Gender balance in UK and German boardrooms

27 May 2020
Gender balance on the board. Is this a topic that matters in a time of national crisis? Or is progress towards greater gender balance in the boardroom being put on the backburner during the covid-19 pandemic?

Executive search agency Fidelio has flagged a resurgent interest in ESG in the Board and Executive suite. While there is indeed a focus on people with the “S” coming to the fore, Health and Safety are very much front of mind.

However, taking our foot off the pedal towards greater diversity would be a risk and mistake – challenging times or no challenging times.

Fidelio’s commitment to diversity and the benefits it brings is well documented.  Given our experience and track record in Germany and the UK, Fidelio has hosted a series of seminars over recent years exploring progress towards diversity in these two major European markets, seeking to understand two very different approaches and celebrating what works.

In May we were scheduled to hold the fifth seminar in our “Frauenquote” series in Cologne. In its place, Fidelio hosted “A Snapshot – Gender Diversity in UK and Germany Boardrooms”, including the impact of Covid-19.

Perspectives on diversity

Our panel provided unique insight and clear perspective on German and UK policy, the Boardroom in both markets, as well as the investor perspective:

  • Denise Wilson, Chief Executive, Hampton-Alexander Review​
  • Philine Erfurt Sandhu, Academic Director of the Strategic Competence for Women on Supervisory Boards Certification Programme, the University of Economics and Law Berlin​
  • Hans Hirt, Executive Director and Head of EOS, Federated Hermes​
  • Anne Ruth Herkes, Non-Executive Director, Quintet Private Bank; Deputy Chair of the Board, Merck Finck Privatbankiers AG; Advisory Board Member, The Shaikh Group; Member of the Advisory Council, Diplomatic Academy of Vienna; former State Secretary, Federal Ministry of Economy and Energy, Germany
  • Elisabeth Stheeman, Member of the Supervisory Board, Aareal Bank AG; Non-Executive Director, Edinburgh Investment Trust plc; External Member of the Financial Policy Committee and Financial Market Infrastructure Board, Bank of England​

A snapshot

Fidelio did not need to rehearse the benefits of diversity.Our panel were all committed to increasing gender representation at the Board and Executive table and brought distinct perspective.

We were delighted that Denise Wilson was able to provide hot off the press statistics for the UK. As Fidelio has also clearly seen, the work of many UK Boards continues through the crisis including good governance around Board refreshment and effectiveness. Possibly at a slower pace, Board appointments continue and the Hampton-Alexander Review may be seeing “a pause” but will report early next year.

Germany has been much heralded for its handling of the Covid crisis with the Chancellor’s authority and leadership frequently singled out. But our panel discussion highlighted fears that gender stereotyping is increasing in Germany under the crisis. The Frauenquote was already struggling to deliver results and there are very considerable fears, clearly articulated by Philine Erfurt Sandhu, that Covid may create a retrograde step for gender diversity in Germany.

A very recently published IFS Report in the UK suggests that the UK too may be experiencing some of this stereotyping with women’s professional roles being harder hit by the virus.

Major investors are increasingly making their voice heard internationally but could do more to exert pressure on companies deemed to be dragging their feet on gender diversity in German Boardrooms. This has had an impact in the UK and Hermes committed to continue to engage for greater diversity in German Boardrooms strongly stating the business case.

To see the presentation supporting the webinar, click here.


German MPs taken aback by Johnson’s hardline trade rhetoric

In London for LSE symposium, politicians express confusion at Britain’s post-Brexit stance

By Patrick Wintour  Diplomatic editor, The Guardian.    Thu 6 Feb 2020 

(The article is republished with permission from the author, whose original piece in The Guardian is here)

 Ralph Brinkhaus, the parliamentary leader of Angela Merkel’s CDU party, said: ‘We can have competition with cooperation or competition with conflict.’ Photograph: Clemens Bilan/EPA

A flood of senior German politicians visiting the UK this week have been left confused and unnerved by the hardline rhetoric set out by Boris Johnson on trade talks, prompting warnings that the risk of a breakdown, or a no-deal Brexit, is as high as it has ever been.

Germany takes on the EU presidency in the second half of this year, and will have a crucial role in helping the European commission to steer the talks on a future UK-EU trading relationship to a successful conclusion by the end of the transition period in December.

There has been a consensus across German politics about the need to reach the closest possible relationship with Britain after Brexit.  Senior German politicians have even been drafting a series of partnership offers to the UK on security, defence and foreign affairs, possibly wrapped up in a new Anglo-German friendship treaty.

But the hardline tone of Johnson’s recent speeches has thrown the German political class visiting London for a week-long symposium at the London School of Economics.  The former trade minister Greg Hands was forced to reassure his German interlocutors that the British people did not want to set up a “Singapore-on-Thames”, and nor did Johnson.

Ralph Brinkhaus, parliamentary leader of the Christian Democratic Union party

But Ralph Brinkhaus, the parliamentary leader of Angela Merkel’s Christian Democratic Union party, said: “Within the next 11 months we have to decide what the common base of the relationship will be with the UK.  We will compete.  No question about that and no one is afraid of that.  But we can have competition with cooperation or competition with conflict.  Listening to the government’s speeches this week, I am not quite sure what the position is of the UK.”

Robert Habeck, the leader of the German Greens, and a potential German chancellor after next year’s elections, was also gloomy that a deal could be struck.  He said: “Johnson has stated that under no circumstances does he intend to conduct the negotiations after 11 months.  He has categorically ruled out extension of the negotiations.  He does not want to accept the EU rules for work, environment, or the jurisdiction of the European court of justice.  The EU, on the other hand, cannot accept tax or regulatory dumping on its doorstep and must protect its single market and insist on a level playing field.  The risk of an unregulated no-deal Brexit is still high, and maybe has never before been higher.”

The anxiety was shared by Norbert Röttgen, the chair of the Bundestag foreign affairs committee and a member of Merkel’s party.  “The question is whether we are listening to policy or rhetoric aimed at a domestic audience,”  he said.  “There is a danger on both sides that the intense rhetoric about principles gets emphasised time and again and so creates a reality of its own.  The risk is that it gets difficult to switch to a different pragmatic response by the end of the year because that would mean losing face.”

He suggested the scale of the negotiations, and the apparent differences between the two sides on issues such as regulatory alignment and the European court of justice, meant a full deal would be unachievable by the end of the year.  “The rhetoric will continue through the summer on both sides, but the people that are working on the technical stuff will try to do their job.”  He said an initial deal might be reached by November “covering security, and those trade areas that are vital to limit mutual damage”.  But he predicted that such a deal would have leave out a significant proportion of trade that would then have to be negotiated further on a sectoral basis in a process freed of artificial time limits.

The choice for both sides, he said, was between mutual self-harm and a cooperative relationship.

Asked in March 2016 how Germany would react if Britain left the EU, Wolfgang Schäuble, the current Bundestag president, said: “We will cry.”  The tears have been shed, but the angst remains.


“Das Match hat noch nicht einmal begonnen” – Denis Macshane

This interview with Denis Macshane was published in Der Standard in Vienna on 16 January 2020. It has been automatically translated by Word Press. The original article is here 

Former Labor MP and Secretary of State for Europe expects long Brexit path


Sebastian Borger from London

  1. January 2020, 08:00


Denis MacShane was a Labor MP for 18 years in the House of Commons and under Prime Minister Tony Blair between 2002 and 2005 Secretary of State for Europe.

STANDARD:  Mr. MacShane, what do European friends like you do on January 31?

MacShane:  Before the referendum, I predicted that Brexit would happen …

STANDARD:  … in your book “Brexit: How Britain is Leaving Europe” …

MacShane:  … has been prepared for this for a long time. In this respect, January 31 is a normal working day for me. And on February 1st I get up and think about it: what’s next? What solution do we find? One thing is very clear: We will remain closely connected to Europe for the next 1,000 years.

STANDARD:  Your new book is called “Brexiternity”, connects leaving the EU with eternity. Why?

MacShane:  Look at British history: certain problems really keep us busy for ages before we come to a solution. For example Ireland: The later prime minister Benjamin Disraeli raised “the Irish question” for the first time in 1844 in the lower house. The independence agreement came in 1921! And in a way, it was not until the Good Friday Agreement in 1998 that the Irish were able to overcome the demons of division. Now Brexit has put the Irish question back on the agenda.

STANDARD:  Is Brexit one of the Empire’s last twitches?

MacShane:  He certainly reflects the whining about the loss and nostalgia for global Britain.

STANDARD:  Once around a quarter of the earth’s surface was part of the British Empire.

MacShane:  And don’t forget that in the past centuries my country has never had the experience of a lost world war, never been occupied, never experienced the breakdown of all state structures. In this respect, we are different from all other European countries.

STANDARD:  Prime Minister Boris Johnson won the election with the slogan “Get Brexit done”. How realistic is that?

MacShane:  I take my hat off to Johnson’s people who came up with that phrase. How to win elections. Johnson is very good at language. But everyone knows that the Brexit is in no way complete. We entered the stadium and warmed up, but the match didn’t even start.

STANDARD:  And who determines the rules?

MacShane:  Good question. The EU says: We play according to our rules. Johnson wants to play football, but also a little rugby – and cricket in a corner, after all we are English. That will lead to huge problems. It will take us years. By the way, we don’t even know what kind of amputation Johnson actually wants. (Sebastian Borger from London, January 16, 2020)


Board Diversity in Germany & the UK – What Works

Fideolio - Board Diversity in Germany & the UK


The benefits of Board diversity are well known. Despite this progress is disappointing.

Fidelio is committed to increasing diversity and enhancing Board effectiveness. Practically, we support Boards in moving the dial on diversity through Search, Evaluation and Development, as well as very simply shining a light on what works.

To this end Fidelio was pleased to co-host with CMS in Stuttgart the fourth in our series ‘Die Frauenquote – An Update on Diversity in German and UK Boards’. In particular we asked what could be learned from these two major European economies about increasing the diversity and effectiveness at the top of their major companies.

After previous debates in London and Frankfurt, Stuttgart represented a significant location as an industrial powerhouse in Germany. We were pleased to welcome guests from across Germany, and a panel that included influential voices within German business:

▪ Ilse Henne, Member of the Executive Board, Thyssenkrupp Materials Services GmbH ▪ Angelika Huber-Strasser, Head of Corporates, KPMG
▪ Elke Benning-Rohnke, Vice President, Fidar e.V
▪ Dr Philine Erfurt Sandhu, Academic Director, Strategic Competence for Women on

Supervisory Boards Certification Programme, University of Applied Sciences Berlin
▪ Dr Viktoria Kickinger, Founder and Managing Director, Directors Academy Hamburg

The debate was moderated by Martina Schmid, Partner, CMS, combining a business and legal perspective; and also by Gillian Karran-Cumberlege, drawing upon the UK perspective where Fidelio has been twice accredited for our contribution to diversity by the Hampton- Alexander Review.

The panel in Stuttgart made practical recommendations for Boards committed to building a strong and more diverse pipeline. In this Overture we summarise the findings.



Germany, for all its industrial strength and track record in electing female political leaders, has lagged behind other leading European economies in gender diversity.

With German business making little progress, the political response was to pass legislation. The purpose was to drive change in the often strikingly non-diverse Management and Supervisory Boards. The relevant law was passed in 2015 and applies to quoted companies as well as those subject to 50% worker representation on the Supervisory Board. It mandates a minimum of 30% female representation on the Supervisory Board and also requires companies to set targets for women in the Management Board, as well as two executive levels below.

The legal requirement of 30% for Supervisory Boards was first reached in 2018. Progress here has been made easier for larger companies by generally better gender balance in the union representatives who typically make up 50% of the Supervisory Board.

But when it comes to the requirement for targets, companies have been permitted – rather bafflingly – to adopt a so-called ‘Zero Quota’ which effectively maintains the status quo. As a consequence, progress in diversifying the pipeline has been slower than expected and at Management Board level female representation remains very low. Even at major quoted companies, which have a better track record here, the percentage of women in the Management Board is only just over 9%.

Women on Boards – DAX, MDAX, SDAX & TecDAX

page2image189823296 page2image189823552page2image189823808page2image189824144 page2image189824400page2image189824960 page2image189825216 page2image189825840 page2image189826160 page2image189826416page2image189826976 page2image189827232


In contrast to the legally binding approach in Germany, the UK has opted for voluntary targets with government-sponsored reviews publishing data on gender diversity in the FTSE 350. These started in 2011 with the Davies Review, and since 2016 the initiative has been driven by the Hampton-Alexander Review which has set a target of 33% for female representation on FTSE 350 Boards and leadership teams (Executive Committees and their direct reports) by 2020. There has been significant progress with the FTSE 100 reaching 30% female representation at Board level by 2018 and the FTSE 350 reaching 30% in 2019.

Two important drivers assisted in this development:

  • ▪  The introduction in 2016 of the nine-year limit on tenure as an independent Board Member.
  • ▪  The requirement from 2017 for all businesses with more than 250 employees to publish data on the Gender Pay Gap.But despite overall progress towards voluntary targets, in the UK diversity has also remained stubbornly low in key roles:
  • ▪  At Executive, and in particular CEO, level – there are just 13 female CEOs in the FTSE 350.
  • ▪  At Chair level – there is evidently a pipeline now, but female Chair appointments are not coming through. The chart below shows how stark this lag effect is.Women on Boards – FTSE 350



As part of the Stuttgart ‘Die Frauenquote’ seminar we put our panellists on the spot and asked them to award marks out of 10 for progress in Germany to date towards increasing gender diversity in Board and leadership roles.


Score out of ten

Speaker A



Speaker B


Speaker C



Speaker D


Speaker E






When asked the same question last year our panellists awarded 3.75 for progress towards greater gender diversity in Germany and 6 in the UK. Disappointing on both scores but highly concerning that against this crude metric Germany appears to be slipping. Indeed, some of the speakers distinguished between Supervisory Board and Management Board with progress at the Management Board level judged to be significantly worse.

It was argued that since the 30% Supervisory Board target had been reached, the momentum for change had ebbed away and that the 30% was being viewed almost as a limit rather than a first important step.

Initial media interest in lack of progress has now waned and there is growing concern at how difficult it is proving to break this glass ceiling.

Our speakers noted that of 1,750 companies covered by the ‘Die Frauenquote’ 81% either have a ‘Zero Quota’ for women in the ‘Vorstand’ (Management Board) or no target at all. Of 160 quoted companies, fully 64% are ‘woman-free zones’ at Management Board level; there are only 10 female Chairs in Germany’s 185 largest companies; and women are poorly represented in Supervisory Board Committees.

By contrast, many of those companies that have established greater gender diversity in the Supervisory Board have noted a change in dynamic and indeed effectiveness. This simply needs to be replicated in much greater numbers.


Practically, how can Germany and the UK increase female representation in corporate leadership? At our recent ‘Die Frauenquote’ seminar we prompted our panellists to provide practical steps that will move the dial. We set out below seven recommendations principally for the German market, a number of which are also relevant for the UK:

  • ▪  Increase Female Visibility – Women need to be visible, particularly in the appointment and selection processes. One aspect is women being prepared to speak out in favour of other women in senior roles; another is a preparedness on the part of female candidates to put their hat in the ring and be counted. Some of our panellists argued that occupying niches is tremendously important. Others were wary of women settling for anything but the mainstream P&L roles upon which successful Board careers are typically built.
  • ▪  Address the Culture – Admittedly much easier said than done but culture clearly plays a major role and in Germany there is still frequently a presumption that women will be dropping out of high-pressured careers, in particular to care for children. Celebrating working mothers was a simple solution posited by one of our panellists. In previous Frauenquote seminars Fidelio has identified the power of the working mother role model for both daughters and sons.
  • ▪  Coherent Legislation – Again not easy for the individual or company to address. Countries that have made progress on diversity have done so not simply by introducing a quota, but also by ensuring a framework is in place to enable more women to flourish in the workplace. This requires, for example, a close look at the tax code and also all aspects of shared parental leave and ongoing childcare.
  • ▪  International Diversity – We all stand to learn and across Europe there are countries that have adopted a range of innovative steps to promote diversity in society and the Boardroom. These may not be immediately transferable but the process of benchmarking and understanding what works is incumbent on both governments and companies that are committed to greater diversity.
  • ▪  Objectivity in Selection and Appraisal – There is an increasing recognition that bias creeps into even the most well-intentioned appointment or appraisal. To counter this subjectivity, a robust process is the most effective antidote. If the process is trusted, better candidates will apply and there will be greater confidence in those that succeed to senior executive and Board roles. This methodology underpins Fidelio’s approach to Search and clearly leads to results in terms of diverse outcomes, as well as success in role.
  • ▪  Institutional Investors – Investors have a major role to play in promoting diversity and insisting on appropriate data disclosure from companies. In the UK we have already seen major houses such as Legal & General Investment Management engage on diversity and importantly vote against Chairs and companies with a poor track record. At last year’s ‘Die Frauenquote’ seminar, Hans-Christoph Hirt, Executive Director, Hermes Investment Management committed to do the same in Germany and called upon institutional investors to also be prepared to take a stand against German Supervisory Board Chairs who were making inadequate progress on diversity.
  • ▪  The Power of Networks – It is clear that networks play an important role in underpinning Boardroom success. Fidelio has conducted primary research into what it takes to succeed at the Board room table and networks of support and reciprocity were identified as one of the 5 key attributes of highly effective Board Directors.
    We build upon this in Fidelio’s ’A Seat at the Table’ programme. The panellists in Stuttgart were equally clear that network matters but were also aware that Germany provides more of a challenge with business spread across different cities and regions.


Both Germany and the UK recognise the benefits of greater Board diversity. Both countries have made progress, but it is arguable whether the most influential roles at the top of leading quoted companies have fully opened up to female talent. The dearth of female Chairs in Germany and the UK speaks for itself.

So, what comes next and what can Boards do to keep moving the dial?
Based on our research and assignments, Fidelio sees the next steps as critical:

  • ▪  Clear focus on the pipeline. There is a strong bench of women ready and available for Board roles. But many organisations have been hollowed out at a more junior level. This needs to be remedied. Companies that have rewarded progress towards diversity through remuneration and advancement have made greatest headway.
  • ▪  Board composition, Search and succession planning need to earn respect and trust. Confidence in the robustness and fairness of appointments will attract a wider and more diverse pool and enable the successful candidates to flourish.
  • ▪  Finally, through Evaluation and Board learning, Chairs will ensure that the Board becomes increasingly proficient at embracing diversity which in turn underpins effectiveness.

Fidelio will continue to support our clients in the UK, Germany and internationally in increasing and embedding Board and leadership diversity. We shall do this through Search, Evaluation and Development.

We also recognise the benefits of establishing an international network of senior executives and directors who are committed to diversity and to learning from best practice across different countries, sectors and organisations. Fidelio therefore looks forward to collaborating again with CMS in 2020 to increase the momentum towards gender balance in UK and German Boardrooms.



Fidelio Partners is a Board Development and Executive Search consultancy. Our focus is Board effectiveness and Board composition, as we build Boards and leadership teams fit for the future. We do this through Board Evaluation, Development, and Search.

We have a track record in supporting Chairs cross-border, cross-sector, cross-function. Fidelio has strong public company experience and also supports private and non-profit organisations. 50% of our Search, Development and Evaluation is outside the UK.

In 2018, Fidelio was accredited for the second consecutive year by the UK Government’s Hampton-Alexander Review for our contribution to increasing Board gender-diversity beyond the FTSE 350. Fidelio’s flagship “A Seat at the Table” Board Learning Programme for Senior Executives and Directors is also core to our contribution to diversity and reflected in our accreditation. We will host the eighth iteration of the programme in March 2020.

Fidelio’s advocacy of the governance of Search is reflected in our strong Search process and outcomes. Our approach to Search is distinctive and forward-looking and predicated upon an exceptional international network. Diversity is hardwired into every aspect of our Search process and 50% of our appointments are female and our track record on mandated Search is well above industry benchmarks.

Fidelio is recognised for thought leadership, advocacy, and primary research on topics including Board composition, diversity, how leading Chairs prepare their Boards for disruption, and stakeholder and shareholder engagement.


CMS is one of the leading commercial law firms in Germany.

More than 600 lawyers, tax advisers and notaries public operate out of eight major German business locations and five international locations. Most recently, CMS opened an office in Hong Kong in 2016. At all our locations, we advise German and international companies and institutions from many different sectors on all aspects of national and international commercial law.

We have long experience of working with corporate legal departments and in-house lawyers. In addition to the required specialist legal knowledge in all areas of commercial law, our lawyers understand the business needs and market-specific requirements of every industry and sector.

CMS advises SMEs and major corporations on all aspects of national and international commercial law. Our strong teams comprise experienced specialists across a wide range of legal areas, making us a partner you can rely on. We are one of the few commercial law firms to possess expertise in all fields relevant to business enterprises, the public sector, high net worth individuals and entrepreneurs.

Digital transformation has profound consequences for the global economy, with the impact already being felt in everyday corporate life and across almost every industry. As an innovative partner with strong digital expertise, CMS can assist you with key issues around the digital economy and its legal implications.

Our success is underpinned by the knowledge and experience of our more than 4,800 lawyers and tax advisers in over 70 offices worldwide.



Dr Martina Schmid
+49 711 9764 670

Dr Alexandra Schluck-Amend
+49 711 9764 278

John Hammond
+49 711 9764 788


Gillian Karran-Cumberlege
Head of Chair Advisory
+44 (0)207 759 2200


100 year commemoration – British Chamber of Commerce in Germany 1919-2019

[dropcap style=”inverted”][/dropcap]


I get by with a little help from my friends 

100 year commemoration 1919-2019, Berlin, 12 September 2019 

by David Marsh, Chairman, OMFIF 


David Marsh, Chairman, OMFIF

It is a great privilege for me to speak to you today. Before doing so I would like to pay tribute to Norbert Strohschen who has been mentioned already by Michael Schmidt as our previous chairman, a man who did much to put the Chamber on to a new footing over the past decade. He and Andreas Meyer-Schwickerath, to whom I would also like to pay tribute, formed a very strong team. 

It’s difficult to sum up 100 years of British German history in one 20 minute speech. I’m going to get by with a little help from my friends. There are three that I will call upon: the first is Marlene Dietrich since she has had an iconic relationship with the British for many reasons.. The second is the Beatles, for their popular music says much about the world of British-German relations ways that are highly prescient. And third is the city of Hamburg which has been closely tied up with the UK and Germany throughout history – both good reasons and bad – and has particularly strong links with the British Chamber of Commerce in Germany. 

My main point is that the British and Germans are becoming more like each other; just at the time when the Britons are leaving the European Union, we are becoming more convergent. Or perhaps we are swapping characteristics in that confused and generalised way in which we speak about different countries’ national traits. These are psychological, psycho-social processes. You could call it ein gegenseitiger Selbstwiderspieglungsprocess or eine selbstbefruchtende Osmose durch wiederholte Wechselwirkungen . The Germans are becoming more rational, the British are becoming more hysterical. 

In my speech I am not going to say anything about the current confusion over Brexit, I will leave that to the erudite panellists later. I am not going to mention the parallels between 1919 with the birth of the Weimar republic and the period of Weimarisation that some commentators and historians say is now dawning in the UK. I will not say anything about the extraordinary suspension of parliament for five weeks which is being contested in the courts. I would like to say, though, thank Heavens for Mr John Bercow. I do hope that the BCCG will invite him for next year’s annual meeting, and give him a medal of honour, for he has upheld the rights of parliament and parliamentarians at a critical time. 

Stellen Sie sich mal vor, was geschehen wäre wenn z.B. mitten in der Einführung des Euro in Deutschland der Bundestag ausgesetzt worden wäre und der Bundestagspräsident – ein Mann von der Format eines Wolfgang Schäubles – gesagt hätte, diese sei ein Verstoß gegen die Verfassung gewesen. Was für ein Aufruhr in den englischen Zeitungen dies verursacht hätte! Imagine what would have happened had the German parliament been suspended, for example in the middle of the process of introducing the euro, and the Bundestag president, a man of the format of Wolfgang Schäuble, had called it a constitutional outrage. What a fuss this would have caused in the English newspapers.

Some of the former Tory MPs now expelled from the party, such as Dominic Grieve, Philip Hammond, Ken Clarke, Christopher Soames, will go down in history as statesmanlike figures, which is not what we can say about the present Prime Minister. 

My talk today is on ‘Die Zehn Vorsätze / Gebote für die deutsch-britische Zusammenarbeit’ – 10 resolutions or commandments for German-British co-operation – as seen from a particular vantage point of popular music. I wanted to start in 1918 which was the year, more or less, when Marlene Dietrich started her career. She was born in Berlin Schöneberg but went to school in Wilmersdorf, as her photo from 1918 shows.

Marlene Dietrich & The Beatles, 1963

Later she was to meet the most famous of all pop bands, The Beatles, who need no introduction, not least because of their music break in Hamburg. This is how they met Marlene in London at the Royal Variety Performance in 1963.

The Beatles’ stay in Hamburg in the early 1960s helped turn them into the phenomenon they quickly became. John Lennon later said, ‘I might have been born in Liverpool – but I grew up in Hamburg.’ It is worthwhile noting some features of the long and dangerous minibus trip to Hamburg on 17 August 1960, before the UK was part of the European Community. The 10 passengers – the then five Beatles plus five others – had not obtained German work permits, so they were incarcerated at Harwich for five hours on the way over – before convincing immigration officials they were students on holiday – guidelines for us all on how to behave in the event of a no deal Brexit. PHOTOS BEATLES HAMBURG GIGS 

I should also like to mention another great example of British-German co-operation: the relationship with Astrid Kirchherr, the star Hamburg photographer – still living in Hamburg today, in her 80s – who gave the group their mop haircuts. PHOTO ASTRID KIRCHNER PLUS BEATLES 

So let’s get on to these 10 Vorsätze. The first one is Learn the lessons of history. There are those who believe the British live in the past. George Bernard Shaw described why the English, not being a very spiritual people, invented cricket to give them some idea of eternity. Heinrich Heine in 1828 called the Germans ‘ein spekulatives Volk, Ideologen, Vor- und Nachdenker, Träumer, die nur in der Vergangenheit und in der Zukunft leben und keine Gegenwart haben.‘ – ‘A speculative race, ideologists with fore- and aftersight, dreamers who live only in the past and future and have no present.’ He could have been speaking about the English today. The Beatles were very prescient: ‘Yesterday, all my troubles seemed so far away: Now it looks as though they’re here to stay, Oh, I believe in yesterday.’ 

No 2 – Keep your keep on the ground, do not over-dramatise , stick to reality, auf dem Boden der Tatsachen bleiben, Let it Be. In other words: ‘Lass die Kirche im Dorf.’ Sometimes plain speaking can be helpful and admirable (if controversial, as with your President Heinrich Lübke in 1966 who famously said, regarding the third goal in the England v West Germany World Cup final: ‘Der Ball war drin.’ The ball was in! The Beatles were right: ‘Let it be, let it be, let it be, let it be, Whisper words of wisdom, let it be.’ 

No 3 – Practise reciprocity. Do as you would be done by. ‘Was du nicht willst, dass man dir tut, das füg auch keinem andren zu.’ Remember that we are all seen through a two-way looking glass. When we look at our own reflection, others are looking at it too. The Spiegelbild is seen and regarded by others in a different way to the one we view ourselves. The British should take care here. We must guard against double standards, I recall the minister from the foreign office – I will not say which one – who said in 1990, around the time of reunification: ‘I want the Germans to become more assertive – as long as they always agree with us.’ Trying to achieve standards of behaviour where each side treats each other fairly and equally is what diplomats try to do every day: ‘Please please me, whoa yeah, like I please you.’ 

Precept No. 4 is Honour diversity. Support tolerance. We can learn a lot from our Gegensätze . The song Get Back Was written partly as an ironic way of castigating racism on British society and politics in the 1960s. ‘Jojo left his home in Tucson, Arizona , for some California grass … Get back, get back, get back to where you once belonged.’ The slogan has been taken up again, in a non-tolerant way, by Donald Trump: ‘Why don’t they go back and help fix the totally broken and crime infested places from which they came.’ 

Sometimes manifestations of tolerance can go too far and can bring counterproductive effects. The Willkommenskultur policy of Chancellor Merkel in 2015 – ‘Wir schaffen das’ – although I respect the reasons why she did it – was the verhängnisvollster Satz – the most fateful sentence – in her 14 years as chancellor. And, indirectly, it helped fuel some of the hotly debated discussions leading to the British referendum decision in 2016. 

No. 5 Seek complementarity. ‘Michelle’ from the Lennon-McCartney song: this applies to der Deutsche Michel and the English John Ball: they seem to be komplementär , ergänzend in many ways. When Stalin said in 1942: ‘Hitlers come and go, but Germany and the German people remain,’ he epitomised the timelessness of some of these self-fulfilling German character traits. Yet it is not only the Germans who can be contradictory and confusing. Just look at the British. They also have competing sets of principles and feelings: ‘Es schlagen nicht nur in Deutschland die zwei Seelen in der eigenen Brust. Bei der Referendumsentscheidung am 23. Juni 2016 haben wir die beiden Seiten zur Schau gestellt: der rationale, kühl kalkulierende, ökonomisch denkende Teil der britischen Psychologie sowie das romantische, abenteuerlustige Segment des nationalen Gehirns.‘ (‘Not just the Germans have the two souls beating in one breast. In the referendum decision on 23 June 2016 we have demonstrated the two sides: the rational, cooly calculating, economic-thinking part of British psychology, and the romantic, adventurous segment of the national brain.’ That was something I said three years ago before the referendum – I thought it sounded more intelligent in German than in English).

BCCG Conference 100 year commemoration 1919 – 2019

‘Michelle, ma belle, These are words that go together well, I need to, I need to, I need to, I need to make you see, Oh, what you mean to me, Until I do, I’m hoping you will know what I mean.’ These words have great resonance. During the time of German reunification, and also more recently during the negotiations over reforming the European union and now over the withdrawal treaty , British ministers and diplomats have had great difficulty in understanding what the Germans really mean. 

No 6: Tackle misgivings. – There are prejudices, preconceptions everywhere, they need to be tested and questioned. Where they are unfounded, or exaggerated, we should make efforts to overcome them. International relations are a good place to apply this rule. No one knew this better than Helmut Kohl in 1990, after the fall of the Berlin wall, where he had to confront a wave of mistrust across Europe about the intentions of soon-to-be-reunited Germany. His words in his memoirs mark Germany’s attempts to forge a united Europe to disarm fears about German dominance. – ‘ Je mehr Rechte Deutschland an die EG überträgt, desto weniger wirklich erscheint das Gespenst eines Vierten Reiches’ – ‘The more powers Germany transfers to the European Community, the less real will be the phantom of a Fourth Reich.’ 

There were doubts about whether the German would stay true. Some Germans themselves worried about what would happen if they became unhinged, untamed or unanchored from the West. ‘If I fell in love with you, would you promise to be true, and help me understand. ‘Cause I’ve been in love before, and I found that love was more than just holding hands.’ 

Anxieties about German hand-holding were on show in Margaret Thatcher’s Chequers seminar on 24 March 1990 which unflatteringly (and neatly, in alphabetical order) summed up some allegedly abiding parts of the German character – ‘Angst, aggressiveness, assertiveness, bullying, egotisim, inferiority complex, sentimentality.’ As the record of gathering stated: ‘It still had to be asked how a cultured and cultivated nation had allowed itself to be brainwashed into barbarism. If it had happened once, could it not happen again?… all their institutions had not yet been seriously tested by adversity such as a major economic calamity. No one had serious misgivings about present leaders… but what about 10, 15 or 20 years from now? Could some pf the unhappy characteristics of the past re-emerge?’ We must recall, too, General Hastings Lionel Ismay, Churchill’s chief military assistant during the second world war, first Nato secretary general 1952-57: he stated the purpose of the alliance was ‘to keep the Russians out, the Americans in, and the Germans down.’ 

Precept No 7: Be patient, then expect things to happen quickly . ‘The crisis takes a much longer time coming than you think, and then it happens much faster than you would have thought.’ This was the striking phrase of the German-American economist Rüdiger Dornbusch (who died in 2002) – applicable not just to unification, but also for the financial crisis that occurred seven years after his death. Walter Ulbricht – who said no one had any intention of building a wall – and Erich Honecker – who said the wall might last for 50 – 100 years – did not appear to have (at least on the surface) a sense of how things would turn out . ‘Die Mauer wird in 50 und auch in 100 Jahren noch bestehen bleiben, wenn die dazu vorhandenen Gründe nicht beseitigt werden.‘ 

Did they not realise the fateful path leading to German reunification? Perhaps they did. ‘The long and winding road that leads to your door will never disappear; I’ve seen that road before. It always leads me here, lead me to your door.’ Perhaps there is this sense of Schicksalsgemeinschaft in the German-British relationship. 

No 8 – Show sensitivity to the thoughts, the yearnings of others. Bruised feelings, miscommunication, but also the temptation of departure – Fernweh.- all of this is in the Lennon-McCartney lyrics: ‘Wednesday morning at five o’clock as the day begins, silently closing her bedroom door, leaving the note that she hoped would say more, she goes downstairs to the kitchen, clutching her handkerchief, quietly turning the backdoor key, stepping outside, she is free … … Daddy, our baby’s gone. Why would she treat us so thoughtlessly? How could she do this to me?’ 

David Davis, Britain’s first secretary for leaving the EU, appointed in 2016 after the referendum, did not appear to have antennae for understanding German sensitivities. An over-simplifier who failed to consider the complexity of feelings on the other side. In 2016 everything looked deliciously straightforward: ‘Post Brexit a UK-German deal would include free access for their cars and industrial goods, in exchange for a deal on everything else.’ 

Charles Powell, Thatcher’s foreign policy adviser, realised post-reunification the PM’s monumental blind spot: the episode underlined her inability to understand what was driving the Germans. ‘She underestimated the strength of German national feeling. Helmut Kohl surfed the wave of German nationalism with great skill, and Margaret Thatcher got left behind.’ 

No 9 Seek long term solutions. ‘We can work it out.’ Churchill, when he expressed in 1934 the need for longer-term considerations on Germany and Europe was surely not prescient of the full horror of the coming war , but he did realise that there would be a time beyond the Nazis: ‘This is not the only Germany that we shall live to see – but we have to consider that at present two or three men have that wonderful, scientific, intelligent, docile, valiant people in their grip.’ (The words could, with a stretch of the imagination, be applied to the UK today). 

‘We can work it out’ – France and Germany had to come to an accord based on each other’s strengths and weaknesses – that must have been in de Gaulle’s mind when he told Chancellor Kiesinger in 1969 (shortly before the French president’s resignation and his death the following year): ‘France has a certain hesitancy and caution regarding Germany’s economic strength, as it does not wish to be inundated by German industry. That is the nature of Germany, that is the German reality.’ 

These statesmen had to wrestle with the conundrum in the Beatles’ song: ‘Try to see it my way, Do I have to keep on talking till I can’t go on?, While you see it your way, Run the risk of knowing that our love may soon be gone.’ – the task of diplomacy throughout the ages. 

No 10 – Know where your interests lie. Palmerston famously declaimed in 1848 that Britain had no eternal allies, and no permanent enemies. ‘Our interests are eternal and perpetual, and those interests it is our duty to follow.’ Kohl told me in 1989 that Germany had no interests of its own – they were all European. Palmerston and Kohl both exaggerated. The truth is somewhere between the two. 

These political leaders were scrambling to find a way of defining their countries’ long-term interests and adapting their policies accordingly. One precondition is to recognise which countries are vital to each other: Germany and the UK are such a pair. ‘You treat me badly, I love you madly – You’ve really got a hold on me.’ That sums it up. 

We can work it out. German and the UK have got a hold on each other. A state of Aufeinander-Angewiesen-Sein. There are many areas where the two countries can work together beyond Brexit. OMFIF has described these in the report that we produced for the British Embassy in Berlin at the end of March: Banking and financial services, infrastructure and development finance, services, climate change and sustainability, cybersecurity, digitalisation and artificial intelligence, education and research, specialised manufacturing, pensions, savings and stock markets. We shouldn‘t overdramatise, either on the positive or negative side. Remember: ‘Es wird nichts so heiß gegessen, wie es gekocht wird. ’ Or as Mr Schäuble famously said: ‘Things are rarely eaten as hot as they are cooked.’ The BCCG will be playing its full role in the future ‘Es gibt viel zu tun – packen wir es an!’ There’s a lot to do – let’s get on with it. 

BCCG Conference, 100 year commemoration 1919-2019

“Brexit: What next?” Part 3

Bob Bischof, chairman GBF; Dr Peter Wittig, the German Ambassador; Dr Steffen Hoffmann, Robert Bosch Ltd and David Smith, The Sunday Times

The German British Forum is hosting a series of meetings with board members and distinguished guests to debate “Brexit: What next?”


The third instalment of the series was hosted at The Reform Club in London on 11th September. The GBF board was delighted to be joined by Germany’s Ambassador to the Court of St James Dr Peter Wittig, Lord Chris Fox, Liberal Democrat Spokesperson on Business and Industrial Strategy in the House of Lords, Lady Elizabeth Stheeman, Bank of England’s Financial Policy Committee, John Allan CBE, chairman of Tesco and Barratt Developments, David Smith, columnist at The Sunday Times and Anthony Simon, former president of marketing at Unilever (retired).

(Photography courtesy of Oliver Lawson, GBF board member and Augusta Ventures)



Gillian Karan-Cumberlege, John Allan CBE and Lord Chris Fox, Lib Dem House of Lords spokesperson for BEIS
Dr Peter Wittig, Germany’s Ambassador to the UK; Dr Ulrich Hoppe, German-British Chamber; Dr Steffen Hoffmann, Bosch and Dr Denis MacShane, Avisa Partners
GBF board members and guests discuss Brexit: What next? following the vote by the UK parliament on 10 September that Boris Johnson’s extended prorogation of parliament has a legal case to answer
Steffen Hoffmann president of Bosch, Lady Elizabeth Stheeman, Bank of England and Aareal Bank, and Bob Bischof, chairman of GBF
Steffen Hoffmann, Ambassador Peter Wittig, Anthony Simon, Dr Denis MacShane, John Hammond of CMS and Johannes Haas, DZ Bank
Lord Chris Fox and Lady Elizabeth Stheeman


News Uncategorized

Bernard Molloy 1948 – 2019

Bernard Molloy, a board member of the German British Forum for more than 10 years and a UK logistics industry veteran, passed away peacefully on 19th May after a brave battle recovering from a serious operation. Bob Bischof, chairman of the German British Forum and friend of Bernard’s for many years, pays this tribute to a legend of the logistics industry.

Bernard Molloy 1948 – 2019

Bernard has been a member of the German British Forum Board since 1999.

His untimely death means not only a great loss to the GBF but also for my colleagues and I on the board it means that we have lost a true friend.

He was in more ways than one – to use one of his phrases – “a proper chap”. His role in the organisation of our last conference in his beloved Liverpool was key in making it a great success. But beyond his work he was a warm, helpful and giving person all round. In the last few years he made a substantial contribution to getting young people into proper apprenticeships. He was proud of his humble background and the fact that he made it “from the shop floor to the top floor” – from an engineering apprenticeship and fork lift truck service engineer to Managing Director of first Hako Cleaning Machines to CEO of Lansing Linde, Britain’s largest lift truck maker.

On a personal note I have known Bernard for more than forty years, skied with him in the Alps and water-skied with him in Barbados. We worked in the same industries together as competitors and later colleagues and remained true friends. He will be sorely missed by all who truly knew him.


Bob Bischof
Chairman, German British Forum
3 June, 2019

News Uncategorized

Chair of German-British Chamber Patricia Godfrey retires from CMS

Patricia Godfrey, board chairman of the German British Chamber of Commerce and vice-president of the German British Forum, hosted a party to celebrate her retirement at CMS in London on 30 April.

More than 120 friends and colleagues, with both a large German and Irish contingent, joined Patricia to see her career “highlights reel” featuring photos of colleagues and clients down the years, and her first boss’s shopping list for How to be Good Associate, at CMS offices on Cannon Place.

After a career spanning more than 35-years in law, specialising in complex restructures and insolvencies, Patricia retired from the legal firm, where she had been a partner at first Nabarro LLP and then merged firm CMS since 1991, to pursue other business interests. She is developing new business interests and advising companies, especially those in craft industries, on strategy, growth and exports.

Patricia thanked colleagues old and new for supporting her through her career, mentioning several individuals at her first firm, Nabarro and CMS, as well as friends at the German British Chamber and clients.

A colleague and professional poet read a poem about her career full of warm anecdote and praise for her career and expertise. Senior partner at CMS Andrew Inkester made a tribute to her career, noting her “patrician” qualities of nobility, good education and application.

She remains a visiting lecturer at Kings College London on the International LLM programme and is on the Risk & Advisory Committee of Cockpit Arts – an award winning Social Enterprise based in Holborn & Deptford and the UK’s only business incubator for crafts people.

In the next phase of her life, Patricia wants to share the skills and experience gathered over the years with those in the early stages of their careers. She is developing her business network and is looking for opportunities to help companies grow.


Chances of a Brexit deal between May and Corbyn are becoming less and less likely

PUBLISHED by The New European: 20:40 05 May 2019 | UPDATED: 21:21 05 May 2019
Reproduced with permission of Denis MacShane.

The chances of some kind of harmonious coming together to secure a Brexit deal between Theresa May and Jeremy Corbyn seems less and less likely, says Denis MacShane.


The chances of a Brexit deal between the two leaders are becoming less likely by the day.

There are three principal reasons for this.

First, the main leader of the Labour Party, the shadow chancellor, John McDonnell, told the BBC on Sunday that Theresa May could not be trusted. He accused her of leaking key elements of the talks in an article Mrs May wrote for the Mail on Sunday, the most virulently anti-Labour of any national paper.

This showed “bad faith”, McDonnell declared.

While Number 10 has been busy briefing the media an agreement with Labour was in the bag, here was the main decision-maker on Labour policy saying the prime minister could not be trusted.

Mrs May has just made a splash by firing her defence secretary, Gavin Williamson, because he leaked too much and could not be trusted with confidential high level information.

Now Labour is throwing exactly the same accusation in Mrs May’s face. This is not the language or atmosphere in which Labour will roll over to become Mrs May’s little helper to try and win support in the Commons for her deal.

Second, Mrs May is desperate to avoid the European Parliament election taking place in the UK as they will see an even bigger humiliation for her party and its candidates than was inflicted on her last week when Conservatives suffered their biggest local council election defeat since 1995 just before Labour won power in 1997.

It really doesn’t matter whether the Liberal Democratic repeat their spectacular success in municipal votes, or if Nigel Farage’s sleazy list of dubious candidates does well, or maybe the new Change UK Party, or indeed Labour which can hope to pick up a fair share of anti-government, anti-May protest votes as it did in the General Election two years ago.

The Tories will be heavily outvoted and may lose all or most of their MEPs.

But why should Labour give Mrs May a life-line by allowing her to proclaim a big negotiating victory in persuading Labour to support her Brexit deal?

To be sure, there are some Labour MPs and one important trade union – Unite – and advisers close to Corbyn who all favour Brexit but few if any of them will want to hand a major political victory in the Commons this week to Mrs May when they can enjoy her upcoming defeat and further demoralisation and chaos inside the Conservative Party at the the end of the month when the European Parliament election results come in.

Third and finally, Labour has far less room for manoeuvre than is realised. Most Labour MPs, councillors, activists and party members saw the big defeat for the Tories last week and the big surge for the Liberal Democrats as evidence that Brexit was losing popularity and traction. A YouGov poll published on Friday showed 61% support for staying in Europe – the first time the 60% barrier has been passed.

It is not that all Labour MPs are now converted to Remain but they can see that leaving the Liberal Democrats and Greens as the only party whose candidates are opposed to Brexit is costing Labour votes as Labour also suffered significant losses in the municipal elections which is unprecedented 9 years into an unpopular Tory government.

So Labour will stick to its key policies – namely that any agreement with Mrs May must at a minimum have an explicit commitment to staying in the Customs Union so the UK, even after Brexit, accepts it is part of the EU trade negotiations system and is not going to start bi-lateral trade deal with the US to import hormone modified beef and chlorine washed chicken.

Vague words about a customs arrangement only valid until the next general election which could happen this year will not do.

In May 1940, the Labour leader Clement Attlee was instructed by the Labour National Executive Committee (NEC), the highest ruling organ of the party, to refuse any coalition under Neville Chamberlain. This opened the way to Churchill becoming prime minister with Attlee as his deputy.

In May 2019, the Labour NEC basing itself on a decision of the party conference last year, repeated its policy line that Labour wanted to see a public vote – a new referendum – on any deal Mrs May used to obtain her wished for Brexit.

The exact nature of that public vote or new referendum has been shrouded in ambiguity as Corbyn continues to sit on the fence separating a minority of his MPs who think Brexit cannot not be questioned and a majority of MPs and party members who now see the dangers to the economy and jobs of Brexit especially as proposed in Mrs May’s unworkable deal.

So if Corbyn were to agree to hold Theresa May’s hand this week he would produce a serious backlash from Labour and leading shadow cabinet members. He would also not be able to even think about helping her without a firm commitment by the prime minister to a new public vote on her deal.

She is unlikely to offer that promise but Jeremy Corbyn cannot repudiate the policy of his own party.

For all these reasons the chances of a deal emerging in the talks that restart on Tuesday between the government and Labour are very small indeed.

  • Denis MacShane is a former UK Minister for Europe

Briten von der Rolle

10 March 2019

Brexit for many is reaching a shitty stage. Now, on top of everything, the UK risks running out of toilet paper.

“Den Briten soll eine Klopapier-Krise bevorstehen, sollten sie ohne Abkommen die EU verlassen” says Markus Becker in Der Spiegel, picking up on a fact popularised by GBF board member Denis Macshane.

Click the Der Spiegel link above for the full story.