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“We need a revival of individual responsibility in the relationship between business and the state!”

Under the heading “A politician’s perspective on CPR”, we welcomed Michael Theurer, MdB as a guest at May’s edition of the CPR Talk series. Theurer, who currently serves as Parliamentary State Secretary to the Federal Minister for Digital and Transport, began the discussion by citing Hans-Dietrich Genscher's statement that there are “no longer any remote parts of the world”. For Theurer, this ongoing erosion of boundaries, accelerated though digitalization, evokes the question of legitimate rule setting. He welcomed the commitments made by companies to setting and enforcing social, environmental, and political sustainability standards yet stressed that economic actors in a liberal democracy face a “battle for public confidence” and therefore are under pressure to justify their actions.


But how can a division of labor between a state and companies be organized? And are corporations not facing the risk of exceeding their sphere of responsibility? Theurer argued that the state does not automatically have universal responsibility for solving all problems in society. He thus described the boundary between responsibilities of the state and those of the private sector as “subject to political debate” within a democracy. In his view, today’s threatening geopolitical environment contributes to an overburdening of governance structures while at the same time highlighting the importance of core responsibilities of the state, such as defence and policing. In reaction to this complex situation, he proposed a “revival of individual responsibility” as a part of a fundamental “re-evaluation of roles” between the state and the private sector. Greater support of the state by corporations in areas where its presence is not indispensable, Theurer argued, would fulfill the human desire to contribute to civic problem solving as a zoon politikon.


When asked whether CEOs should do more to participate in public discourse, Theurer mentioned the business tycoon Reinhold Würth and Christoph Werner, managing director of the drug store chain dm, as positive examples of democratic engagement. However, he expressed concerns about the lack of commitment shown by companies to promoting market-based solutions to the challenges of climate change. He also warned against yielding the floor to extremists whose political proposals run counter to the principles of a social market economy. Theurer took a similar view of criticism of Germany’s economic order: for him, the country’s subsidiary, decentralized system enables successful problem solving—even under the sometimes challenging circumstances of democratic decision making. According to Theurer, what is needed is not a change of the political system but a courageous commitment of all social actors.


Finally, Theurer spoke about the European Union and potential contributions from companies to strengthen it. He placed particular emphasis on the importance of the European single market for the German economy. Since significant parts of economic policy are by now negotiated at EU level, he recommended that particularly small- and medium-sized businesses actively engage in European regulatory debates.

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