The Foundation for Family Businesses has been inviting shareholders of large family businesses and top politicians to its annual German Family-Business Day since 2008. This event at the Hotel Adlon is a welcome opportunity for both groups to talk to each other. Attending once again were Chancellor Angela Merkel, government ministers and party chairs as well as foreign heads of state and government.
Three topics dominated discussions at German Family-Business Day in late June 2017: Brexit, Trump and the upcoming German elections. What do the populist tendencies on both sides of the Atlantic mean for large German family businesses? This was the question explored by top-class speakers at the event in Berlin. More than 350 guests, the majority of them shareholders of large family businesses, joined in the discussion.
Digitalisation, globalisation, transparency – these were the key words with which Prof. Brun-Hagen Hennerkes, Chairman of the Foundation for Family Businesses, set the scene at German Family-Business Day. With consumer digitalisation dominated by American businesses, Germany now needs to play a leading role in the digitalisation of industry, he said. German family businesses must not allow themselves to be left behind. To date globalisation has always been a reliable policy constant, according to Hennerkes. But that is suddenly changing. “German family businesses are not tired of globalisation. The international division of labour and free market access around the globe is the basis for their future prosperity,” he added. However, overzealous transparency requirements from Brussels and Berlin could weaken the position of German family businesses in international competition, Hennerkes warned.
German Finance Minister, Dr Wolfgang Schäuble, spoke for the third time at German Family-Business Day. He raised the prospect of tax reductions, particularly for middle incomes, describing capital-based taxes as “toxic” with no place in globalisation. “We want stable wages and stable pensions,” he emphasised. “This is only possible when the economy is doing well.”
Christian Lindner, chairman of the Free Democratic Party (FDP), also spoke in favour of tax relief. Concretely, he called for the abolition of the solidarity surcharge and electricity tax, lower income taxes, no discrimination of equity in favour of debt and a significant deduction on real estate transfer tax to make buying a home more affordable.
The podium discussion chaired by Prof. Rainer Kirchdörfer (left), a member of the Executive Board of the Foundation for Family Businesses, centred on the opposition to free trade expressed by US President Donald Trump. The former German Minister of Economics and former Defence Minister Karl-Theodor zu Guttenberg (centre) voiced caution, calling for a pragmatic approach to the USA. “Instead of arguing with itself, the West should ensure it regains its cohesion,” he said. The family entrepreneurs Dr Hinrich Mählmann (Otto Fuchs KG, second from right) and Martin Richenhagen (AGCO Corp., right) saw countries such as China as the sole beneficiaries of the dispute. It would be preferable not to allow Trump to distract from German-American friendship, they argued. Prof. Gabriel Felbermayr (second from left) from the Ifo Institute said that the USA must first provide proof of deliberate manipulation to back up its claim that Germany’s foreign trade deficit is a political strategy.
The CDU politician Dr Norbert Röttgen, Chairman of the German Parliament's Foreign Affairs Committee, described the situation in the USA following the election of Donald Trump as unpredictable. “Seventy years after the end of the Second World War, Europe finally has to grow up and take responsibility,” he said. Trump’s election had made it clear, he added, that “Uncle Sam is no longer able or willing to do so.”
“The social market economy is not the responsibility of a small group – of business owners or unions – but the basis of our society,” said Martin Kannegiesser (centre), honorary president of the employers’ association Gesamtmetall and himself a family entrepreneur. Reiner Hoffmann (right), President of the German Trade Union Confederation (DGB), complained during the podium discussion chaired by Ulrich Deppendorf (left) that commitment to collective wage agreements is eroding among German businesses. This meant, for example, that there was no longer any way to avoid the minimum wage, said Hoffmann.