Fast, precise and versatile

Johannes Haenicke is closer to the heart of European politics than hardly anyone else is. As press spokesperson for the CDU/CSU representatives in the EPP group in the European Parliament, he deals with European politics on a daily basis. He supports the 29 MEPs from the CDU and CSU by ensuring that they are always up-to-date with current affairs, just like himself. In the interview, Haenicke, “soon to be 38″ years old, tells me what happens behind the doors of the Parliament and why he perceives the Belgian capital Brussels, known to many only as the abstract centre of the EU, as something very special.

Born in Bonn, he had considered a career at the European level early on and had studied political science with a special focus on Europe in Maastricht. For young students who want to pursue this pathBrussels is of course fundamentally interesting from the outset,” he says with a smirk.  Hence, immediately after finishing his Bachelor’s degree, he headed for the European Parliament in the capital of Europe for a “gap year”. The six-week internship with an MEP from his hometown then quickly turned into a permanent position and into an entrance ticket to a full-time job after completing his Master’s degree. In Brussels, Haenicke then joined the then CDU/CSU Group Chairman and MEP Herbert Reul as an assistant and spent the next four and a half years immersing himself in the EU as an institution. And although it may sound as if he had one foot in the door from the very beginning, in his modest and honest way Haenicke repeatedly emphasises the needed quantum of luck in his career path.

As I listen to Johannes Haenicke speak, I am increasingly amazed by the diversity of his roles. His work takes him across the entire political process of the EU – and as a press officer he is in the best position to be familiar with the full range of issues in Europe. Despite the fact that he is not trained as a journalist. Before joining the press office in the summer of 2020, he witnessed the daily challenges of the bureau of the CDU/CSU Group in Brussels, the Transport Committee and the Environment Committee as a political assistant for the EPP as well as the European Commission in Günther Oettinger’s cabinet. However, Haenicke has always been close to the Parliament. Working for Günther Oettinger, he took care of his relations with the European Parliament. “This is always a fixed position in the cabinet of the EU Commissioners because there is also a lot to take care of in regards to the requests of MEPs and appointments in Parliament,” he tells me plainly. When asked what he enjoys most about his work, Haenicke says that he appreciates the fast pace and the variety of topics; “no two days in politics are the same – and that is what makes it so exciting”.

Of course, we also spoke about the pandemic. Like many employees of this generation, Haenicke only experienced his current position in times of Corona. As a consequence, his working day has also adapted – in the evening, he can already organize the articles for the next morning’s press review. “Nowadays, everything can be done digitally”. He also spends a lot of time reading the news to find out what else is happening in the world. “Reading newspapers is just part of the job as a press officer,” he says with a laugh. However, apart from that, there is no routine because his daily work strongly depends on the daily events in Brussels as well as on what else is happening in the world. At the moment, the German election campaign is a major topic because the CDU/CSU candidate running for chancellor focuses strongly on Europe. And does he occasionally work with famous politicians and how does that make him feel? “It still feels like a privilege, but to be awestruck would send the wrong signal. These are people like you and me.”

One is often told that Brussels, especially in relation to the Parliament, is a very popular place where a lot of cultural exchange takes place. Unfortunately, these contacts have largely been eliminated by the pandemic. To compensate this, Haenicke is currently doing a lot of sport – for someone who spends an awful amount of time sitting at a desk at home, the opportunity to go for a run or ride a bike is very important. Nevertheless, we also talked about life in Brussels in the pre-Corona days. He finds the exchange with colleagues “wonderful and enriching. The Parliament is a unique and incomparable workplace.” In particular, young people from all over Europe are drawn to Brussels directly after their studies, just as he was back then. “This creates a very great dynamic. Even at the UN you don’t find anything like that.” It is precisely this spontaneous exchange of Brussels life that many are missing now. For people like Johannes Haenicke, who live and work here, the city represents much more than just a place to work. By now, Brussels has become his home through his professional and private life. He wants to stay in Brussels and “does not plan it any other way”.

At the end of the conversation, we discussed about whether he has any tips for young people who want to work in the heart of the EU. “You should just give it a try. Apply. Keep your eyes and ears open”. Throughout our conversation, the openness and adaptability he encourages young people to embrace are reflected in Haenicke’s stories about his own work. They underpin how he was able to find his centre of life in Brussels and explain why, as a convinced European, he wants to stay in the city in the long term. And what does Europe exactly mean to him?

“Opportunities, future and security.”

Thank you very much for the interview.

Daniel Tafelski, July 2021