Innovation

Combating the Fear of Technology

Wartung von Windkraftanlage
Wind power, like digitization, will be a part of Germany's future. Source: Julian Stratenschulte/DPA

For centuries, Germany has excelled with a wealth of technological brilliance and innovative leaps. From the invention of the printing press to Industrial Revolution success stories of companies like Bayer, Thyssen and Siemens, to name just a few examples.

Today, many of the small and medium-sized German companies that make up the famed “Mittelstand” are world champions of innovation, particularly in the areas of plant engineering and automotive supply.

However, this success cannot lead to complacency. On the contrary, we have to make sure innovation continues to flourish in Germany. This requires a joint effort by all participants – business, science, society and, of course, politics.

On Wednesday, innovation will be the subject of a congress held by the center-right Christian Democratic Union/Christian Social Union parliamentary party in the Bundestag, Germany’s parliament. Chancellor Angela Merkel will be taking part.

Here, we will outline three priorities: First, we have to assure that new laws and rules do not get in the way of our economy’s power to innovate. Accordingly, precautions have to be taken right from the beginning of the legislative process. That is why I welcome proposals from the business sector to make “innovation-friendliness” part of a test criteria for future laws. An independent national regulatory council should be commissioned with this task.

We have to assure that new laws and rules do not get in the way of our economy’s power to innovate

Second, we have to reinforce Germany as an internationally competitive research location. Thanks to a large, concerted effort on the part of the federal government, we have now reached our goal of devoting 3 percent of GDP to research and development.

We now have to develop this objective further. In addition to the tried and tested promotion of projects, it should no longer be taboo to discuss fiscal support for future research.  Additionally, there must be better coordination between the departments involved in promoting innovation projects.

Which brings me to the third and most important point: In Germany, we need to foster a climate that is innovation-friendly. There is real fear in German society about the fate of key future markets – from biotech to artificial intelligence.

We have to take this fear seriously, but it cannot be a criteria for politicians to slow innovation.  Particularly now, in times of fake news, the only responsible reaction is to deal with technophobia on a strictly factual basis.

Germany’s left-wing political parties appear to have taken the exact opposite approach. As quick as they are to attack populism on other issues, the left’s method of dealing with technophobia is populism in its purist form.

This is something we have to resolutely oppose. Ultimately, Germany has only been a successful location for innovation because of its ideas, its intellectual energy and its courage to embrace the future.  And this has to continue.

 

To contact the author: gastautor@handelsblatt.com

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