The Transformer The Shadow Man

CDU party leader Volker Kauder once was a hardliner until he joined forces with Chancellor Angela Merkel.
Suiting requirements.

The transformation of Volker Kauder starts at around 7:30.

He is the powerful party chief of the Christian Democrats in Germany’s parliament. But come evening, Mr. Kauder turns into the champion of mid-sized companies. The switch from global issues to provincial politics is the work of seconds.

In downtown Berlin, businessmen line the headquarters of Deutsche Bank where a party is hosting guests including leaders of mid-sized businesses such as Pflanzen Bruns, the Heinzl commercial group, Häring KG and the Dussman group. They sit like pupils in a classroom waiting for a prize to be given to the best student, Mr. Kauder.

“What did I do to deserve a prize from mid-sized companies? I only accepted the award to find out,” he said.

Mr. Kauder’s easy manner shows his tactics when wielding power. Be humble, be approachable, praise others.

These are the same tactics used by Chancellor Angela Merkel: Be down-to-earth, stay general, be friendly and engaging. It makes a good impression. And it works – it made Ms. Merkel Europe's most powerful woman, and how Mr. Kauder became her right-hand man.

He is now the longest-serving chief of Ms. Merkel’s center-right Christian Democrats. Over the years, the two have grown close – so much so that the former conservative Mr. Kauder is scarcely recognizable.

At Deutsche Bank's ceremony, Mr. Kauder drew on his long-term experience, explaining again the chancellor’s latest ideas about pensions for mothers, a new minimum wage and early retirement.

None of the initiatives met approval from the business leaders there. “Yes, we did have to make a few compromises,” Mr. Kauder said. The policies are necessary to keep promises to the government’s coalition partner, the center-left Social Democrats, he explained. “But enough is enough!”

This was received with tired applause; the business owners had heard all this before.

But Mr. Kauder has learned from Ms. Merkel and consoles his listeners. “Mid-sized companies need air to breathe,” he said.

This works in Berlin. But does it work back home in the Black Forest region, in Mr. Kauder’s electoral district?

He has constituents like Jürgen Kaiser, an insurance agent who is regional head of the association of mid-sized businesses. He is opposed to federal government decisions on a new minimum wage, pensions for mothers and reform of the army.

But Mr. Kauder comes by often. “When something really bothers business leaders, he takes that back to Berlin,” Mr. Kaiser said. “And you get a reaction. Not always the one you wanted, but a reaction.”

Dieter Teufel is president of the Chamber of Industry and Commerce in Tuttlingen, the same town. “We are one of the strongest districts in Germany, in terms of industry,” he said. “We have practically no unemployment. More than 50 percent of jobs are in the textile business.”

He noted that the town has long had a direct line to power in Berlin – the former state premier came from Tuttlingen, and now there's Mr. Kauder. Mr. Kauder even arranged for the chancellor to appear at Mr. Teufel's New Year industry celebration in 2013.

Mr. Teufel called the party chief professional, sympathetic to businesses and not a stranger around town: You can see him every Saturday at the grocery store, he added. A top politician picking out his cheese. Where else can you find that?

“Things won’t be easy for us when he’s not around anymore,” Mr. Teufel said.

Mr. Kauder is the go-to-guy for mid-sized businesses in Ms. Merkel’s government. He has traveled to Japan five times in the last five years on their behalf, for example. He visits firms, meets politicians and talks about obstacles to trade. Germany and Japan should do everything they can to strengthen their economic ties, he says. In his view, it's a matter of keeping on top in the areas of research and development.

He has gained the necessary expertise. During the summer, Mr. Kauder traveled through his district and talked with leaders of mid-sized and large companies. Back in Berlin, he put this knowledge to good use, speaking about Industry 4.0 and calling 2015 the Year of the Economy.

There's no-one else who can address the needs of his district as directly as Mr. Kauder; nobody else can access within minutes so many ministers and the chancellor herself. This is part of Mr. Kauder’s deal with Ms. Merkel. His party colleagues fear him for this reason. It's what makes the heads of mid-sized firms love him.

Back in Deutsche Bank, Mr. Kauder’s transformation is complete. For a half-hour, he has been living and breathing mid-sized companies. “I come from a district that has only mid-sized businesses. I know what matters,” he said.

The listeners, heads of Pflanzen Bruns, the Heinzl commercial group, Häring KG, the Düssmann Group, all nod.

Mr. Kauder accepted his award. The porcelain lion is recognition for his struggles on behalf of mid-sized companies.

Too bad that the chief adversary is also his boss.


Simon Book covers To contact the author: [email protected]