Veronika Grimm and the dispute in the Council of Economic Wise Men

Veronika Grimm and the dispute in the Council of Economic Wise Men

Never before has a power struggle in the Economic Council been carried out so publicly: Four of the five economists are publicly positioning themselves against their council colleague Veronika Grimm – because she wants to be on the supervisory board of Siemens Energy.

This article is adapted from the business magazine Capital and is available here for ten days. Afterwards it will only be available to read at again. Capital belongs like that star to RTL Germany.

Can an economy sit on the supervisory board of a DAX company at the same time? No, say four of the five members of the Advisory Council for the Assessment of Overall Economic Development – in short: the economists. Veronika Grimm, an economics professor at the Technical University of Nuremberg, is to join the supervisory board of Siemens Energy – which, according to other economists, represents an insoluble conflict of interest.

“We would therefore like to ask you to decide on one of the two mandates if you are elected to the SEAG supervisory board,” write Achim Truger, Monika Schnitzer, Ulrike Malmendier and Martin Werninges in an email to Grimm, which includes, among other things the “Handelsblatt” quoted and which also went to Chancellor Wolfgang Schmidt (SPD) and Economics Minister Robert Habeck (Greens).

What sounds like a normal personality has thrown the entire future of economists into turmoil. Because Veronika Grimm is not just anyone, but one of the most renowned economists in the country. Only Achim Truger sits on the Council of Economists longer. And Grimm made a name for herself especially during the energy crisis, as she helped develop the energy price cap. The response among economists is correspondingly great. They have very mixed opinions about Grimm’s dual role.

Most people agree that, from a legal point of view, there is nothing wrong with Grimm. Grimm also takes this position, as can be seen from a news story quoted by the “Handelsblatt”. When asked to choose one of the two roles, Grimm replied: “As you know, membership on a supervisory board in a German stock corporation is not legally objectionable.” This has happened more often in the past, argues the economist.

Grimm declined to comment when contacted by Capital. However, she told “Spiegel” that she was astonished by the criticism and calls for her colleagues to resign. Grimm said that she had the Federal Ministry of Economics and the Chancellery check in advance whether the supervisory board mandate was compatible with her role in the Advisory Council. There were no concerns there.

So far there have only been three similar cases

A similar case has only occurred three times in the past, according to those in the economic circles: Firstly, in 2011 with Wolfgang Franz, who was then on the supervisory board of the energy supplier EnBW. Like Grimm, it was also about an energy theme. “But in 2011, when Franz was on the council, energy didn’t play as key a role as it does today. He was also an expert on the labor market,” said the economist.

It was similar with Beatrice Weder di Mauri (Thyssenkrupp) in 2012 and with Jürgen Donges (Mannesmann) in 1995. In their daily research work, neither of them dealt with the topics that they might have to decide on in the supervisory board. The late Donges was a development researcher, Weder di Mauri was an expert in financial systems and banks. Neither di Mauri resigned from her position on the Advisory Council when she later became a board member of the major Swiss bank UBS.

Grimm lacks this integrity and instinct, argue the four other members of the Advisory Council. Even if there is no reason to raise legal objections to the appeal: “In public perception, however, awareness of compliance issues has increased,” they were quoted as saying in a press release.

None of the members want to see this as a personal attack – even if it is more or less an open secret that Grimm is sometimes considered to be difficult to work with. The fact that the dispute is even reaching the outside world raises questions. The Handelsblatt is not the only one who suspects this is a welcome opportunity for members to get rid of a committee member who has become unpopular. Above all, Grimm and Schnitzer are said to cross paths.

Truger: It’s not about personal rivalries

“It is nonsense that it is now being claimed that it is about personal rivalries or about getting rid of an unpopular critic of the red-green government policy,” says economist Truger to Capital. In 2022, for the first time in over 20 years, a council report was published without a minority vote. “It’s about the conflict of interest, which we have discussed internally several times. We are really serious about the fact that we see a problem here.”

His colleague Martin Werding in “Wirtschaftswoche” also agrees with this. “It’s not an attack. I value Veronika Grimm professionally and personally. I can well understand why Siemens Energy wants her, and in my opinion there are too few rather than too many scientists on the company’s supervisory boards. But in this case there are “The possible conflicts of interest are serious and obvious,” said Werding.

His colleague Monika Schnitzer, professor in Munich, is clearer. “Not everything that is legal is legitimate. You have to decide on a mandate,” Schnitzer told the TableMedia portal. This is legally possible, but the conflicts of interest at a company like Siemens Energy are “already very large,” emphasized Schnitzer. “Siemens Energy is the relevant company for energy transformation.”

Bert Rürup, for example, a former economist and namesake of the Rürup pension, sees it differently. “The procedure surprises me very much. I don’t know such an approach from my time as chairman of the Advisory Council,” he told the Handelsblatt, for which he works as chief economist. Despite all the substantive differences, the council has still managed to come together personally.

Source: Stern

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