Obituary: Guido Brunner

Guido Brunner, diplomat and politician: born Madrid 27 May 1930; European Commissioner 1974-80; Senator for the Economy, West Germany 1981; German ambassador in Madrid 1982-92; married 1958 Dr Christa Speidel; died Madrid 2 December 1997.

Guido Brunner was one of the unsung architects of the Europe we have today. Had it not been for the goodwill towards Britain of Commissioner Brunner, the EEC thermo-nuclear fusion project (Jet) would not have been sited at Culham in Oxfordshire, or come to the United Kingdom at all.

Over two years of endless wrangling in the mid-1970s, Brunner clung to the belief that Jet should go to wheresoever it had the greatest chance of scientific success, and that meant Britain or Germany. As a German, he bravely told his fellow compatriots, and in particular his fellow German Commissioner, the powerful and raucous Vice-President Willi Haferkampf, and the French chairman of the Commission, Francois-Xavier Ortoli, that it was Britain's turn to host a major European scientific initiative. I had intimate first-hand knowledge of the debate, as one of the two British Labour members of the indirectly elected European Parliament Science and Energy Committee in 1976-79.

Even if the hopes of the 1970s that fusion would open up a new and virtually inexhaustible supply of energy for the 21st century have not been fulfilled, it in no way diminishes the importance of Brunner's persuasive powers or the significance of his contribution to the European ideal, by championing the choice of a country other than his own, when his own country was the realistic rival choice.

In many other areas Brunner, a free-marketeer by conviction, was helpful to Britain and its Labour ministers. One of those, with whom he had perhaps the greatest volume of business, the then Energy Minister, Tony Benn, recalls: "I last saw him by chance in the street in Madrid. He was passionately committed to the European ideal; I'm not. He was passionately committed to nuclear power; I'm not. And yet, as opposites, we worked constructively and well together and parted, as we always had been when we were both in office, the best of friends."

Like Benn, Brunner had some of the most impeccably good manners in public life, yet without a trace of smarminess. Another minister, the late John Smith MP, later to be leader of the Labour Party, then Benn's Parliamentary Secretary, asked me at the time: "How do you find Guido Brunner in the European Parliament? It's a joy to work with him when I go to ministerial meetings in Brussels."

Yet the greatest cause of Brunner's life was not the development of a European technological community but the easing of Spain back into the bosom of the European family. Ambassadors come and go but Brunner was the German ambassador in Madrid for a whole crucial decade, 1982-92, and became the intimate confidant of Felipe Gonzlez and held the proverbial hand of many Spanish politicians determined to return to democracy.

Indeed, Madrid was the city of his birth and to be the city of his death. Nothing in life gave him greater pleasure than to be made an honorary citizen of Madrid. His father, from a Bavarian family, and his mother, from a Swabian family, represented the Weimar Republic in Spain; Brunner senior's career was to founder through becoming persona non grata to Joachim von Ribbentrop, although he was protected for a time by his patron Franz von Papen, the German Chancellor before Hitler.

Brunner was educated partly at the Bergzabern School in Munich and at the German School in Madrid during the Second World War. Joining the Diplomatic Service in 1955, his first job was as Consular Attache in Liverpool - a city for which he retained a lifelong affection on account of the warmth of the people of Liverpool to a young German in his late twenties.

In 1976, I asked Brunner to come and stay over a weekend in Scotland. At a meeting of the West Lothian Labour Party over a subsequent supper, one of my more assertive and voluble constituents started a harangue on what he believed to be the unparalleled excellence of the Scottish football game. Brunner could take no more of this and quietly opined that he thought that a Mr Beckinbauer and a Mr Overath also knew, as he put it, how to kick a ball. It was done so gently, encapsulating Brunner's style, that even my loud-mouthed friend had to dissolve in laughter.

It then transpired that Brunner had an encyclopaedic knowledge of British football in the late 1950s. A Liverpool supporter? Oh no, eternally loyal to Everton - and Bayern Munich and Real Madrid. Like a very different character, his friend and austere fellow commissioner, the Dane Finn-Olaf Gundelach who came to a meeting a few weeks later, he was a huge success, winning the hearts of tough local trade-unionists.

After Liverpool, Brunner returned to the foreign minister's office where he was lucky to work for the Foreign Minister, Dr Heinrich von Brentano, who was to further his career. From 1960 to 1968 he was given the very important post of German observer to the United Nations in New York. An observer might on the surface have seemed to be a somewhat humble post, but actually it was of crucial importance.

Promoted to become Head of Scientific and Technological Relations Division of the Foreign Office for two years, subsequently Foreign Office spokesman between 1970 and 1972 and Head of the Planning Staff from 1972 to 1974, Brunner was qualified with the rank of ambassador and Head of Delegation to lead the German team to the security and co-operation conferences in Europe, at Helsinki and Geneva.

This made him an obvious choice to become the second German Commissioner in the European Community. He was given, on account of his experience, the important portfolio of energy, research, science and education. He was so highly thought of by the British Commissioner, George Thomson, now Lord Thomson of Monifieth, that as Chancellor of the Heriot-Watt University he initiated an honorary degree for Brunner.

Present at the ceremony, I heard the economic historian and politician Professor Alan Thompson, then the University Public Orator, say to Brunner as he presented it:

Dr Brunner has given authoritative and imaginative leadership over a wide range of research activities. He has shown special interest in industrial research into small and medium-sized industries, which, in spite of the growth of multi-national companies, still make a vital contribution to European prosperity.

Like the famous economist Dr Ernst Schumacher, he believes that small can be beautiful, and there is nothing inimical between the growth of large-scale markets such as Europe offers, and the preservation of that initiative and enterprise which small business can provide. In Britain particularly, the small firm sector can make a decisive contribution to employment and exports once the shackles of over-taxation and over-regulation are removed and Dr Brunner's own interest in this field are widely known.

One of Brunner's interests was medical research and he gave the greatest help to the late Professor John Kendrew in the establishment of the European Molecular Biology Centre in Karlsruhe. Three particular interests where the study of congenital abnormalities - a field in which compassion for the distress of malformed children can be given practical effect through new research techniques; new studies in the physiological processes of ageing; and the development of new types of heart-lung machines, capable of prolonged oxygenation.

With his wife, Dr Christa Brunner, the daughter of General Hans Speidel, a celebrated post-war German military leader, Brunner was a distinguished figure in re-establishing Germany at the forefront of civilisation.

- Tam Dalyell

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksA special investigation by Andy McSmith
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Photographer / Floorplanner / Domestic Energy Assessor

£16000 - £25000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Photographer/ Floor planner /...

Ashdown Group: Front-End Developer - Surrey - £40,000

£30000 - £40000 per annum: Ashdown Group: Front-End Developer - Guildford/Craw...

Recruitment Genius: Customer Service Assistant

£13500 - £15000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Customer Service Assistant is...

Recruitment Genius: Sales Executive - OTE £35,000

£16000 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: An ambitious and motivated Sale...

Day In a Page

Not even the 'putrid throat' could stop the Ross Poldark swoon-fest'

Not even the 'putrid throat' could stop the Ross Poldark swoon-fest'

How a costume drama became a Sunday night staple
Miliband promises no stamp duty for first-time buyers as he pushes Tories on housing

Miliband promises no stamp duty for first-time buyers

Labour leader pushes Tories on housing
Aviation history is littered with grand failures - from the the Bristol Brabazon to Concorde - but what went wrong with the SuperJumbo?

Aviation history is littered with grand failures

But what went wrong with the SuperJumbo?
Fear of Putin, Islamists and immigration is giving rise to a new generation of Soviet-style 'iron curtains' right across Europe

Fortress Europe?

Fear of Putin, Islamists and immigration is giving rise to a new generation of 'iron curtains'
Never mind what you're wearing, it's what you're reclining on

Never mind what you're wearing

It's what you're reclining on that matters
General Election 2015: Chuka Umunna on the benefits of immigration, humility – and his leader Ed Miliband

Chuka Umunna: A virus of racism runs through Ukip

The shadow business secretary on the benefits of immigration, humility – and his leader Ed Miliband
Yemen crisis: This exotic war will soon become Europe's problem

Yemen's exotic war will soon affect Europe

Terrorism and boatloads of desperate migrants will be the outcome of the Saudi air campaign, says Patrick Cockburn
Marginal Streets project aims to document voters in the run-up to the General Election

Marginal Streets project documents voters

Independent photographers Joseph Fox and Orlando Gili are uploading two portraits of constituents to their website for each day of the campaign
Game of Thrones: Visit the real-life kingdom of Westeros to see where violent history ends and telly tourism begins

The real-life kingdom of Westeros

Is there something a little uncomfortable about Game of Thrones shooting in Northern Ireland?
How to survive a social-media mauling, by the tough women of Twitter

How to survive a Twitter mauling

Mary Beard, Caroline Criado-Perez, Louise Mensch, Bunny La Roche and Courtney Barrasford reveal how to trounce the trolls
Gallipoli centenary: At dawn, the young remember the young who perished in one of the First World War's bloodiest battles

At dawn, the young remember the young

A century ago, soldiers of the Empire – many no more than boys – spilt on to Gallipoli’s beaches. On this 100th Anzac Day, there are personal, poetic tributes to their sacrifice
Dissent is slowly building against the billions spent on presidential campaigns – even among politicians themselves

Follow the money as never before

Dissent is slowly building against the billions spent on presidential campaigns – even among politicians themselves, reports Rupert Cornwell
Samuel West interview: The actor and director on austerity, unionisation, and not mentioning his famous parents

Samuel West interview

The actor and director on austerity, unionisation, and not mentioning his famous parents
General Election 2015: Imagine if the leading political parties were fashion labels

Imagine if the leading political parties were fashion labels

Fashion editor, Alexander Fury, on what the leaders' appearances tell us about them
Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka: Home can be the unsafest place for women

Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka: Home can be the unsafest place for women

The architect of the HeForShe movement and head of UN Women on the world's failure to combat domestic violence