Düsseldorf It is a year behind us that was a historic turning point in many ways. A health disaster changed the lives of billions of people and made modern societies vulnerable – even vaccine distribution is problematic.
In addition, Great Britain has left the EU and a president has been voted out of office in the USA who has been working diligently to the end of the destruction of American democracy. This all coincides with the fact that the great crisis chancellor Angela Merkel held the country together for the last time. In autumn she will step down after 16 years in office.
The Merkel era were years in which Germany was able to draw on unlimited resources without politicians having to do anything. The companies sold cars, machines and equipment all over the world, tax revenues nearly doubled, and the state’s indebtedness fell. From the financial crisis to the euro crisis and the corona pandemic, many problems can therefore be solved with money.
It’s not that simple anymore. Germany is not only caught in a pandemic that has turned into an acute economic crisis.
The current crisis meets a structural one that already means the biggest restructuring for the economy since the Second World War: the direct injection professionals from VW are suddenly supposed to be electropioneers; Auto suppliers are becoming software manufacturers; and industrial medium-sized companies, for whom innovations still quite often have a weld seam, are now dealing with big data.
This is a new situation for many German companies that are all too often content with optimizing existing products and processes. You live very well on the past. But how long? Revolutions are meanwhile being instigated elsewhere. Tesla is worth more than twice as much on the stock exchange as VW, Daimler and BMW together.
The time has never been better
The new federal government can no longer limit itself to merely moderating this upheaval. It must quickly create the structural prerequisites for innovations and thus the basis for tomorrow’s growth.
The time has never been better. Because the world is facing a wave of real innovations: In factories, computers and robots are taking over the control of machines, big data analyzes help in the fight against cancer, and breakthroughs in biotechnology will make completely new medical therapies possible.
The chances for Germany are good in all these areas: Biontech from Mainz and Curevac from Tübingen are in the process of revolutionizing medicine technologically. Munich start-ups like Celonis develop software solutions that corporations use to digitize business processes around the world.
And old battleships from Deutschland AG like Bosch show that they sometimes even participate in the field of artificial intelligence Google can keep up. But such examples are too often isolated cases; Germany will not assume a leading role in the fields by itself.
In the short term, the new federal government therefore needs a strategy that will help companies outgrow the crisis. A wise signal would be to lower corporate taxes to an internationally competitive level and to make it easier to offset the losses from the Corona year with the profits from previous years.
Foundation for innovations of the future
But it is at least as important to lay the foundations now on which the innovations of the future can arise. Because while the USA and China are fighting for digital supremacy and are already supplying large parts of the operating system of our digital everyday life, Europeans are sleepwalking: Germany is falling further and further behind in terms of digital competitiveness, as numerous studies show.
The country of the triple form has not even managed to digitize its administrations. And so the health authorities, which are overwhelmed in many places, remain alone with their fax machines in the fight against the corona pandemic.
The future federal government must develop a strategy for the industry of the future that is a little more well thought-out than what Minister of Economic Affairs Peter Altmaier quickly wrote down at home.
The basis for this is an education system that is much more consistently geared towards the disruptions in the key future technologies. At the same time, science must be networked more closely with investors and corporations, because this is the interface where the ideas for the multi-billion dollar business models of tomorrow arise.
These ideas could even solve the climate crisis. But politics must also set the framework for this. A first step would be a serious CO2 price of 100 euros – and a mechanism that ensures that socially disadvantaged people or companies that are in global competition do not suffer.
Real openness to new technologies
And something else is missing: a real openness to new technologies. Economic policy should not be persuaded by individual companies that the battery is the only solution for tomorrow’s mobility. Above all, it should set consistent CO2 targets. If a company achieves this faster with hydrogen, for example, then the climate benefits – and not the battery lobbyist.
However, we will fail at all of these goals if we only try to regulate them nationally. Even if there may be criticism of the Europe-wide procurement of vaccines: The future topics must be dealt with in the European network, because otherwise they would have no effect – whether in an industrial strategy, a CO2 tax or a strategy for handling data. Whoever follows Angela Merkel will have to venture into even more Europe.
Last year was definitely one in which even die-hard optimists had a hard time maintaining their optimism. But the first vaccine to be approved is cause for confidence.
It is the result of collaboration between researchers, entrepreneurs, investors and a state that set the framework with rapid approval. All of this came together in an exemplary manner: in Germany and Europe. Now this story just has to be repeated in other fields.
More: Read here what surprising successes Germany can boast at the end of the EU Council Presidency.