it started at the EU level with the Council’s hydrogen declaration,” he recalls. He lobbies the EU institutions. That he is a lobbyist is not something he likes to hear. “I see myself more as a German shepherd.” Excuse me? The shepherds, he says, are Frans Timmermans, the Vice President of the Commission, and the other politicians who set the regulatory framework. He is the shepherd dog who shows the sheep – in his understanding, that means the industry and the member states – the right direction.
Chatzimarkakis is passionate about his subject. That was already the case when he took on the FDP party leadership 20 years ago. And it’s no different today. He fears that Europe is currently sleeping through the development of the hydrogen economy. He says things develop in the US, China, and India. “And there are people in the EU Commission who are putting on the brakes. They think there is a danger that hydrogen will cannibalize green electricity.”
He does not want to know anything about the competition between green electricity and hydrogen. The other day, he gave a speech in India. It was at the first EU-India Hydrogen Forum. In the presence of EU Energy Commissioner Kadri Simson, he repeatedly complimented the responsible minister from India: In India, they understood better than at the headquarters of the EU Commission what needed to be done to ramp up the technology. The Indian audience is enthusiastic, the Commissioner kept her composure. Chatzimarkakis has not only posted his performance on YouTube. He also likes to talk about it. Whether you’re a politician or a lobbyist, you have to be a good salesman. Markus Grabitz