Hans-Günter Brünker - Generalist skills in politics and the role of trust

Hans-Günter Brünker - Generalist skills in politics and the role of trust

🎙️ Podcast

About the episode

In this conversation, Hans-Günter discusses his experiences in politics and offers insights and advice for those interested in getting involved. The conversation covers topics such as honesty and trust in politics, expectations of local politics, the benefits of working in local politics, the desire for change, running for European elections, advice for first-time candidates, and the importance of endurance in political campaigns. The overarching theme is the need for politicians to be honest, proactive, and focused on getting things done.


  • Listen to people and build trust as a politician.
  • Develop skills in teamwork, compromise, and information analysis.
  • Convey both good and bad news honestly to maintain trust.
  • Politics requires a generalist approach and the ability to adapt to different policy areas.

Find out more about Hans-Günter Brünker at https://twitter.com/hgbruenker and https://voltdeutschland.org/menschen/hans-guenter-bruenker

Find out more on https://politicwise.org, on Instagram https://www.instagram.com/politicwise/ and LinkedIn: https://www.linkedin.com/in/dr-daniel-matteo/.


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Episode transcript

AI transcription, with some human edits


  • Getting Started in Politics
  • Running in Elections
  • Campaigning and Learning
  • Skills and Qualities of a Politician
  • Honesty and Trust in Politics
  • Expectations of Local Politics
  • Desire for Change in Local Politics
  • Advice for First-Time Candidates
  • Message for Governments and Parliaments

Getting Started in Politics

Daniel Matteo:
Hans-Günter we've known each other for a few years now, five years, four years, in the context of Volt Europa. I remember many meetings over dinner or in the random kitchens or living rooms of other, other Volters Tell us, tell the listeners perhaps a little bit about how you got into Volt. Because politics for you also was something that you started doing. You haven't been a politician all your life. Tell us a bit about how you got into politics and how that was like for you.

Hans-Günter Brünker:
How I got into politics? Well, I'm a political person all my life. I grew up in, well, my father was a waiter, my mom was a seamstress, so pretty standard home, no academics and so on. But my family always was a family that was interested in politics. Yeah. So I was a little bit active late at university, but I wasn't really a politician there, just was a bit active.

Then I was working for many years, I had three children, had to take care of them, had to take care of my wife and my job, so there was not a lot of politics in my life. But during that time I always realized we have to take care of Europe, because we are living in a growing world, in a globalized world.

And if we don't want to be crushed between the major powers like Russia, China and the United States, Europe has to take its stand. So that was something I was always interested in and actually I had in my desk a white paper about how to create a European party. I had that probably two years before I really became aware of the world. And then in 2018 I stumbled across it and I thought really, oh well, that's what I thought about all the time.

And yeah, I started to get in contact with Volt and who are the people behind it. And then I figured out, okay, these are really reasonable people. They really want to pull that off. And yeah, I went to my first general assembly in Amsterdam when we voted on the European program for the European election in 2019. But for me, it was really the point where I said, okay, let's have a look. Is it possible to do politics with people? Together with people from other nations and I think we were around about 500 people from 20 countries and I really realized, okay, that's possible and then I decided for myself, okay, then let's do it and I jumped right into it.

Running in Elections

Daniel Matteo:
Yeah. So I hear a few rational arguments like the, uh, the white paper on the European party, um, meeting the people, getting a sense that yes, they really want to do this, uh, perhaps also the policy alignment, uh, um, and then I hear something between the lines and you correct me if I'm interpreting here, going to Amsterdam and meeting people. Um, was, was there an element of gut feeling that you also needed because

And I'm asking this question because there might be a few listeners here that are considering this move into politics, and they're wondering how to make that decision.

Hans-Günter Brünker:
See, all my life I always was a fan of educated guess. So I'm a chemist by background, yeah, I hold a PhD in organic chemistry, so I'm an analytical type of person. I try to gather information, I try to get numbers, I try to get many things to make a decision, but in the end it comes down to a gut-feel decision. Is it right what I'm going to do?

And I always call it educated guess because yes, it's not without an information base, but in the end it's something in my gut, deep in my heart where I make the decision.

Daniel Matteo:
Okay. And you've been running now for a few elections. The first one, I believe, was the European elections back in 2019. Tell us a bit more about that.

Hans-Günter Brünker:
It was actually 2018 that I met Volt and the Amsterdam Convention was also in 2018, if I got it right. And then I really jumped into it. Volt was really small at that time when we met in Berlin, and I think you were there as well when we met in Berlin to set up the list for the European elections. There were around about 150 people, if I remember it correctly.

And as I said before, I really decided to jump right into it and there was a chance to get on the list for the European elections in 2019. I had some time to bring to the campaign and capacity, so I said, yeah, let's do it. And since then, I've run in quite some campaigns. So it was 2019, the European election.

Then we had local elections in 2020 in Bavaria. So I live in Bamberg. That's a mid-sized city in Bavaria. And I was actually elected into the city council. So now for around about four years, I'm part of the city council here in Bamberg. But then again, I ran the campaign 2021 for the Bundestag. And together with Rebecca Mueller, was actually the lead duo for the Bundestag selections. Then I ran for the regional elections here in 2023, so pretty much every year some campaigns, so yes, there's some experience with respect to that.

Campaigning and Learning

Daniel Matteo:
Then tell us a bit more about that because I think it is unique so far for me on my podcast in terms of guests. Um, I've had, you know, many candidates also from Volt uh, many from Volt run, but you've been running in these different elections. What is there across all of these elections that you've learned about campaigning, perhaps any tips or advice already that's really important and it has helped you.

Hans-Günter Brünker:
What have I learned? I mean, I love campaigning because it gets you on the street and it gets you to talk to people. And politics is nothing academic. Yes, you need information again, like when I do my personal decisions, you need information, you need to do some analysis, you need to figure out on a rational basis what is the right thing to do. But in the end, people are voting for their representatives. They want to know who is going to represent them and they want to know what is it that guides these people. So that's for one. And the other point is me as a politician, I also have to be aware that I represent the people who are out there. And to do that properly, I have to talk to them, and that's the right time to do it.

I mean, many people are not that much interested in politics most time of the year. But when an election is approaching, then people are more sensible with respect to these questions, with respect to political questions. And there's a good chance to go out on the street and talk to people, what is it that makes them think? What is it that is difficult in their lives, or what they want to see, and so on. And that's the true information base, or should be the true information base for every politician to do his job or her job.

Daniel Matteo:
So it's a great input that you're getting for your work as a politician. It's that moment to connect with citizens and learn from them and have that data, new data.

Hans-Günter Brünker:
Yes. I mean, that was, when I say that, that's what all campaigns have in common. On the other hand, when I ran for EU election as well as Bundestag, as well as regional elections, as well as local elections. Now, all these elections have, are somewhat different. Bundestag, that we are talking about the big questions about EU, about global economics, about all that stuff.

When you come to local elections, then things people talk about are much more tangible. We talk about kindergartens, we talk about schools, we talk about a park somewhere in the city, whether there are enough benches to sit down and how we can take care that elderly people can participate in day-to-day life.

Hans-Günter Brünker:
All local politicians are known really personally by the people in the community. That makes things quite somewhat different. But on the other hand, it's still the same. We are representing the people who vote for us.

Daniel Matteo:
Yeah, let's talk about that in a minute, your experience in the City Council. Before that, you mentioned you've been a chemist, you've been in the private business, you've been an entrepreneur before going into politics. You're an actor, you're also still an actor. So very diverse roles. How does politics compare to all that? How does that fit into your life? The things that you perhaps could employ, the experiences and skills from all of these areas in politics. And what didn't fit? What did you need to learn?

Hans-Günter Brünker:
Good question. I mean, you just said it, I have experience in quite different areas of life. So yes, I'm a scientist. So then I jumped into consulting business. After that, I was the co-founder of two biotech startups. So yeah, they are experienced from various... I've seen the life from different angles. And that's, I think, actually pretty...good for a politician because I'm familiar with economics. I'm familiar with science. I'm a father myself, in the meantime I have two granddaughters, so I'm familiar with all the trouble that you have when it boils down to kindergartens and schools and all that. And all these questions pop up when you do politics. And the more things you have experienced yourself, the better you are prepared to decide on all that.

Hans-Günter Brünker:
I mean, that might not hold true for all politicians because not everybody had the luck I had that I could be active in very different arenas. So then you have to rely on your teammates, pretty much, on other party members that got elected into the same council, probably.

And that's actually learning what is that, how does it translate into the day-to-day work as a politician. I mean, there are things that you know yourself and there will always be things that you don't know yourself. And then you have to work together with others. Being a politician that is a totally lone wolf, that's difficult.

Hans-Günter Brünker:
As you were describing these different angles and perspectives on the work that you have had from your previous experience, that the thought that came to me is that being a politician is being a generalist. Yes, you've got your expertise in a different policy. What are your thoughts on that?

Hans-Günter Brünker:
You're absolutely right. And I mean, with respect to that, it was actually quite good for me that I was in the consulting business for many years, because as a management consultant, you also have to deal with different scenarios. You have to deal with different projects. I mean, in the beginning of my consulting career, I was involved in a lot of cost-cutting business and in the late phase of my consulting business, I did mainly growth strategies.

It's all dealing with business but with a totally different perspective. And as a management consultant you are pretty much a generalist with some spikes in various areas of expertise. I mean, a politician, that's similar.

Skills and Qualities of a Politician

Daniel Matteo
So you mentioned one, a skill set of a politician already, the ability to work with other people. Because you can create a certain level of expertise in an area, but you can't do everything on your own. So it becomes really important to have a team around you and be able to work with them effectively. What other skill sets can you think of that this generalist politician needs?

Hans-Günter Brünker:
The ability to listen. That's really a very important point and I think there are politicians out there that may have lost this ability over time. I think it's really one of the most important. It's the willingness to create compromises. It's helpful if you have the ability to digest information, because very often you are in a situation that you have to make a decision on something. You were probably not deeply involved before. So you will be given some information and you have to be able to have a look at this information, to digest it and to make up your mind what you think is the right way to go.

Daniel Matteo:
And I imagine that is difficult because I used to do an internship in the European Parliament for one of the political groups years ago. And I mean, you're creating suggestions and proposals there for the parliamentarians. So yes, you're creating a policy brief, but at the end, there is a, this is how we would recommend that you vote, essentially. And what you just said was yes, digested, but then also you need to still think, okay, there's a suggestion here. What do we do? What do I believe about this?

Hans-Günter Brünker:
Yeah, I think that is something that makes a politician, let's say a good politician, because you get information, you get probably, especially in European Parliament, so you get by your co-workers' proposals what you should do, or the party tells you what you should do. But in the end, all politicians, well, it's even in our Grundgesetz.

That's my, it's always my decision. I'm responsible for what I'm deciding on. And there might be proposals, there might be a party that tells me what the party thinks is right, but I'm elected by my, yeah, by the people who elected me to vote and to decide in a way that I think that's the right thing to do.

In the end you are there and you think about it and you have to make a decision.

Honesty and Trust in Politics

Daniel Matteo:
So then as a voter, it is not just I'm voting for you because of what you say you're standing for, your policy positions, but also for you as a person, because I trust you to make then the right decision in a situation where we don't know what's coming up, right? But I trust you with your values, with what you've said, with your life experience, to make the right call that I think is in my interest.

Hans-Günter Brünker:
And you just say a very important word, trust. I think our whole political system is based on trust, and that is something that we can observe right now, that people lose their trust in politicians, that they lose their trust in the political process, and that is really, really dangerous for democracy, because democracy tells us, okay, people, the power is with the people, yes.

But in the end they are represented by the people they voted for, so there needs to be mutual trust. Without mutual trust democracy is probably doomed and therefore it's very, very dangerous when people try to undermine this trust that must be there.

Daniel Matteo:
Tell me more about that. I mean, if this is trust, how do we create? Yes, there are on the other side, those who want to undermine it and are very successful actually in undermining institutions, whether it's from like forces from within or outside of our society, community. But what can you do as a politician? Any thoughts on that to build that trust, to create trust?

Hans-Günter Brünker:
Good question. I mean it's really listening and talking to people. Because why is the trust level diminished? It's really because the world has changed. We have the internet, we have Facebook, we have Instagram, we have all these social media. And social media have big upsides, big potential. And it's fantastic that we're able to communicate to each other on such a large level.

On the other hand, they bring some downsides. And probably the biggest downside is that it's very, very easy to reach a large crowd with misinformation, with fake news and all that. It's not that we can stop that in any way. I think we have to deal with it in some way. And to deal with it...

I think what politicians can do is talk to people, listen to people, and to be as honest as possible.

Hans-Günter Brünker:
I mean, even on a local level, what I observe from time to time is that politicians, actually I observe it pretty often, that politicians are afraid to transport bad news. I mean, we always have to make decisions that this or that cannot be built because the money is not there, or that this or that cannot be done because there is something other that is also important that's opposing to this decision. So

There are always bad news. Politics is not only good news. There are also bad news we have to convey. To tell people bad news is a tough job. It's not nice. Many politicians don't want to transmit bad news, so they tell something that sounds like good news and probably they don't lie, but still they hide in some way the bad news.

And that's not good. I think we need courageous politicians who also have the will to transport all the bad news. Because only if we are honest in getting across these good and bad news, then people have the impression that the politician there is honest.

Daniel Matteo:
Yeah, it's a big component of trust. Now that you're not afraid to tell me what's happening. Probably can also build the trust if I hear the bad, but honest truth from you.

Hans-Günter Brünker:
And what we can do as a society is not to bash the ones who get across the venues, but to be grateful that somebody tells the truth.

Expectations of Local Politics

Daniel Matteo:
Yeah, let's get into, because I'm aware you're referring to your specific work in Bamberg. And let's talk about when you got into the city council. And if you can think of something where you had an expectation of how local politics or politics in general would be like, and then you were there in the city council, you were actually doing the work.

Was there a mismatch? Was it where your expectations of how work in Bamberg in the city council would be like, was it aligned? Or was there a mismatch in anything that you can think of?

Hans-Günter Brünker:
That's a very interesting question, I actually never thought about it that way. So did I have expectations? I'd say I had no specific expectations, that's pretty much the point. I mean when I do something like that, so that I jump into something new, I'm pretty much like a child. I just have a look what's going on there and then I try to adjust and adopt myself to the situation. So I would really say I had no specific expectations so they could also not be met or not met. So yeah, I just took it as it was.

On second thought though: I call pretty much almost everybody by first name. So with respect to many things, we're working together pretty well, even across party boundaries or borders. On the other hand, it can also be pretty tough. So it's an interesting mix of working together really well. And it can also get nasty.

It's a weird mix of both of them.

Daniel Matteo:
If you feel comfortable without any specifics, nasty in what way? How can the listeners imagine that?

Hans-Günter (28:53.55)
There might be situations where it gets personal. There might be situations where you are put into the limelight in the public with respect to something that is not really friendly. So in German you have the saying of 'dickes Fell'. You really have to develop something like that. Thick skin. You have to have that sometimes. Somebody who's really very sensible, it could be trouble from time to time for such a person.

Daniel Matteo:
Is there something that you particularly like about that work, the politics at the local level?

Hans-Günter Brünker:
Oh absolutely, I mean as I said the local politics are very tangible. We're talking about things that most people know, what they were really involved, that really has an impact on themselves. And we do not turn the really big, big wheels like you might do it in Bundesag with European Parliament, but we turn them rather quickly.

So you have direct impact. So you make a decision and you see the impact. You see what's going to happen. Although we also have projects that have a time frame of more than 10 years, but we also have many others. And that's something that is very likable about local politics, that you see what you do. On the other hand, the mechanisms that you have in local politics are not very much different from higher levels. So, for example, within Volt we have many young people who probably do that for the very, very first time in their life and don't have any political experience before. I recommend everybody, if you really want to learn what you have to do as a politician.

Go into local politics, the mechanisms are very much the same, there might be in the budget a zero or two or three zeros less, but otherwise it's the same. Do it. Go, go for local politics and then in four years' time go to the next level.

Desire for Change in Local Politics

Daniel Matteo:
So it's a good school then for higher levels. Anything that you would like to change about local politics?

Hans-Günter Brünker:
I think people should not stick with their position for too long. I mean mayors who are in office for 15, 20 or even more years, nope. Even city councillors, I mean sometimes you have city councillors being in office for 40 years or so. No, please.

I would be a very big fan of having something like twice five years and then for counsellors at least a break of five years and then they could come back. It's never good to have structures that get comfortable as they are. There's no innovation anymore, there are no new thoughts anymore. I think it would be good to change that. And I think that's true for all levels. When I was a young kid and realized that the American president can be only reelected once, I thought, why that? Now I think, oh, that's really a good idea. Kohl was way too long in office. Merkel was way too long in office. Our mayor here in Bamberg now is 19 years in office. That's way too long. That should be changed.

Actually, twice four years might be a bit short because you have projects and things that take time where you have to carry them through for quite a while. Twice five years. I think that would be perfect. Here we have a term actually of six years. Six years is pretty long. I'm always used to say because I got into office in spring 2020, I always say Olaf Scholz is already history and I will be still in office here. So that's really long. But yeah, five years and that twice would be good.

Advice for First-Time Candidates

Daniel Matteo:
Hans-Günter, is there anything else beyond what you've already shared in terms of advice and do's and don'ts that you would recommend to people who are now running for office? You are now running for office for the European elections. Again, anything there to those people who are doing this for the first time in addition to what you've already shared?

Hans-Günter Brünker:
I mean, most of us who run for such a mandated office, they really do it from the bottom of their heart, right? And I think one also needs to be a bit careful, because you can go 120% for some time, but not forever. And also a campaign can be quite stressful.

I mean, to me it's really, really good to be out there and to talk to people, but in the end it's stressful and everybody should take care of themselves as well. Because it's not a sprint, it's a marathon. So, yeah, that's true for the campaign and when you are in office, it's true for that as well.

Message for Governments and Parliaments

Daniel Matteo:
So Hans-Günther, these are interesting times that we are living in. A lot of people work in government. They are elected in government. If you had a chance, and this is the final question I like to ask to my guests, if you had a chance to put up a billboard in front of every government building in the world, every parliament in the world, and everybody who goes to work there needs to walk across it, walk past it, what would you put as a message onto the billboard?

Hans-Günter Brünker:
Wow. I'd say: get it done. I mean there's so many challenges out there that needs to be tackled, starting with climate, stopping all these wars that are going on. There's so many challenges out there that need not only our attention, but also need that we get things done.

And political processes are often stalled, and they're often stalled for reasons that are not really worth doing it. That prevents us from further developing our societies. So please guys, stop bullshitting around. Get things done.

Daniel Matteo:
Fantastic. Hans Günther, it's been a pleasure to talk with you. Lots of nuggets here and there on advice and do's and don'ts. Thanks for taking the time and all the best for your campaign.

Hans-Günter Brünker:
Thank you.