Next Monday, on January 24th, the long-time Vice-President of the European Parliament and current President of the European Economic Senate Dr Ingo Friedrich will celebrate his 80th birthday.
As a Member of the European Parliament he was involved in many legislative initiatives and soon became known as "Mister Europe". In addition to that he played a decisive role in shaping the development of the then European Community into today's European Union. One of the most lasting initiatives of his 30 years of parliamentary activity was certainly his initiative motion in the European Parliament in November 1979 for the introduction of a uniform European flag.
In June 1979, when the first direct elections to the European Parliament took place, each European institution and all European associations still had their own symbols and flags. One of these five different "European flags" also requested by Ingo Friedrich stood out:
The one with 12 golden stars on a blue background which was used by the Council of Europe.
After his parliamentary application, he and his parliamentary colleague Otto von Habsburg, son of the last Austrian Emperor Karl, approached the Council of Europe in Strasbourg to obtain the release of the flag for the entire European Community. As we today know, his mission succeeded.
Otto von Habsburg had known the spiritual creator of the flag, the Jewish-Belgian European official Levi, who is said to have received the vision of this flag in the 1950s in the Lady Chapel of Strasbourg Cathedral. Indeed, in this chapel the 12 golden stars around the head of the statue of Mary are emblazoned particularly impressively against a sky-blue background.
Other authors even see mystical backgrounds for this flag: for example, the biblical Book of Revelation already speaks of the "woman with the crown of 12 golden stars" and finally there would be the 12 tribes of Israel and the 12 months of the year. Ingo Friedrich also wanted the number of the 12 stars to always remain constant and not to vary with the number of member states - as is the case with the American flag.
After long discussions and decisions in the European Parliament, the EU Council of Ministers and the EU Commission, the new flag was officially and ceremoniously hoisted for the first time in 1983 in front of the Berlaymont building of the EU Commission in Brussels with great public participation. Today, the European flag is one of the best-known "state" symbols in the world.
During his time as Vice-President of the European Parliament, Ingo Friedrich initiated or participated in several central and fundamental regulations and reforms of the new and still rather inexperienced Parliament. These include in particular:
- His membership of the Constitutional Convention to formulate a European Charter of Fundamental Rights at the turn of the millennium. He was the spokesman for the largest group, the European People's Party, and fought for a reference to God analogous to the German Basic Law.
- The introduction of a European lobby register, which should bring transparency to the relations between politics, business and associations (Parliamentary report "Friedrich/Stubb").
- The introduction of a new travel expenses regulation which only allows settlement according to receipts instead of lump-sum reimbursements in order to avoid trickery.
- The statute for parliamentary assistants, according to which their contracts must no longer be concluded with the MPs themselves, but directly with the parliamentary administration. This ensures compliance with all social and tax regulations, which was not so easy given the many different national legal systems.
- A new translation system that should reduce the costs of the language service in view of the many languages.
Dr Ingo Friedrich grew up in Gunzenhausen in Central Franconia, where he also graduated from high school. After serving in the German Army (as a reserve captain), Ingo Friedrich studied and earned his doctorate in economics at the University of Erlangen-Nuremberg on a scholarship from the German National Academic Foundation.
He began his business career in 1969 in an industrial company in Gunzenhausen and ended it in 1979 as head of the executive office of an electrical corporation in Stuttgart due to his election to the first directly elected European Parliament.
He was a city councillor, a district councillor, belonged to the party executive of the CSU from 1992 to 2012 (most recently as deputy party chairman), was treasurer of the European People's Party in Brussels and was appointed one of three honorary members of the European Parliament in 2009.
Over the years, he has received a number of honours and decorations from Luxembourg, Austria and Croatia. In Germany, he is a recipient of the Federal Cross of Merit First Class and the Bavarian Order of Merit.
His hometown of Gunzenhausen made him an honorary citizen.
His current responsibilities still cover a wide range, for example:
- He is President of the European Economic Senate, a body made up of 130 leading business representatives who want to link economic expertise and politics.
- He is treasurer of the Hanns Seidel Foundation
- He is president of a foundation under Belgian law called "Forum", which manages the properties of the European People's Party in Brussels.
- He is also Deputy Chairman of the Supervisory Board of Wackler SE Munich, a company with 6,000 employees in the field of building and facility management.
On January 24th the town of Gunzenhausen and the European Economic Senate will hold a "small ceremony" (due to corona) in his honour. Speakers of honor among others will be Minister of State Joachim Herrmann, Mayor Karl-Heinz Fitz and Chairman of the Supervisory Board Rolf von Hohenhau. Prime Minister Markus Söder and EPP parliamentary group chairman Manfred Weber will be present via video.