Merkel calls for ‘industry 4.0’ at German IT Summit

German Chancellor Angela Merkel hopes Germany and Europe can catch up with the United States and China in the digital sector. [World Economic Forum]

Merkel: The situation is fragile. [Reuters]

Europe is supposed to become a global leader in the digital world, while Germany hopes for an Industry 4.0 at the national IT Summit, putting net neutrality to the test with a “special service”. EURACTIV Germany reports.

“In sectors like chip production the world market is far ahead of us,” said German Chancellor Angela Merkel on Tuesday (21 October) at the country’s 8th IT Summit in Hamburg.

“Connecting digital technologies with industrial products and logistics – Industry 4.0 – Germany has a chance at taking the lead,” Merkel said.

The Chancellor made it clear she no longer wants Europe constantly trailing behind the United States and China on global competitiveness in this sector.

To realise this ambition, Europe must set the right course, she said. Together with the other EU member states, the Chancellor hopes to come up with a new basic data protection regulation in early 2015.

Net neutrality and big data

Meanwhile, technical innovations should not be hindered by further regulation, Merkel stressed. Businesses must be able to secure a place via the Internet, where every user has the same access. At the same time, she said, there should be a way to offer “special services on the internet with a certain level of security and reliability”.

But the Chancellor said she would not address the issue of net neutrality until Germany offers high enough bandwidth.

“In this area, we need an arrangement that is non-discriminatory – a special service for every user but also for every provider. There should be no monopoly for one provider but, rather, categories for individual services,” Merkel explained.

The conservative politician said she hopes to go over the EU telecoms package in negotiations with Commissioner-designate Günther Oettinger. “The digital world should not be a lawless space. Still, we must find an appropriate median for regulation,” Merkel said.

Although the German government will improve its support schemes for start-ups and help further digitise the economy, “all of the incentives the state provides may not be enough to create a climate in Germany similar to that in the United States and specifically in Silicon Valley,” she warned. That will require a change in the German mentality, the Chancellor said.

Merkel explicitly spoke in favour of using the amount of data received. “It must be possible to use ‘big data’,” she said amid rising concern over the mass usage of private data.

Anonymisation should become a German trademark, Merkel indicated, but with regard to health research and traffic congestion reports it simply makes more sense to use data from a large number of users.

IT sector hopes to win the “second digital half”

The national IT Summit seemed to be the sign of a hopeful digital mindset.

“Europe has clearly lost the first half of the game over global leadership,” said the CEO of Deutsche Telekom, Timotheus Höttges. Not a single dominant IT firm – whether a chip producer or final device producer – has its headquarters on the European continent. Instead they are in the United States or Asia, he pointed out.

“But we can still win the second half of the game,” Höttges said hopefully.

And the IT industry explained how this could work: “We need intelligent grids, super-broadband also on the surface, a modern data policy – so we can use existing data in medicine or in the automobile industry – data security, a modern schooling system and a completed digital internal market,” explained Dieter Kempf, head of the IT sector association BITKOM.

Gabriel wants stock market 2.0

But none of this will work without young start-up companies, said Germany’s Economic Affairs Minister Sigmar Gabriel.

The head of the Social Democratic Party (SPD) hopes to create a new stock market segment for start-up companies. “Together with the Deutsche Börse, we plan to create a ‘stock market 2.0’” Gabriel indicated.

With their own stock market segment, young companies are intended to gain additional capital, which they urgently need to further develop and expand. Gabriel said the negative effects of the “new market” over ten years ago will not stop the new project.

The “new market” was a stock market segment for growing businesses that ended up in disrepute after the burst of the internet bubble.

Gabriel spoke in favour of giving young firms a possibility to offset losses carried forward. The current lack of such an option is part of the reason why no more money is flowing into start-up companies in Germany, the Economics Minister said.

The SPD chief criticised the shortage of venture capital in Germany. Public assistance alone will not solve this problem, he said.

The German government intends to support internet-based services in the future, to ensure that Germany does not continue to miss out on digital progress. Gabriel said he plans to support the future-oriented project “Smart Service World” with €50 million. In this way the federal government is reacting to success of global digitial giants like Amazon and Google, who attract customers with easy-to-use services.

Greens: IT Summit resembles a “fair weather summit”

Konstantin von Notz, the Green Party’s IT expert in the German Bundestag, called Tuesday’s meeting another national “fair weather summit” and a “big show event without any real substance”.

Once again, the German government missed an opportunity to discuss central issues with civil society representatives, von Notz said. Relevant topics also included the NSA surveillance scandal revealed by Edward Snowden, the Green politician pointed out. “This is an absurdity that can hardly be surpassed. Despite a massive lack of trust in the most important communication infrastructure of our time, there are still no consequences. That is a fatal sign,” said von Notz.

“Surveillance is a creeping poison for democracy and the economy,” he warned.

In the run up to the IT Summit,  Gesche Joost, the German internet ambassador, had criticised the federal government’s digital agenda. “The visions are missing,” Joost told Welt am Sonntag. The agenda still reflects a mindset of traditional value creation. But in the meantime, there are completely “different business models in many sectors”, Joost added.

The topic of digital work has hardly been defined, she said. Here in particular, Joost opined a massive loss in jobs seems to be imminent, rightfully creating fears among the public. “But unfortunately the acuity of this conflict is hardly reflected in the digital agenda.”

The Digital Agenda for Europe was adopted in 2010, as part of the Europe 2020 strategy, to stimulate the digital economy and address societal challenges through ICT.

EU heads of states have since called for further strengthening of the European digital leadership and completion of the Digital Single Market by 2015 (read EU summit conclusions of June 2012 and March 2012).

Below is a summary of the key policy areas of the ambitious five-year plan:

  • Create a new single market to remove all barriers to cross-border trade and licensing, simplify copyright clearance, complete the Single European Payment Area and boost the allocation of spectrum to new services such as mobile applications;
  • Improve ICT standard-setting and interoperability by reviewing the European Interoperability Framework;
  • Improve trust and security to tackle cybercrime, sexual exploitation and review of the data protection framework to protect consumer rights;
  • Increase access to fast Internet and aid the roll-out of fixed and wireless networks;
  • Boost research and innovation by upping the ICT R&D budget by 20% annually;
  • Raise the level of digital literacy by promoting e-skills initiatives, and;
  • Invest in smart technology to reduce energy consumption and help ageing citizens, among others.


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