Centre news

Johannes Lindner in an interview with the Hertie Foundation

The Jacques Delors Centre's new Co-Director talks about his ambitions for the centre and assesses upcoming challenges in terms of economic and financial policy in Europe. 

The following interview first appeared on the Hertie Foundation's website

"We need more European solutions for the challenges of the future."

For about three months now, Dr. Johannes Lindner (48) has been Co-Director of the Jacques Delors Centre (JDC) at the Hertie School in Berlin, where he coordinates the development of concrete ideas for future-oriented European policies. As a fellow of the newly created Henrik Enderlein Fellowship, funded by the Mercator Foundation, Johannes Lindner will also research and teach on EU economic and financial policy. Two new hats, then - and a lot of fresh air in Berlin. In our interview, Johannes Lindner tells us what impulses the political scientist and economist wants to provide, what he thinks the state of Europe is, and what memories connect him with Henrik Enderlein, the former president of the Hertie School, who passed away in May 2021. 

You coordinated the ECB's relations with the EU institutions as head of department at the European Central Bank before joining the Jacques Delors Centre. What is the most noticeable difference for you between the two organizations?

At the ECB, there was never any discussion about the relevance of what you produced for President Christine Lagarde or the other board members. The relevance is just inherently there. At the Jacques Delors Centre, we have to work harder to achieve that relevance, that is, the weight of our work and our voice. On the other hand, at the ECB, there is less freedom in the way that employees can implement their own positions and ideas in a self-determined way. There are more possibilities in a smaller organisation, and it is exciting for me to experience how much more agile we can react to new challenges in processes and content. 

The Jacques Delors Centre is named after the former President of the European Commission and founder of "modern Europe". What makes the JDC special?

The JDC has a special design in two respects. On the one hand, we try to bring Germany and the other countries more together in terms of European policy. We work closely with the Jacques Delors Institutes in Brussels and Paris and thus have a certain mediating function: we explain in Berlin what direction the EU is taking and to our European partners how certain positions are arrived at in Berlin. In addition, the JDC builds a bridge between science and practice. We have a think tank section, which I head, and a research section, which Markus Jachtenfuchs heads. The link between the scientific view of European policy and think tank practice is very fruitful and we will expand it even more in the future.   

What new impulses do you want to set as Co-Director and Head of the think tank?

We are currently in an exciting time in Berlin - in the much-cited "Zeitenwende". It's a question of filling this term with even more life. What does the "Zeitenwende" mean in concrete terms for the German government's European policy? To what extent can Europe offer solutions to the new challenges of our time? At the Jacques Delors Centre, we can and want to play a supporting role by driving this debate forward and offering answers.  

At the same time, you are also a Henrik Enderlein Fellow at the Hertie School. How do you do justice to both hats?

I only see connections there. Henrik Enderlein founded the think tank and later transferred it to the Hertie School when he became its President. Henrik stood, as hardly anyone else, for the connection between politics and research. He was a bridge builder between Berlin and the rest of Europe. I had known him since our student days and we were colleagues at the ECB. I always admired his energy and foresight. 

More specifically, as a Fellow at the Hertie School, I will teach a course on EU economic and fiscal policy. Building also on Henrik Enderlein's work, I plan to do research myself on how fiscal policy can be more integrated in the EU.  

What draws you to your current position? Why the move from the ECB to Berlin in the first place?

Germany plays an important role in shaping European policy. If Germany shows a willingness to shape policy, it can help Europe move forward enormously. That was the case, for example, with "NextGenerationEU," the EU's reconstruction plan, which decisively mitigated the economic consequences of the COVID-19 pandemic. At the same time, however, I have also experienced what it is like when Germany stands on the brakes and opposes proposals from the Commission or other member states. So it appealed to me to go where the will to shape things arises - or does not - and that is Berlin.

We are currently living in crisis mode. What challenges do you see in terms of economic and financial policy in Europe? What should Germany set its sights on?

Germany will have to rethink its economic model and reposition itself structurally. For too long, we have underestimated the threats to world trade and to access to energy and raw materials, thus building up dependencies that need to be adjusted. Europe and its internal market can play an important role here. And in the areas of energy security and climate change in particular, national solutions are not enough; there must be even more European action.  

How do you assess Germany's relationship with France? It has been said recently that the mood is cloudy and communication is not ideal?

Germany and France are still a very important duo for Europe. Temporary difficulties in communication or coordination do not change that. As in any relationship, there are ups and downs. At the moment, we are dealing with very difficult issues. That's why it takes time and talks. But I am optimistic that we will find each other again and work out joint solutions.

Liberal democracy is under pressure. How do you see the state of democracy in Europe?

To meet the challenges of the future, we need to find solutions at the European level. But these must be accepted by the citizens. The democratic legitimacy of the EU should be improved, but not fundamentally called into question. The 2024 European election is very central for me. In the last European elections, we managed to prevent a further decline in voter turnout and the feared victory of populist forces did not materialise. I would like the 2024 European elections to be even more of a directional election. Do we want a Union with more effective decision-making processes and more competences in the areas of energy, climate, health and security? Should we reform the EU treaties to this end after more than 15 years? Or do we want more national sovereignty and less coordination? The European elections should lead to broad debates on this; then citizens can really help shape what agenda the European Commission should ultimately pursue.  

Who would you like to have a coffee with if you had the choice?

When I took up my new position in Berlin in October, I wrote a letter. It went to Jacques Delors, who is now 97 years old. I also enclosed a photo that was taken in 1999. It shows Jacques Delors and me. At that time I was still a young student and heard him at a conference in Bonn. I had driven there from my place of study, Cologne, especially because of him. Later, when he was standing next to me, I asked a friend to take the picture. I sent this picture to Jacques Delors and told him that it was a great honour for me to run this centre in Berlin that bears his name. I know that he has read the letter. It has not yet come to a meeting. I would be very happy if it works out with a coffee with Jacques Delors during my next visit to Paris.  

The interview was conducted by Rena Beeg for the Hertie Foundation. 

Johannes Lindner (left) in 1999 as a young student with Jacques Delors, who spoke on EU policy at a Friedrich Ebert Stiftung event in Bonn.