Hans Tietmeyer: an obituary

There stands, in the grounds of the Bundesbank, a tree bearing a plaque. On it is written in Hans Tietmeyer's native Westphalian dialect: "Mit düsse Meidelske eick säg wie Di Danke. Deine Heimatfreunde." This translates as "We offer you this oak tree from Metelen as a token of our gratitude. Your friends from home." The trunk of the tree is already deeply and firmly rooted in Hessian soil. The tree and the plaque it bears say a lot about the Bundesbank's former president, Johannes Bernhard Josef (Hans) Tietmeyer, who received it as a gift from friends from home shortly before the end of his time in office. For Tietmeyer's roots lie in the Münsterland – to be precise, in a small village called Metelen, some 20 km away from Germany's border with the Netherlands. It was here that Hans Tietmeyer was born on 18 August 1931.

Having the courage of your convictions

Hans Tietmeyer grew up as the second of eleven children in a very religious Roman Catholic family. Two of his brothers later became priests. Tietmeyer, too, started out studying theology but switched to economics and social sciences after two semesters. He had learned three things in his childhood and youth, Tietmeyer later said: that taking responsibility for yourself, mainly your own work and achievements, was the basis for any form of solidarity; that individuals must each bear responsibility for their family and the community; and, third, that you always had to have the courage of your convictions and make your own judgements. These principles explain why the social and economic ideals of the social market economy had a particular impact on Tietmeyer as a young student and influenced his thinking. Tietmeyer studied under one of the co-founders of the social market economy, Alfred Müller-Armack. He started his career at the Federal Ministry of Economics under Ludwig Erhard. Even as a young man, Tietmeyer was convinced that social commitment required an economic foundation. The social market economy paved the way for reconciling primarily self-interested economic behaviour with common-good outcomes, he wrote in an essay in 2002.

In the 1970s, Hans Tietmeyer became head of the Economic Policy Division at the Federal Ministry of Economics. In 1982 the CDU member was appointed State Secretary at the Federal Ministry of Finance and, in this role, conducted negotiations on international monetary issues and global financial relations. From 1985 up until 1987 he chaired the EC Monetary Committee before joining the Bundesbank at the beginning of 1990 where his first responsibility as a member of the Bank's Directorate (now the Executive Board) was for international affairs and global monetary issues as well as organisational matters and agreements. Between April and June 1990, he acted as Chancellor Helmut Kohl's personal representative in negotiating the terms of German monetary union which was to come into force on 1 July of that year. In the summer of 1991, he was appointed Vice-President.

Monetary stability serves a social purpose

On 1 October 1993, Tietmeyer became the seventh President of the Deutsche Bundesbank. In this position, he pursued the Bundesbank’s overriding objective of ensuring monetary stability with a fervour that had been instilled in him from an early age. Only stable money, he believed, allowed individuals to build up savings and plan their lives and thus to assume responsibility for others. Stable money, moreover, is an intrinsic component of the regulatory framework that every economy needs if the system itself is to bring forth satisfactory social conditions. This conviction led Tietmeyer to defend the Bundesbank's policy of keeping the money supply scarce and to fend off any attacks on its independence from politicians, the business community or social commentators, as illustrated by his criticism of Chancellor Kohl's government for running up heavy debts to finance the costs of German reunification. He also opposed proposals for the Bundesbank's gold and foreign currency reserves to be revalued so as to facilitate compliance with the Maastricht criteria. In this context, Tietmeyer had admittedly agreed to a revaluation of foreign currency reserves prior to the establishment of European Economic and Monetary Union (EMU); however, he staved off calls for higher Bundesbank profits to be channelled to the Federal budget in the course of the year. Moreover, he roundly rejected complaints voiced by Finance Minister Oskar Lafontaine in 1998 that the Bundesbank's mandate should not consist solely in safeguarding monetary stability. In remaining true to the Bundesbank's stringent stability course in the face of high unemployment he was sometimes labelled a strict ideologue. But this did not knock him off course.

Westphalian oaks weather most storms

Tietmeyer once described himself thus: "Westphalian oaks grow slowly, but they also weather most storms, no matter which direction they come from." When he narrowly escaped an assassination attempt by RAF (Red Army Faction) terrorists in the run-up to a meeting of the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and the World Bank in September 1988, he did not see this as a reason to be absent from work. In fact, he carried on with his tasks for that day without interruption. Hans Tietmeyer asked much of himself and of others. He took a clear and consistent line in negotiations.

Tietmeyer supported the idea of establishing EMU ever since he worked in the Werner Group, a body which was already working on proposals to that end back in 1970. Newspapers in Germany and abroad dubbed him "the last guardian of the D-Mark" when he retired as Bundesbank President in 1999. In his capacity as Bundesbank President, he surveyed the road to European Monetary Union from the critical perspective of a currency guardian. Indeed, he said in 1996 that he would only consider monetary union to be a step forwards if it made lasting stability possible. That meant that robust structures, a sustainable culture of stability and a disciplined fiscal policy had to be in place in all the participating countries. For Tietmeyer, it was not essential to stick to a date earmarked for the next step towards deeper integration. On the contrary, what mattered for him was that the requirements for taking that step had been fulfilled. Here, yet again, his clear line of reasoning shone through. For Hans Tietmeyer, a policy was only correct if it also had a sound economic rationale. This was another principle to which the Westphalian always remained true.

Today, the oak tree standing in the Bundesbank's grounds serves as a reminder of the clear and consistent lines that Hans Tietmeyer laid down throughout his life. The memory of Hans Tietmeyer, his work and his commitment to a stable currency will thus remain forever rooted in Bundesbank soil.

We bid Hans Tietmeyer farewell. He passed away on 27 December 2016 at the age of 85.