German coalition attacks ‘beer tent’-style speech by Deutsche Börse chief

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Chancellor Olaf Scholz’s coalition has reacted with outrage to a rant from Germany’s stock exchange chief that savaged the government’s policies and said the EU’s largest economy risked becoming a “developing country”.

The speech by Deutsche Börse chief executive Theodor Weimer, which has gone viral on social media, reflects growing frustration among business leaders with Scholz’s government, a fractious coalition of Social Democrats, Greens and liberals, as it struggles to boost the economy.

They accuse it of not doing enough to deal with Germany’s woes, including a growing skills shortage, excessive bureaucracy, high energy prices and a heavy tax burden. Germany was the worst-performing major economy last year and the government has forecast that gross domestic product will only grow by 0.3 per cent in 2024.

But politicians from the governing parties were shocked by the populist tone of Weimer’s tirade, which some said evoked the rhetoric of the far-right Alternative for Germany.

“The bizarre . . . speech is more beer tent than Dax-listed company executive,” Verena Hubertz, deputy leader of the Social Democrats’ parliamentary group, told the Financial Times.

“Concrete criticism is always welcome but the indiscriminate bashing of politicians . . . damages our political culture and the prestige of the German economy,” Sandra Detzer, economic spokesman for the Greens, told the FT.

A spokesman for Deutsche Börse described Weimer as a “man of clear words” who is “not known for putting lipstick on the pig”. He said the chief executive’s comments were “largely based on conversations with international investors”, and he had already expressed them publicly “on various occasions”.

A former Goldman Sachs banker and chief executive of HypoVereinsbank, Weimer made the 17-minute speech on April 17 at a meeting of the Bavarian Economic Council, a conservative-leaning business lobby in the southern German state.

But it only surfaced on social media platform X on Friday. It was then widely shared by conservatives and rightwing economists who have long been highly critical of the coalition’s policies. 

Weimer said international investors found the Berlin government “stupid” — a view he said was shared by many of the country’s bosses — and were increasingly shunning Germany as a place to do business.

“Our image was never as bad as it is now,” he said.

Weimer, who is due to step down at Deutsche Börse by the end of the year, said international investment was only flowing into German companies because they were so undervalued. “We’ve become a junk shop,” he said.

He said he had held 18 meetings with Robert Habeck, the economy minister from the Green party, and “I can tell you: it’s an utter disaster”. The minister had started well, listened to business and done a few things right, he said, but “now the fundamentalists are coming through more and more”.

Weimer also criticised the government for, as he put it, “destroying” the country’s vital auto industry, pointing to the planned phaseout of petrol and diesel cars. Many critics of Germany’s auto-bosses have said that the car companies themselves are to blame for failing to invest enough in electric vehicles.

Weimer contrasted the situation in Germany with the attractiveness of the US, praising the way the Biden administration has provided billions in subsidies to clean technology providers under the Inflation Reduction Act.

Weimer said Germany had to stop being a “public economy” and be a “private economy”, adding: “In the US they say it doesn’t matter which old man is president — we as businessmen lead the country, and so we don’t care”.

Some German economists on social media pointed out the contradiction of demanding a smaller state on the one hand and more government subsidies on the other.

A spokesman for Scholz declined to comment.

But officials in Habeck’s economy ministry dismissed Weimer’s outburst as “pretty trite polemics”. They said the government had made huge strides in reducing bureaucracy, expanding renewable energy and simplifying immigration rules to help fill the skills gap.

They also rebuffed the suggestion that Germany was being shunned by international business, pointing to significant investments by Intel, TSMC, Eli Lilly and other big companies over the past three years.

“Most of the business chiefs I talk to have understood that the necessary modernisation of our economy won’t succeed by moaning about how ‘everything was better before’ but with energy, drive and innovation,” said Hubertz. “The dialogue with them seems to me to be a lot more productive.”

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