Obituary: Guido Brunner
Saturday 06 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
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