In April of this year, Kurt Biedenkopf made another big appearance, albeit on a smaller scale. The University of Leipzig awarded him, the lawyer, professor and politician, an honorary doctorate for his life’s work. “During his time as Prime Minister of the Free State of Saxony, he never forgot to support university issues,” said Rector Beate Schücking in her laudatory speech. Due to the pandemic, Biedenkopf accepted the award without an audience present in the Dresden State Chancellery – the place where he had worked for twelve years as the first head of government after the re-establishment of the state of Saxony in 1990. Biedenkopf’s political career was actually over at that point.
After his initially steep rise as a member of the Bundestag and General Secretary of the CDU under Helmut Kohl – an office which he resigned in 1977 in a dispute with the CDU chairman – Biedenkopf became chairman of the CDU state association Westphalia-Lippe and after its merger with the state association Rhineland in 1986 also Head of the CDU in North Rhine-Westphalia. However, he did not succeed in uniting the rival union associations, so Kohl installed Norbert Blüm as party leader just a year later. Biedenkopf resigned his seat in the state parliament and withdrew from day-to-day politics.
His reputation as an unconventional head preceded him
From then on he worked again as a lawyer, but repeatedly got involved in social debates. The immense consumption of resources in the industrialized countries, the aging of society and the lack of future viability of the statutory pension system drove him on, even gave him no peace. Biedenkopf campaigned with verve against what he believed to be a particularly pronounced mentality in Germany, namely the preservation of vested rights.
His credo was that in a shrinking society, older generations would also have to actively provide for themselves and could not simply rely on the fewer young people and the statutory pension. “With Biedenkopf, I always have the impression that our stupidity upsets him immensely,” wrote the then President of the German Stage Association, August Everding, in a commemorative publication on Biedenkopf’s 60th birthday in 1990.
Already at a young age Biedenkopf had the reputation of being an unconventional head. From 1949 he studied politics in the United States and then law and economics in Munich and Frankfurt. He received his doctorate in economics, habilitated in commercial, economic and labor law and was appointed to the Ruhr University Bochum in 1967 as the youngest rector in West Germany at the time. He had come into closer contact with politics when, in 1968, the German Bundestag appointed him head of the commission to organize the co-determination of employees in private companies. At the beginning of the 1970s, Biedenkopf then moved to the management of the Henkel Group.