Wilhelm Haferkamp : Obituaries

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The Independent Online
No one in Brussels took more trouble to welcome the new indirectly elected Labour delegation to the European Parliament in 1976 than the British Commissioners, Christopher Soames and George Thomson. "What I do not understand," said Soames, then a vice-president of the Commission, to me, "is why you people don't seem to hit it off with Willi Haferkamp, your socialist colleague. It seems to me rather silly of you, since Willi is one of the heavyweights here, whatever the outward appearances, and a power to be reckoned with."

Soames was right. For at least the first decade of his time in Brussels Wilhelm Haferkamp was a heavyweight; for 17 years, from 1967 to 1984, first as Energy Commissioner and then from 1973 to 1980 in charge of the economic and financial affairs portfolio and, finally, from 1980 as Foreign Affairs Commissioner, Haferkamp was a man whose opinions, positive or negative, mattered. He was one of the early architects of the European Community as we have come to know it.

Rebuked by Soames, I asked to see Haferkamp about aspects of my work as a member of the Budget Subcommittee (the equivalent of a public accounts committee) relating to fraud. On entering the room, he took me by the proverbial scruff of the neck. What wasI going to do about the style and manners of my fellow Brit member of the budgets committee - "Milord Bruce von Donington"? When I said that I could not be my brother's keeper in this particular instance, Haferkamp snorted - there is no other word for it - that "Stewart should discipline this Bruce". That Michael Stewart as leader of the delegation and former Foreign Secretary into the bargain could not behave towards his recalcitrant colleagues in the imperious boss style of Haferkamp's patron Herbert Wehner, floor leader of the Bundestag, Haferkamp appeared not to understand.

Partly because I understood German and Haferkamp was ill at ease in English I learnt a good deal about him. He resented the fact that both Tories and Labour thought that the British parliamentary ways were God's gift to the European Community. Who on earth did we think we were, supposing that House of Commons question time was of any use in Brussels? Haferkamp believed not in adversarial politics but in constructive consensus. He thought our parliamentary tradition put too much emphasis on what was faci le and glib (muhelos und flussig). He tempered his disdain for the aggressive style of Lord Bruce with high regard for two young Labour members - John Evans and John Prescott. "They seem to me," Haferkamp said, "to speak of the serious concerns of indust rial workers."

John Evans, who was most effective as chairman of the European Parliament Employment Committee, tells me that he reciprocated Haferkamp's regard. "He was hard-working, he had complete integrity and he deeply cared about the European working man and working woman." Indeed the serious concerns of industrial workers were what Haferkamp was all about, until at least his last somewhat Epicurean years in Brussels.

Wilhelm Haferkamp was a child of the Ruhr. Born into a family of chemical workers in Duisburg, Haferkamp had a conventional teenagehood - in so far as teenagehood for a conforming family could be conventional in the circumstances of emerging Nazi Germany. Later he told me that he had automatically joined the Wehr-macht and seen service at the battle of Kursk in an artillery unit. He had been lucky as a 20-year-old to avoid death and capture at the hands of the Red Army and had nearly lost his life in the retreat near Konigsberg, then in east Prussia.

Fortunately, he got the opportunity to study economics in Cologne, then rising like a phoenix from the ashes under a controlling hand of Burgmeister Konrad Adenauer - for whom Haferkamp retained a respect which in British politics is not so usually accorded to opponents. Being educated in post-war Cologne's burnt ruins would influence anyone for life in favour of co-operation with other countries.

I strongly suspect that Haferkamp's coolness towards the British lay in what the RAF had done to his home city of Duisburg and to his university city of Cologne. Indeed, my Budgets Committtee chairman, the courageous Erwin Lange, member of the Bundestag for Essen, told me as much. Haferkamp got the position of head of the Social Affairs Department of the German Trade Union Federation. He also became very important in the provincial government of Nordrhein-Westfalen, where he was a member of the government and one of the representatives of the state of the Federal Executive of the SPD. I learnt from him how influential parts of countries could be in Brussels. However, when I explained the particular Scottish problem which has now again reared its head in acute form, he said to me, "I can only give you the same answer that Helmut Schmidt gave you in response to the same problems which you have poured out to me on Scotland. I have 17 million Bavarians and Franz-Josef Straus s."

What emerged was the amount of good that Brussels could do for large regions like Strathclyde in Scotland or the big metropolitan counties in England. That was one of Haferkamp's visions of Europe perfected from his experience of the German Lander.

In the Social Democrat Party he was one of the architects of the framework of economic and political orientation put forward by the SDP and approved by the Federal Party Conference in Mannheim on 14 November 1975 - "The idea of Socialism encompasses the goal of a new, better order of society and the way to achieve it. The concrete shaping of [the] goal and the way to it, in continuously changing social conditions, must be redefined incessantly." Socialism, thought Haferkamp and his friends, was "a c ontinuing, constant task". Their aim was "to revise the entrepreneurial constitution by legislation". The objective was to give workers a status in the entrepreneurial order equal to that of the shareholders. To this end the Supervisory Councils which appoint, control and remove the managements of enterprises are to have the same number of labour and capital members. Over and beyond this the social and personnel department of enterprises, consonant to its importance, must be commensurately and independently represented in management.

Haferkamp brought the spirit of Mannheim to Brussels.

When the British, indirectly elected Labour delegation knew him Haferkamp worked hard on the details of the crucially important multi-fibre agreements. He was also involved with the proposal for the creation of a European export bank and the problems facing the community in the field of export financing in general.

Alas, whereas he had worshipped the style of the German Walter Hallstein and had worked well with Dutch Commissioners of the calibre of Sicco Mansholt and Pierre Lardinois, he did not appreciate the style of Roy Jenkins. In his European diary Jenkins describes Haferkamp as "a German trades unionist of generous instincts and indulgent tastes who possessed most of the attributes of a good Commissioner except for that of application. If he did not take his job too seriously he at least had the advantage," said Jenkins, "of not taking himself so either." This was not the Haferkamp I had known.

Jenkins complains that he was "sometimes a little difficult to find. He reminded me in this respect only of a now dead friend of mine who was briefly a not very diligent Member of Parliament and replied to a message of rebuke and recall from his Chief Whip by telegraphing from the Ritz Hotel, Madrid: `You must take me as you find me - if you can find me.' '' By 1979 Haferkamp's penchant for travelling in style, or, to borrow Roy Jenkins's word for it, "caravanserai", led to difficulty and a look at all the problems of Commissioners' expenses. The Director- General of Haferkamp's directorate, the British ex-Cabinet official Sir Roy Denman, constantly referred to him as "the old Willi" with affection.

The end of Haferkamp's time as a Commissioner was clouded by the controversy of his travelling expenses and what was seen as the inappropriateness of Madame van Hoof, a well-known European lady, accompanying him on an important visit to China. I however prefer to remember what Haferkamp did in opening up relations between the European Community and China, about which he felt passionately. It had become clear, he reported to the Parliament on his talks with Chairman Hua in 1978, "how much political and economic importance the Chinese government attaches to co-operation with the European Community, over and above co-operation with individual member states." Time and again during that same speech Haferkamp pressed on the MEPs that what was important was n ot the legalistic aspects of his agreement or the technical details, but the spirit of new co-operation between East and West. Here was a big man who got his priorities right.

Haferkamp's final years in Brussels as representative of Hamburg and Schleswig- Holstein were but a pale shadow of the power that he had previously been. His successor as Energy Commissioner Guido Brummer came to speak for me in my constituency in 1977 and said that, because Willi Haferkamp did not speak English, history would underrate his very real contribution to the early years of the European Economic Community. I believe Brummer's judgement was just.

Wilhelm Haferkamp, politician: born Duisburg, Germany 1 July 1923; Commissioner for Energy, EEC 1967-73, a Vice-President of the Commission 1970-84, Commissioner for Economic Affairs and Statistical Office 1973-77, Commissioner for External Relations 1977-84; married 1951 Ursula Bartz; died Brussels 18 January 1995.