Germany's most important business associations are rearranging themselves.
In the middle of the Corona crisis, Rainer Dulger is now taking over the presidency of the employers.
On Thursday he is to be elected to the head of the Federal Association of German Employers' Associations (BDA).
The entrepreneur is under enormous pressure of expectation: the 56-year-old is supposed to counteract the increasingly critical economic mood in the country.
Because not only the uncertainty in pandemic times, but also the concern about the future of the industrial location affects the companies.
With a view to the federal elections in the coming year and the possible participation of the Greens in government, many employers would like their umbrella organization to exert more force.
Indeed, Dulger would quickly become the main voice of business.
All the more so because other lobby associations hardly play a role at this extremely difficult time for the companies.
The German Chamber of Commerce and Industry (DIHK) was forbidden by a court decision in October to position itself in terms of economic policy in the future.
Since all companies are compulsory members of the Chamber of Industry and Commerce, the interest group must behave neutrally.
And because, according to lawyers, this justification can also be transferred to the Central Association of German Crafts (ZDH), it now also wears a muzzle.
In addition to the BDA, only the Federation of German Industries (BDI) remains for publicly visible profiling, where the top will also be filled at the turn of the year.
But Dulger is the only one who speaks for the economy as a whole, large and small companies, for industrial companies and all service providers.
The newcomer has good prerequisites for the demanding task: The engineer with a doctorate is an internationally experienced entrepreneur and association official.
In his main job he is managing partner of the medium-sized pump manufacturer Prominent.
The Heidelberg-based group of companies is active in more than 100 countries with a total of 2,700 employees.
Since 2012 Dulger has also been President of the Gesamtmetall employers' association.
In this function he had repeatedly struck sharp tones, both in relation to politics and the unions.
Last year, he suggested that Minister of Economic Affairs Peter Altmaier (CDU) resign.
“In acting, one would speak of a wrong cast,” Dulger told the “Stuttgarter Zeitung” at the time.
Either you have to rearrange the ensemble or the piece fails.
The minister indulges in fantasies and pleases himself with nice speeches, but does nothing.
With this devastating judgment of the entrepreneur, the criticism of Altmaier's will to shape industrial policy reached a new high point.
And the CDU man was forced to revise his “Industrial Strategy 2030” again.
"The federal government has done what it could"
Shortly thereafter, Dulger also distributed to IG Metall.
If the union continues to go overboard with its demands and overload collective agreements, they shouldn't be surprised if more and more companies are abandoning the area-wide tariff, he warned the employee representatives.
And if all companies leave the collective bargaining agreement, the union can watch as it struggles through the urban warfare.
He spoke from the soul of many entrepreneurs who, as a result of the collective bargaining agreement in the metal and electrical industry in 2018, were annoyed, among other things, about the practice of choosing vacation money, which enabled some employees to choose between special payments and days off .
However, Dulger can also do very different things.
In the course of the Corona crisis, he was remarkably friendly.
“The federal government has done what it could,” he said in the summer in an interview with WELT.
After all, the grand coalition to support the economy had recently decided on a gigantic rescue package in a hurry.
He missed a purchase premium for clean diesel and gasoline engines in the stimulus package that had just been decided.
But otherwise there is “a lot of right things”.
And since then, the GroKo has repeatedly topped up, which is why the business associations are currently very reluctant to criticize basic regulatory policy.
As the employer’s president, Dulger will have to find a balance between aggressive demands and restraint.
Employer President Ingo Kramer, who is leaving after seven years, has generally shown himself to be willing to compromise in dialogue with politicians.
With sharp tones you can make it into the headlines, but you can achieve more in many small conversations, said Kramer, looking back.
One year before the general election
The 67-year-old is now leaving just under a year before the next federal election and before the end of his regular term of office, which lasts until autumn 2021.
This means that Dulger's successor has enough time to get used to it until the election campaign really starts and the course for the next few years is set after the polls.
Should there be a black-green alliance for the first time, industry in particular would have to prepare for a more ambitious climate protection policy.
Many industry representatives already fear for the future of entire industries and are now relying on Dulger to be heard in politics.
In the economy, people think with nostalgia of the times after the turn of the millennium, when the then Chancellor Gerhard Schröder (SPD) liked to gather entrepreneurs, association bosses and trade unionists to discuss the needs and concerns of the economy.
And the then Minister of Economics and Labor, Wolfgang Clement (SPD), had a close relationship with managers, entrepreneurs and, above all, with Dieter Hundt, the employer president at the time.
With the social reforms of Agenda 2010 and the Hartz reforms on the labor market, Schröder's red-green coalition implemented many of the wishes of the employers.
When Angela Merkel became head of government in 2005, business circles expected that the CDU would implement its extremely business-friendly election promises including a significant tax cut in the grand coalition it led.
But Merkel - who initially ruled with the SPD, then a legislative period with the FDP and since then again with the Social Democrats, who have slipped further to the left - has gradually repositioned the Union instead.
Instead of lowering taxes, the welfare state was steadily expanded, new labor market regulations were introduced and the focus is now on simultaneously phasing out nuclear and coal energy.
The pandemic ended the long upswing abruptly.
When the acute crisis is over, the course will be set.
Whether Dulger can fulfill the hopes placed in him also depends on who will inherit Merkel.