gender equality

Berlin wants second woman to join the 'Wise Men'

Pk Sachverständigenrat in Frankfurt
And then there were four. Source: DPA

For the past month, the German government’s main five-member economic advisory panel has been reduced to four because of a battle over the gender of the absent fifth member. Politicians in Berlin are blocking the reappointment of economist Volker Wieland to the prestigious German Council of Economic Experts, commonly known as the Five Economic Wise Men. Mr. Wieland’s contract expired on February 28.

Katarina Barley, a former family minister and member of the center-left Social Democrat party, blocked the appointment earlier this year because only one woman sits on the panel. Her replacement, Franziska Giffey, continued the veto, citing new legislation in effect since January 1 that requires government councils at the national level to “work toward” having half of their seats occupied by women. It’s the first time the government has hesitated in an appointment to the council.

The council enjoys more leeway than its opposite numbers abroad, such as America’s Council of Economic Advisors, which typically departs when the US president’s term ends.

German business representatives recommended Mr. Wieland’s reappointment.

Mr. Wieland’s reappointment was bumpy even before the gender discussion. The council is heavily weighted toward financial market experts, something that was heralded in the wobbly days of the last financial crisis.

Of the body’s five members, economist Lars Feld is devoted to fiscal and social policy; Isabel Schnabel, the only woman on the board, to fiscal policy alone despite a background in banking regulation; and Mr. Wieland to monetary policy. Peter Bofinger is responsible for European policy but is a monetary policy specialist by training. The council’s chair, Christoph Schmidt covers the labor market, structural policy, energy policy, digitization and social policy all by himself.

With Mr. Wieland blocked, the most talked-about replacements are globalization expert Dalia Marin, competition economist Monika Schnitzer and Nicola Fuchs-Schündeln, who just won the prestigious Leibniz prize for her research into economic norms and ethics. Both Ms. Marin and Ms. Schnitzer are professors in Munich while Ms. Fuchs-Schündeln is a professor in Frankfurt.

Adding to the challenge is that German business representatives, who get to have a say in one of the appointments, recommended Mr. Wieland. Next year, it will be the turn of union representatives, who might be more sympathetic to the push for gender equality. In the meantime, the situation is nowhere near being resolved – and Mr. Wieland is languishing without a job.

Martin Greive is a correspondent for Handelsblatt based in Berlin. Andrew Bulkeley is an editor for Handelsblatt Global in Berlin. To contact the authors: greive@handelsblatt.com, a.bulkeley@handelsblattgroup.com.

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