At the Eurominds business summit in Hamburg, experts from politics, science, business and the media discussed topics such as Europe’s security, mobility and energy transition, climate and environment and digitization. Expert knowledge met the pointed views of decision-makers and the practical experience of entrepreneurs.
In his keynote speech, SPD chairman Lars Klingbeil outlined the current crises of the corona pandemic, climate change, war in Ukraine, energy security, inflation and shrinking social cohesion. “Polarization is increasing. Many people are exhausted in the face of the complex challenges.” Nevertheless, according to Klingbeil, Germany should not remain in the status quo. The crisis also harbors opportunities for Germany as an industrial location and for the new world of work.
Germany has a lot of catching up to do, especially when it comes to digitization. The corona pandemic relentlessly exposed the deficits. “It took months to set up digital platforms. That will not do!”
Many startups would migrate because of a lack of financing options. The aim of the coalition is to create good framework conditions and incentives for private investors. “We’re in the second half of digitization,” says Klingbeil. “We lost the first one. If we don’t change things now, then at some point we will come out of the crisis and find that other countries and other regions have passed us by.”
The executive board of the German Association of Small and Medium-Sized Enterprises, Marc S. Tenbieg, warned against a toleration reflex in the face of multiple crises. According to Tenbieg, small and medium-sized companies are suffering massively from the disruptions in global supply chains, from exploding energy costs and rising labor costs.
In addition, there are the apparently never-ending crises that are burdening many companies. “It’s not just in medium-sized companies that a ‘toleration reflex’ sets in. spirit of optimism? None! Since Corona, there has been less investment overall and fewer innovations are being created.
Empty company accounts are now meeting rising interest rates, higher prices, higher wage demands in an empty labor market and disrupted supply chains. This is a dangerous mix for important future investments.”
Christian Rupp, university lecturer and entrepreneur, sees a solution to the labor shortage in digitization and artificial intelligence. It has long been possible to automatically recognize spam e-mails. AI technologies now make it possible to understand the content of e-mails. Therefore, e-mails from companies and authorities could already be automated today, but still answered individually.
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German-Ukrainian tech entrepreneur Oleksandr Kotsyuba emphasized that the drivers of change are people who are enthusiastic about using tablets and smartphones to make their everyday lives easier. It is less a question of the technical equipment than of the mindset. Receipts when shopping or in restaurants are no longer common in the Ukraine and Latvia. His compatriots have long since become accustomed to the digital receipt and would ask themselves: “What do people in Germany do with the receipt?”
Prof. Philip Meisner, an expert in digital information, pleaded for “digital first” and radically new solutions. This is how you would find the menu in restaurants in China digitally and order food and drinks online. The futurologist Prof. Anabel Ternés warned against throwing humanity, old values and traditions completely overboard. Digitization everywhere is not a solution.
Meisner summarized the goal of digitization in administration: “It’s not about making an appointment online in a few minutes, but rather being able to take care of all my concerns in a few minutes.”
The moderator Gerhard Delling opened the discussion about the mobility of the future with an escalation of the topic: “We have been talking about the mobility turnaround for years and we still drive a diesel locomotive through the Wadden Sea National Park to Sylt.” What is meant by that: There is a lot going on slowly, Germany is making little progress.
This is also the accusation made by some company representatives to German and European politicians: Frank Wolf, CEO of the Austrian company OBRIST Engineering and Dirk Graszt, Managing Director of Clean Logistics SE often feel slowed down or at least insufficiently supported.
Wolf, whose company produces e-fuels, i.e. synthetic fuels as a clean alternative to diesel and petrol, called for more courage and foresight: “We need a global energy source, not as a bridging technology, but as a long-term solution. We need a “grandchild-proof technology,” said Wolf. Synthetic fuels could also replace gas in industry.
Dirk Graszt reported that he and his business partner were “dubbed as cranks” by politicians several years ago when they had the idea of converting old diesel trucks to hydrogen drive and solicited support for this from the Federal Ministry of Transport. They were only taken seriously “since a Swedish girl shook up the western world.”
Greta Thunberg and the Fridays for Future movement would have shifted the focus, but he would still be referred to Brussels in Berlin and Berlin to Brussels, the entrepreneur said. Nevertheless, Clean Logistics was able to present the hydrogen truck “Fyuriant” to the public a few weeks ago, a concrete step towards the decarbonization of freight transport.
Germany must expand the infrastructure for the use of renewable energy in record time. That is the mantra of the head of the Energy, Transport and Environment department at the German Institute for Economic Research, Prof. Dr. Claudia Kemmert. “We are paying a gigantic price for the delayed energy transition. It can no longer be quantified,” says the energy expert.
From now on, the approvals for wind power and solar systems should not take longer than a year. “Instead of bureaucracy and German slowness, we need a ‘new Germany speed’,” said the economist.
Silvo Konrad, Managing Director of TÜV Nord Systems, suggested setting up a National Energy Council with representatives from politics, science and business. It is about bundling the numerous individual questions and accelerating the procedures.
Prof. Dr. Volker Quasching from the Berlin University of Applied Sciences criticized the investments in the fossil sector. The subsidy for the installation of gas heating is no longer up to date.
The SPD environmental politician Michael Thewes contradicted this: “Private households are investing massively in regenerative energies. The enthusiasm is great,” said the chemical engineer, although bureaucratic hurdles would have to be cleared. A separate tax return is required for a PV system. “People have to hire an accountant to do that. That puts you off.”
Reenie Vietheer, expert on renewable energies at Greenpeace, emphasized that saving energy needs to be addressed more: “The times of abundance are over. Let’s talk about ‘less’ and ‘enough’.”
“That’s right,” said Carsten Liesener, CEO of Siemens Smart Infrastructure Europe. “The cleanest energy is the one that we don’t consume.” That’s why comprehensive energy audits are necessary, which make the electricity consumption in buildings visible in detail.
The German-Ukrainian publicist Marina Weisband made a passionate plea for more consistent sanctions against Russia and faster arms deliveries. She received support for her point of view from Prof. Dr. Henning Vöpel, Professor of Economics in Berlin and Director of the Center for European Politics.
Weisband said that if the West had already imposed consistent sanctions on Russia in 2014 after the annexation of Crimea, then we would have stopped this conflict now. “Our signal to Putin was: you can do it, you can annex territories. If we want peace, then we must consistently put the aggressors in their place. And that goes through sanctions and weapons. Ukraine is getting too few guns to survive and too many to die.”
The economist Vöpel agreed with Weisband. After Russia’s attack on Ukraine, the EU should have imposed stricter sanctions – much earlier and much more consistently. “Now we won’t get out of the war anytime soon. To believe that we will have this geopolitical confrontation behind us in 2023/2024 is an illusion,” said the scientist.
He considers the current petrol subsidies to be misguided. “You give the impression that we don’t have to pay the price for war. And that’s wrong. In addition, the incentive to save energy is stifled.” Only vulnerable families and companies should be given targeted support, i.e. those who are not able to cope with the challenges on their own and therefore suffer particularly from the crisis.
According to Weisband, Ukraine cannot complain about too few symbols of solidarity and signs of connectedness and asked: “But what happens specifically?”
“If we look at this conflict in 10 years, it could turn out to be a historic failure of the EU because the price of petrol was more important to us than defending our values and our freedom,” said Vöpel.