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21/03/2019 – Martin Auerbach’s column — auf Deutsch lesen

A point of view

When will the authorities finally start accepting responsibility again, and when will brave members of staff start making helpful and productive decisions?

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Martin Auerbach, Chief Executive Officer of the German Home Textiles Federation (Verband der Deutschen Heimtextilien-Industrie e.V.) © Verband der Deutschen Heimtextilien-Industrie

 

It has been an observable phenomenon for many years that staff employed in public authorities duck out of making any clear statements. It is something that affects not only federal bodies but also regional supervisory authorities. Instead of taking responsibility and making a definitive statement that would constitute a reliable basis for business decisions, they happily serve up a non-committal assessment that does not even approach the core of the issue and is thus quite unhelpful. Alternatively, they may mention their own lack of authority on the matter or refer one to other public bodies.

An incredible flood of regulations

Increasingly, German businesses are being choked by the sheer flood of regulations. Amongst our members, the need for self-regulation is reaching a level where the cost of fulfilling it represents a far from insignificant proportion of the calculated price.

It is undoubtedly right that in terms of health and safety at work, employee protection should be given top priority. Consumers, too, need protecting from harmful products. But given this, it must also be the role of the authorities to ensure clarity in areas such as legally compliant safety labelling for products. Sadly, the reality is somewhat different: even qualified and specialist employees of professional associations are regularly fobbed off with pointless information, or the bodies they have called for clarification draw attention to their own lack of authority in the matter. Things become particularly interesting when two public bodies each try to pin responsibility on the other, as the Federal Ministry for the Environment and the Federal Institute for Occupational Safety and Health did in the case of what was then the new Biocides Regulation.

Responsibilities?

Just as frustrating as a non-decision is a negative decision reached purely on the grounds of an arbitrarily strict rather than favourable interpretation of a regulation. And then you have committees in one of the German states bringing out a set of guidelines for the regional regulatory bodies relating to a federal statute – guidelines that ultimately contradict the unambiguous wording of the Act, even though it is the national authorities rather than the individual states that are responsible for federal law.

Do not brake, but support!

Doubtless there are also examples of the opposite. In our daily work of providing advice, however, our experience of the authorities is that they tend to act as brakes rather than providing support. In our view, the latter is what the authorities ought to be, since our prosperity depends, after all, on economic performance.

There is an urgent need in our public bodies for more people who trust themselves to take responsibility, and to make decisions with conviction and with a healthy degree of common sense. Regrettably, seeking never to make a mistake is a traditionally German characteristic. This calls to mind an old joke about public authorities: put in a lot of work and you will make lots of mistakes; if you do little work you will make few mistakes, and if you do no work at all you will make none. And those who make no mistakes get promoted.

Martin Auerbach, Hauptgeschäftsführer Verband der Deutschen Heimtextilien-Industrie e.V.