Lars Hänsel – for a common European voice

Lars Hänsel heads the Europe and North America Department at the Konrad Adenauer Foundation.

The Europe of the future? Lars Hänsel (55), head of the Europe and North America department at the Konrad Adenauer Foundation, has a very precise vision of this: a common Europe that is capable of acting globally. For him, this means being able to ensure its own security – independently of the United States, but in strong partnership with it. When it comes to the economy, for him it means no longer being dependent on China for survival and no longer being dependent on Russia for raw materials.

“Europe needs to completely rethink its business model,” says Hänsel. But not only that: “I would like to rethink Europe completely, especially the principle of subsidiarity. What exactly do we need to tackle together, what do we need to leave to the countries?” It’s clear, he said, that the big issues like climate change, security, and energy need to be solved together. “But beyond that, shouldn’t countries be given more freedom?”

This also means, says Hänsel, that cooperation with Eastern European countries is conducted differently. In the Western EU member states, there is often a lack of deeper understanding of where the Eastern European countries have historically come from and where their reservations about Brussels stem from: “Why does a country like Poland defend its sovereignty so vehemently? It has always been occupied by other countries. Therefore, they think differently about sovereignty.”

EU must endure differences

Many Eastern European countries have also often warned against Russia but were not heard by the West. “Germany is strongly characterized by never wanting to be the perpetrator again,” says Hänsel. On the other hand, Eastern Europeans no longer want to be victims. Countries like Germany also set benchmarks, such as in dealing with minorities, that other countries then have to meet, which simply aren’t as far along in this area. “A certain amount of basic diversity is something the EU must be able to tolerate.” Eastern Europeans often feel they must first meet a Western European expectation in order to be accepted and belong.

To conform, to meet the expectations of others, not to be able to develop in a self-determined way – the aversion to this often drove Hänsel. He grew up in the GDR, did not join any party, did not share the prevailing ideology as a Christian, and became a construction soldier when he was drafted into the National People’s Army. While this was a legal way to refuse to serve in the armed forces, it had harsh consequences.

1989: taking to the streets in Leipzig

And so he was also denied his great desire to study medicine as he did not meet the ideological expectations for a degree. This drove him onto the streets to join protests in Leipzig in 1989. After the fall of the Berlin Wall, as one of a few East German theology students at the university in Tübingen, he was often confronted with the question: “How long will it take you to be like us?” And again he faced the expectation to conform.

For his doctorate, Hänsel received a scholarship from the Konrad Adenauer Foundation. He has not left the foundation since, spending many years in the offices in St. Augustin (NRW), Jerusalem, and Washington. Above all, Israel’s social and religious complexity fascinates the theologian to this day. From Berlin, he now heads 34 offices throughout Europe and North America, and until recently also one in Russia.

In his work, it is always important for him to identify partners for common goals. “An important task in the coming years will be dealing with China. The challenge here is also to find a common European approach in the face of different interests.” Lisa-Martina Klein


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