Former German FDP leader Martin Bangemann is dead

The former German Economics Minister, EU Commissioner and leader of the FDP has died at the age of 87. In his offices, he attracted attention not least because of his unpredictability. At the end of his political career, he became a scandal in the eyes of the public.

Living according to the pleasure principle: Martin Bangemann, here in January 1985 at the “Green Week” agricultural fair in Berlin.


He was a man with a gargantuan appetite, for food, for books and for ideas. Files interested him less; he prefers to read novels. Officials who worked under him often found him undisciplined. “I love life, I’m a liberal,” was Martin Bangemann’s motto as party leader of the German FDP.

He repeatedly gave in to the pleasure principle: On the return flight from South America, the “Spiegel” reported, the plane of the then Economics Minister made a stopover in Senegal. The minister only took ten minutes to meet the economic attaché of the German embassy, ​​who had gone to the airport to explain the situation in West Africa to Bangemann. He wanted to get back on the plane to continue a game of skat with journalists.

Martin Bangemann was born in 1934 in Wanzleben in today’s state of Saxony-Anhalt. Like his party colleague Hans-Dietrich Genscher, he left the young GDR before the Wall was built. In the west he studied law and worked as a lawyer. He found a new home in Metzingen at the foot of the Swabian Alb, the town where his wife came from.

Between Bonn, Strasbourg and Brussels

Bangemann’s political life took place largely between Bonn, Strasbourg and Brussels. In 1972 he was elected to the Bundestag for the first time; a year later, his fellow MEPs sent him to the European Parliament, which was not yet elected by the citizens at the time. In 1979, at the first European elections in history, he again entered the Strasbourg body as his party’s top candidate. Five years later he was voted out of this and shifted the focus of his activities back to Bonn.

Bangemann was also unpredictable as a party politician: in 1971 he was involved in the Freiburg Theses of the FDP, which were intended to provide a theoretical foundation for the social-liberal course of the party at the time. In 1975 he was replaced as General Secretary of the FDP after just one year. His party colleagues were bothered by Bangemann’s chaotic working style; His undoing, however, was that he called for an end to the alliance with the SPD and a shift towards the CDU.

Ahead of his time: Martin Bangemann (left) and Hans-Dietrich Genscher, here at the FDP party conference in December 1985.

Ahead of his time: Martin Bangemann (left) and Hans-Dietrich Genscher, here at the FDP party conference in December 1985.

Sven Simon / United Archives / Imago

He was ahead of his time: in 1982 the FDP changed coalition partners; the Christian Democrat Helmut Kohl became the new chancellor. In 1984, Bangemann succeeded his party colleague Otto Graf Lambsdorff, who had stumbled upon a party donation scandal, as Economics Minister. Bangemann remained true to his style: once he promised Greece the delivery of 75 tanks; 50 had been planned. The Foreign Ministry had to finance the additional costs from a special fund.

The relationship between Bangemann and his party colleagues deteriorated again; In 1988 he fell out with Lambsdorff, who had meanwhile replaced him as head of the FDP. The only way out was Brussels: in 1989 Bangemann became EC commissioner, first for the internal market and four years later for industrial policy and telecommunications. His term of office ended in 1999, when the Commission at the time, headed by the Luxembourger Jacques Santer, resigned. In doing so, she forestalled a motion of no confidence from the EU Parliament, which the European Parliament had wanted to submit because of allegations of corruption.

In the eyes of the German public, Bangemann has now become a scandal: his move to the Spanish Telefónica group fueled the suspicion of wanting to monetize insider knowledge from his time as commissioner. He was bored to death in Brussels, he explained to the then German Chancellor Gerhard Schröder of his new engagement. A case before the European Court of Justice, which the EU Council had brought against Bangemann, was dropped after the ex-commissioner promised not to represent any third party in dealings with the EU bodies for two years.

He spent the last years of his life in western France, where he had retired with his library of more than 10,000 books. Martin Bangemann died on Tuesday at the age of 87 in the Deux-Sèvres department.

Files quickly bored him: Martin Bangemann and his wife Renate, here in August 1984 on Lake Constance.

Files quickly bored him: Martin Bangemann and his wife Renate, here in August 1984 on Lake Constance.

Sven Simon / United Archives / Imago

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