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Germany leads innovation ranking. No one is more surprised than us

CES 2017: Bosch setzt auf intelligente Assistenten
Here I am! Source: Mayfield Robotics/Robert Bosch GmbH

I was standing around at an airport in Germany many years ago, watching planes as I waited for a flight. An elderly lady was standing next to me and our conversation turned to a recent plane accident. “That would never happen to a plane made in Germany,” she said.

I recalled her absolute certainty that German products are second to none when I read this morning that Germany is a leader in innovation and competitiveness worldwide. That’s based on customer satisfaction with German products, as well as factors like the number of patents filed here, research excellence and publications.

Still, the news has me scratching my head and I don’t think I’m alone. In this increasingly digital world, Germany hardly seems like a leader: This, after all, is a place where fax machines are living the high life; vans drive around sensitive files for government offices; and people keep yellowing tax returns in the cellar until the paperwork is digested by spiders.

But who are we to argue with the World Economic Forum? Geneva measured twelve areas in all and said stability in the financial sector, the quality of education, health care and macro-economic stability were factors in Germany’s favor. I don’t think it’s too early for a celebratory beer.

Though if we’re day-drinking, let’s have a vodka and go whole hog. State premier Manuela Schwesig says Germany should be besties with Russia. She argues that we can’t influence the Kremlin by scolding and piling on sanctions – instead, we should maintain our friendship to steer Russia in line with our thinking. She’s behind Nord Stream 2 and argues that opponents aren’t being honest about the business interests that are behind their criticism. How to deal with Russia is a question that has vexed Germany for centuries; right now, the question matters most to the eastern German states where Russia is an important trading partner.

For now, it seems a foregone conclusion that we’re saying farewell to the Social Democrat party, though it has long played a major role in Germany’s political landscape. Its dismal showing in Bavaria is part of a broader social shift away from solidarity and towards greater polarization. This, plus newcomer parties in Germany, from the Greens to the AfD, drew members away from the SPD. It’s partly also a victim of its own success, especially in labor relations. The party should still play an important role in politics in the future, says my colleague.

One new idea from the party is making waves in Germany and beyond: Olaf Scholz, the technocrat finance minister, has a non-paper that isn’t out but is already making enemies. As a plot to make the euro zone more crisis-proof, he suggests that countries make GDP-based contributions into a European Unemployment Stabilization Fund to loan money to national unemployment funds in times of trouble. Trouble is, even before it’s out, it’s already losing favor, in Europe and in Berlin. The chancellor’s office says fuhgeddaboudit and German netizens are furious about what they see as one more cunning plan to empty their pockets.

Police, meanwhile, are uncovering more about the hostage-taking in Cologne on Monday. They say a suspect who tried to set a McDonald’s on fire and then took a woman hostage at a train station claimed to be a terrorist. Authorities said they weren’t ruling out terror but are keeping an open mind, as the 55-year-old refugee suffered from mental problems and was drunk. Four people were hurt, and police shot the man, who is now in a coma. He doesn’t seem to have had accomplices.

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