For Volker Wieland, the new year is all about his professional survival. By next month, Berlin will decide whether to re-appoint the economist to the prestigious German Council of Economic Experts, commonly known as the Five Economic Wise Men. The body is easily the most influential economic institution in Germany; every November, when the council publishes its annual economic report, the federal government is obliged to issue a formal reaction.
Given his fan mail, Mr. Wieland sounds like a shoe-in for a second five-year term. Steffen Kampeter, boss of the BDA employers’ association, recently showered Mr. Wieland with praise in a letter to the German finance ministry. Nominations are conducted on a rotating schedule. After Germany’s business community fills this council seat, the unions can do so next time.
This time, however, the re-appointment is anything but routine. For one thing, only one of these sages is a woman, something completely out of step with new German gender legislation. Some politicians also wonder whether Mr. Wieland is the right wonk for the job, and sensing his departure may be imminent, see an opportunity to reform the council, whose outlook is seen as stale and too narrow. In the SPD-led economics ministry, officials are calling for the council to deal more with forward-looking topics such as structural change and emerging technologies.
Mr. Wieland is a conservative economist who regularly bashes the European Central Bank and any moves towards greater debt-sharing in Europe – an unpopular thought in Germany, a long-time creditor nation. Some members of Angela Merkel’s conservative CDU fear that any reform could skew the council to the left, but this issue isn’t about Mr. Wieland’s political convictions. The council “is currently too focused on financial markets,” sighed one high-ranking official.