Putting the brakes on further EU enlargement, and a more core approach to Europe: these are two of the ideas proposed by Lutz Goebel, the president of the association of family-owned German businesses. EURACTIV’s partner Der Tagesspiegel reports.
Lutz Goebel is president of the German association of family-owned businesses.
Goebel spoke with Der Tagesspiegel’s Albert Funk.
So the British voted in favour of Brexit. How would such a referendum have panned out in Germany?
It would’ve been close, but closely in favour of staying in the EU. Europe plays a greater role for us than it does for the British or the French. Whether approval for Europe will increase or decrease will depend on how European leaders, the European Commission and the Parliament react to the Brexit vote. Either things in Europe seriously change or the AfD (Alternative für Deutschland) start getting 25% of the vote.
The SPD wants more Europe instead of less now. Do you think this is the wrong approach?
Yes, that drives people into the arms of the AfD. No one wants even closer financial ties to Europe. Yes, I think that foreign, security and refugee policy, as well as the fight against terror, should be regulated at EU level. But calling for a pooling of debt and risk or a European super-government, like Martin Schulz has done, gets a resounding no from me. But we should work more closely in the EU, with the French, Italians and Scandinavians, to ensure that these countries stay in the EU.
That sounds very much like the thinking of Wolfgang Schäuble, who wants to build a core Europe.
What is important is that there is no further enlargement of the EU. Turkey, Serbia, Montenegro and Albania are currently not in the EU. We have to take care of the EU budget, we need to spend less on agriculture and more on education and digitisation. We also need to cut the number of Commissioners. Who needs 28, if the EU supposedly wants to concentrate on the important issues? There should be fewer. Not every member state needs its own Commissioner. Half that number would be enough. And I think it is important that the rules are respected. It’s not right that the Maastricht criteria be constantly violated without consequence. Moreover, we can’t continue to make decisions with all countries, matters should be dealt with in smaller groups or clubs.
How would that work?
Smaller groupings of countries interested in certain areas could be formed. For example, Germany could find itself in a group concerned with the energy market, but stay out of others.
What does Brexit mean for family-owned businesses in Germany?
A third of our members are expecting negative consequences and about 6% have already taken steps to try and counter the damage.
What is the mood among your British friends? What are family-run outfits saying over there?
They are really appalled. Those who do business outside the UK are afraid. Easyjet and Vodafone have already said that they might move their HQs somewhere else. The banks might follow suit.
The British government is trying to convince companies to stay in the country will low tax rates. Can that work?
It remains to be seen whether that potential benefit will offset the disadvantages brought by leaving the EU. But on paper it is attractive. We’ve done it in Germany too. Under Chancellor Schröder, corporate and business tax was capped at 30%. This drove tax revenue up. The British now want to position themselves outside of the eurozone as a liberal financial market, like Switzerland.
A recent study showed that out of the top listed companies on the German stock exchange, only 54 refugees have been employed. That’s not many at all. How does it look with family-run companies?
Much better. Ten percent of our companies employ refugees. But, when dealing with the process at the local authority, it was a disaster. Their IT systems are not comaptible and each refugee ends up registering five times. And when the individual gets a paying job, they get no more help and have to get out of the accommodation they have been given. It’s madness. How is this going to work for a million refugees? We have suggested that any company employing a refugee should be given €1,000 in grant money to spend on language courses and individual support from willing employees.
Our Minister of Labour and Social Affairs, Andrea Nahles, said no. Apparently it is cheaper if people just stay on welfare.