Chambers of Commerce and Industry

Structure and Tasks

All German companies registered in Germany, with the exception of handicraft businesses, the free professions andfarms, are required by law to join a chamber of Industry and Commerce. They include not only big companies but also retailers and innkeepers. This gives the association considerable political influence. It does not represent any specific corporate group but all commercial enterprises in Germany.
The chambers of industry and commerce are the companies themselves. That, in a nutshell, is the role of the 82 chambers. They represent the interests of theirmembers in relation to the local, state and regional authorities and, throughthe Association of German Chambers of Industry and Commerce (DIHK), the Federal Government and the European Commission.
The state has assigned to the chambers certain tasks which would be its own responsibility if those chambers did not exist. As a result, the chambers todayissue certificates of origin and carnets, set vocational training examinationsor, a recent innovation and maintain a register of companies who meet specific environmental standards ("eco sites"). They place experts under oath, provide advisory opinions for government departments, and are involved in the appointment of arbitrators and the registration of companies.
The chambers are public corporations and responsible for their own affairs, yetthey are not public authorities. They are business institutions and the principal representatives of all commercial undertakings in their region. They not only perform public functions but assist their members direct as counsellors or mediators in business matters of local, regional andsupra-regional importance. They are also involved at national level through the DIHK and internationally through the appropriate organizations.
The chambers have a democratic structure. Members choose their representatives for the Annual General Meeting. This "parliament of the business community" elects from its midst the president, the vice presidents and the managing director.
All companies pay mandatory subscriptions to their chamber according to their capacity. One advantage of statutory membership is that the chambers representall branches and companies equally regardless of size, whether it be the cornershop or a multinational corporation. All companies have one vote and equal rights. Their subscriptions keep the chambers financially independent of vested interests and government influence.
Much has been said about the chambers' "new self-perception", culminating in the populistic demand for the abolition of compulsory membership for businesses. But one very important point is generally overlooked - the exceptional efficiency of this system of corporate self-government. The state certainly wouldn't become leaner if it had to take on the role of the chambers again. Not even the best and most economical public authority could carry out the mandatory tasks of the chambers and guarantee the same price and the same quality. This is because the chambers, unlike the state, can draw upon a vast reservoir of local voluntary business expertise.