Jürgen Steinemann: Clear signal against collectivisation fantasies

Handelskonzern Metro

“What had got into Jürgen Steinemann? What does he get out of it”, asked the Süddeutsche Zeitung provocatively – and harshly criticised the Metro supervisory board chairman: his behaviour contradicted “the spirit of co-determination”. Using the double voting right to push through the sale of the Real department store chain against the will of the employees raises fundamental corporate governance issues, the Süddeutsche Zeitung said. With all due respect: Jürgen Steinemann has made use of an option that the legislator has granted the committee chairmen for good reasons. Blockades on the Supervisory Board lead to deadlock – and would therefore certainly not be in the interest of a company, its stakeholders and Germany as a business location. Especially in times of digital transformation.

How do co-determination and stakeholder value fit together?

Co-determination must not lead to the collectivisation of which Juso boss Kevin Kühnert recently dreamed: Those who bear entrepreneurial responsibility must have the last word in case of doubt – otherwise we reduce incentives for entrepreneurial commitment and rob the market economy of its strengths. And let’s not fool ourselves: Employee representatives often pursue their own interests just as much as investors; the well-being of the company sometimes takes a back seat to them. So what we need is not more co-determination but more co-ownership – and we should also question whether co-determination in its current form fits into the stakeholder value age. While shareholders nominate experts from science and civil society, the employee bloc usually remains homogeneous. Does this result in an overweight at the expense of other stakeholders? And how can we prevent this without sacrificing the undeniable advantages of co-determination? We advocate discussing these questions – committed, but without biting reflexes.