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Germany

From politics to the private sector - critics demand a grace period

Merkel confidant, Ronald Pofalla, wants to join German rail operater Deutsche Bahn's board of directors as its chief lobbyist. His intentions are driving a debate about a legal framework for 'post-politics' careers.

Even if Chancellor Merkel's outgoing chief of staff, Ronald Pofalla, doesn't join the board of directors of German rail operator Deutsche Bahn, the discussion about a grace period for politicians leaving political life for the private sector will certainly continue.

Nearly every day politicians comment on the topic. Merkel's CDU party cohort and European parliamentarian, Elmar Brok, has said, for example, that he considers a transitional period of one and a half years appropriate – depending on the individual case. Eva Högl, deputy leader of the SPD parliamentary group, holds out the prospect of a voluntary commitment of the government in the first months of 2014. She doesn't want to have a legal framework. That could easily lead to an "employment ban," said the legal expert in an interview with the Westdeutsche Allgemeine Zeitung newspaper.

Timo Lange from Lobbycontrol, a politival watchdog, is very familiar with this argument. Whenever a legal framework is demanded, politicians warn of an employment ban, according to his experience. "This line of reasoning is used to deny the need for action. I'm not convinced. It's not about an employment ban for politicians as it is often claimed," the political researcher from Berlin said. "The cooling-off period is about concrete regulations for individual cases and, as we see it, is limited to lobbying positions," he said.

Eva Högl (Foto: Seeliger/imago)

Eva Högl, deputy leader of the SPD parliamentary group, is opposed a legal framework

According to Lange, the discussion about Pofalla's switch to Deutsche Bahn is connected with Eckart von Klaeden's move to car manufacturer Daimler last year. The CDU member was also working at Angela Merkel's chancellery until the end of the CDU/FDP coalition. "Even if the public outcry wasn't as huge as it is now, his bold switch laid the ground for the uproar we see right now," he said. In addition, Pofalla is not taking a new job in the private sector, but in a public enterprise where he is rewarded with a salary in the millions for his merits as a politician. "I think that many people are now asking why Deutsche Bahn needs Pofalla now and why will he earn 1.3 to 1.8 million euros a year," said Lange.

International phenomenon

Hans Herbert von Arnim (Foto: Foto: Uwe Anspach dpa/lsw)

Hans Herbert von Arnim thinks that the job switch of Pofalla is a form of corruption

In France, job switching by politicians to a public enterprise is known as "pantouflage", which translates as "a switch to big slippers." There, too, directorships without job profiles are widely criticized. In the US, the phenomenon is known as 'revolving door'. In Japan, it is called 'amakudari' which literally means 'climbing down from the sky'. However, in Japan, there is a legal waiting period of two years.

Many observers are convinced that in the long run a legal framework is needed. But Hans Herbert von Arnim's call for a five year cooling-off period is not realistic. In an interview with the DPA news agency the well known critic of political cronyism called the Pofalla case a form of "paid corruption".

Timo Lange., on the other hand, is not prepared to go that far. For him, it is not a criminal case of corruption. His organization "Lobbycontrol" recommends a waiting period of three years. But he admits that it could take a long time before a majority for a legal framework can be found in the Bundestag. "I think there is a long road ahead of us," he said.

Pofalla keeps silent

Deutsche Bahn Logo (Foto: Arno Burgi/dpa)

Deutsche Bahn wants Pofalla as chief lobbyist

So far, Pofalla has not commented on the case. The most recent entry on his personal website, dated December 28, 2012, reads: "A Christmas tree from the forests of the Lower Rhine is in front of the chancellery."

Eight years ago, when he switched from his job as CDU General Secretary to the chancellery, he criticized former Chancellor Gerhard Schröder for taking a job on the board of directors at a subsidiary of Russian energy giant Gazprom. "People have the impression that Gerhard Schröder isn't in it for the gas, but for the cash," said Pofalla.

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