Katarina Barley is a German politician and lawyer who has been a Member of the European Parliament since 2019. She served as Federal Minister of Justice and Consumer Protection and as Federal Minister of Family Affairs, Senior Citizens, Women and Youth in the fourth Cabinet of Angela Merkel. Prior to that, she had served as acting Federal Minister of Labour and Social Affairs from 28 September 2017, both until 14 March 2018.
A member of the Social Democratic Party of Germany, Barley served as a member of the Bundestag from 2013 until 2019 and was Secretary-General of her party from 2015 to 2017. She holds law degrees from France and Germany and a doctorate in European law, and formerly worked as a corporate lawyer with the law firm Wessing & Berenberg-Gossler in Hamburg, as a judge and as a governmental legal adviser. Barley holds citizenship of both Germany and Britain.
BackgroundBarley grew up in Cologne; her father was an English-born journalist who worked with the English-language service of Germany's international broadcaster, the Deutsche Welle, and her mother was a German physician. From birth she only held British citizenship and acquired German citizenship some years later. She is fluent in German, English and French.
Her father was originally from Lincolnshire. She has said her father grew up in a working class family on a very small and simple farm that lacked electricity, and that he was awarded a scholarship to attend university after being discovered as a talented pupil by his teacher; however after being turned down by the University of Cambridge for "not having the right accent, the right clothes," he decided as a matter of principle to turn his back on British universities and move to West Germany to attend university instead; he first moved to Hanover and later to West Berlin, where he found society to be more egalitarian and progressive. In Germany he met Barley's mother and was employed as a journalist with Deutsche Welle's English service in Cologne after graduating. Her mother belonged to an upper middle class family from eastern Germany and was the daughter of an engineer in the automotive industry; her family fled the Red Army in 1945 and came as refugees from Stalinism to western Germany. Barley has said that she had a happy childhood, but that she grew up with a strong sense of social justice, influenced by her parents' experiences. Although neither of her parents were born in that part of Europe, she identifies culturally as a Rhinelander.
Education and early careerBarley studied at the University of Marburg and the University of Paris-Sud. She graduated with a French law degree in 1990 and a German law degree in 1993. In 1998 she earned a doctoral degree in European law at the University of Münster. Supervised by Bodo Pieroth, her thesis was on the constitutional right of citizens of the European Union to vote in municipal elections.
She was called to the bar in 1998 and worked as a lawyer with the major Hamburg corporate law firm Wessing & Berenberg-Gossler until 1999. She then worked as a legal adviser for the state government of Rhineland-Palatinate until 2001, when she became an assistant to constitutional judge Renate Jaeger in Karlsruhe. She worked in Luxembourg as a German representative to the Maison de la Grande Région/Haus der Großregion, a cooperation forum for Luxembourg and neighbouring German, French and Belgian regions, from 2005 to 2006.
From 2007 to 2008 she was a judge of the Trier district court and at the Wittlich local court. From 2008 to 2013 she was an adviser on bioethics to the Rhineland-Palatinate State Ministry of Justice and Consumer Protection. She left this position when she was elected to Parliament in 2013.
Political careerBarley joined the Social Democratic Party of Germany in 1994.
In her parliamentary work, Barley represents the constituency of Trier for the Social Democratic Party of Germany.
Barley served as a member of the parliament’s Council of Elders, which – among other duties – determines daily legislative agenda items and assigning committee chairpersons based on party representation. She was also a member of the parliamentary body in charge of appointing judges to the Highest Courts of Justice, namely the Federal Court of Justice, the Federal Administrative Court, the Federal Fiscal Court, the Federal Labour Court, and the Federal Social Court. In 2014, she was appointed to serve on the Committee on the Election of Judges, which is in charge of appointing judges to the Federal Constitutional Court of Germany. On the Committee on Legal Affairs and Consumer Protection, she served as her parliamentary group's rapporteur on voluntary euthanasia.
In 2014, Barley briefly served as a member of the Committee on the Affairs of the European Union. In addition to her committee assignments, she is a member of the German-British Parliamentary Friendship Group.
Within the SPD parliamentary group, Barley belongs to the Parliamentary Left, a left-wing movement.
In 2015, Barley was proposed by party chairman Sigmar Gabriel to succeed Yasmin Fahimi in the role of general secretary of the SPD, one of the party's most senior positions. From March 2017, she served under the leadership of Martin Schulz and managed the launch of the party’s campaign for the national elections.
Federal Minister, 2017–2019In May 2017, Schulz announced that Barley would succeed Manuela Schwesig as Federal Minister of Family Affairs, Senior Citizens, Women and Youth for the remainder of the legislative term until the elections. She was appointed on 2 June. She additionally became acting Federal Minister of Labour and Social Affairs on 28 September 2017, when Andrea Nahles stepped down to become the parliamentary leader of the SPD.
On 9 March 2018 Barley was named by Andrea Nahles and Olaf Scholz to succeed Heiko Maas as Minister of Justice and Consumer Protection in the fourth coalition government under the leadership of Chancellor Angela Merkel, sworn in on 14 March 2018.
Member of the European Parliament, 2019–presentIn October 2018, the SPD announced that Barley will be the party’s lead candidate for the 2019 European elections.
Since becoming a Member of the European Parliament, Barley has been serving as one of its Vice-Presidents; in this capacity, she is part of the Parliament’s leadership under President David Sassoli. She also joined the Committee on Civil Liberties, Justice and Home Affairs. In addition to her committee assignments, she is a member of the European Parliament Intergroup on LGBT Rights
Political positionsBarley is a member of the Europa-Union Deutschland. In October 2018, she demanded to end the border controls at the German-Austrian border that Germany introduced as a reaction to the European migrant crisis "soon" to ensure a "working European Single Market". She called for a "European solution" and protection of the European external borders instead.
- Academy of European Law, Member of the Governing Board
- German Council on Foreign Relations, Member of the Presidium
- Magnus Hirschfeld Foundation, Ex-Officio Chairwoman of the Board of Trustees
- ZDF, Member of the Television Board, Member of the Program Committee
- Institute for European Politics, Member of the Board of Trustees
- Wilhelm Dröscher Prize, Member of the Board of Trustees
- Stiftung Lesen, Member of the Board of Trustees
- Trier University of Applied Sciences, Member of the Board of Trustees
- German United Services Trade Union, Member
- German Forum for Crime Prevention, Ex-Officio Member of the Board of Trustees
- German Association for Small and Medium-Sized Businesses, Member of the Political Advisory Board