03.06.2024

Europe.Table: Portrait of Christiane Kesper

Europe.Table has portrayed our outgoing Director Christiane Kesper who has lead the FES EU Office since 2022. Read the whole portrait here.

For 36 years, Christiane Kesper has been active with the SPD-affiliated Friedrich-Ebert-Stiftung (FES), serving as head of its Brussels office since 2022. Now she is stepping down. Her successor is ready to take over. For the future of the EU, Kesper has a clear wish: more unity.

Christiane Kesper will have been part of the Friedrich-Ebert-Stiftung (FES) for 36 years when she hands over her position as head of the FES Brussels office to her successor Tobias Mörschel at the beginning of June. Few people know the role of the foundation in everyday political life – both in Berlin and Brussels – as well as the 64-year-old does.

Kesper's childhood and youth were shaped by a European sensibility. She was born in Luxembourg in 1959. Her parents, "very young and adventurous," had ventured out of Germany eight years after the end of World War II to take a professional opportunity in the western neighboring country.

Later, Kesper attended school in Belgium. "As a German child abroad, Europe was always close to me," she recalls. She also felt an early connection to politics, with a particular focus on development policy shaping her career. She chose this focus for her studies in economics and political science in Heidelberg. A postgraduate course at the German Institute for Development Policy paved the way for her to join the Friedrich-Ebert-Stiftung – as one of the first women in the project assistance field.

From Guatemala and Brussels to Berlin

Kesper's career began in 1988 in Guatemala, where she worked as a junior expert in social policy for two years. "That was very surprisingto me at the time because I didn't speak a word of Spanish," Kesper comments on this first step. After that, a position in Libya and other parts of the world was possible. Instead, she first joined the Brussels office from 1992 to 1995 before spending most of her career in Berlin.

Until 2022, she remained active in development policy in Berlin, leading the international development cooperation department from 2008. There, she was responsible for about 80 projects in countries ofthe Global South, overseeing 180 employees and about 580 local staff. Kesper reflects, "Given the numerous project locations, we often had to manage one crisis after another in the world, most recently the dangerous evacuation of our local staff from Afghanistan."

A return to Brussels as a step backwards?

Why then, in 2022, did she decide to return to Brussels, with less responsibility and fewer employees? It was the fascination with Europe that drove this decision, Kesper explains. "To improve European policy, you have to go where decisions are made. That was what attracted me to the job," she says.

In Brussels, she organizes various events with the FES, which is funded by the German Foreign Office, to help people interested in the EU understand political processes and raise awareness of European policy issues. Although the foundation has no decision-making power, Kesper finds it very appealing to process current issues of the time for the public.

'If the EU is to have a geopolitical chance, it must act more unified'

On issues ranging from migration to security policy to equality and social affairs, Kesper and her team, along with other organizations such as the Foundation for European Progressive Studies, constantly seek strategies for maximum impact. "We analyze where there are gaps in the Brussels debate and try to fill them with a progressive and international advisory offering. This is done in the hope that the actors will accept it," she explains. Therefore, she places particular emphasis on ensuring that "decision-makers from all European institutions are present" at the events.

A potential reform of the EU is also high on Kesper's list. Especially in light of a potentially significantly altered parliament, she has clear ideas for the future. She demands, "If the EU is to have a geopolitical chance, it must ensure it acts more unified." The recent lack of unity among German coalition partners, known as the "German Vote", is a negative example. "In the future, progressive forces in the EU must absolutely act united and
not let themselves be divided or fragmented ," Kesper adds.

Extra motivation after the European elections?

Overall, the outgoing head of the Brussels office believes that a possible change in the European Parliament could even unleash more energy among her colleagues. "A resurgent right-wing populism would make our work for a progressive democratic Europe even more important and provide many in our working environment with extra motivation," she says. This is also one reason why she will remain connected to the foundation even after her departure in a few weeks. 

This is a translation of the original portrait written by Jasper Bennink which was published on 31 May 2024 in German on Europe.Table's website here. Read the english translation on Europe.Table here.