Germany is a high-tech country and the strongest economy in Europe as well as one of the largest in the world. Tens of thousands of innovative German SMEs continually succeed in becoming or remaining world leaders in their markets thanks to formidable flexibility and clever ideas. Likewise, Germany stands for tradition-rich products and long-standing guarantors of success. The car industry is a case in point: for 125 years now, German car makers have been in the technological and entrepreneurial Champions League. Germany’s international competitive strength is no accident. For, education, research and inventiveness are prominent advantages of our location. As Europe’s technological driving force, Germany’s ranking of global-marketrelevant patents – in relation to population size – is number three on a global scale and number one on a European scale.
The German economy has quickly and successfully overcome the global financial crisis and is on the upswing. The job market, in particular, is experiencing a continuation of that favourable trend. With a working population of 40.5 million in 2010, employment was at its highest level since the reunification. For 2011, the federal government expects the yearly average unemployment number to remain under three million. Following a record economic growth of 3.6 per cent last year, we expect it to be 2.6 per cent this year. On the one hand, it is the result of a global economic recovery. On the other hand, this boom goes largely to the credit of the many industrious workers and employers in our country. Thanks to their competitive pricing and high product quality, our companies were able to live up to past export accomplishments. In research and development as well, signs are again pointing to growth. This year, company R&D expenditures are poised to reach the considerable mark of 60 billion euros. With regard to research spending, we are globally in the leading group. It represents nearly 2.8 per cent of our gross domestic product. Now, we must stabilise those developments.
In order to continue to be a front player in the global economy, Germany needs the EU and a stable currency. Approximately 40 per cent of our exports go to the euro-zone countries. Therefore, the euro is important to us as an export nation in the middle of Europe. We take our duty as euro watchdog seriously.
All member countries must do their homework. That holds true as well when it comes to research and development spending. Unlike Germany, some EU countries are regrettably reducing their public R&D spending. The current EU average is barely two per cent. Within the framework of the EU 2020 Strategy, the European Council reiterated a target of three per cent of gross domestic product for research and development spending. All EU member states are requested to work towards achieving that goal. We must further harmonise capital market rules and find common regulations for the EU patent, norms and standardisation. In that way, we can create incentives for entrepreneurial innovation. From an invigorated and innovative inner-European market, Germany is ideally prepared to meet the challenges of global competition.
The weights are shifting in the global economy. At present, it is driven by two growth poles: parts of Europe and the emerging countries. Traditional growth engines such as USA are coming to a standstill, while skyscraper after skyscraper is being built in Shanghai. Some emerging countries have long risen to be serious competitors. The speed of their economic growth is impressive: from 2004 to 2009, it contributed almost two thirds to the global economic growth. China has a population of 1.3 billion – considerably more than the EU, USA, Russia and Japan combined. The Chinese middle class is growing, and the government as well as companies are investing massively. That represents enormous opportunities for German companies. Whether car parts, kitchen appliances or power plant technology – “Made in Germany” has an excellent reputation in China as well. Our exports to China have more than doubled in the past five years.
The future will continue to hold a large potential for good business in China, but also in India and Brazil. For an optimal utilisation of those potentials, we require dependable structural conditions.
They include protection of intellectual property, free flow of trade currents in open markets, proper research and development conditions, access to credit, skilled labour as well as a simple and fair tax system. Only an excellent educational system and enthusiastic, creative researchers as well as a highly skilled and committed workforce will secure Germany a good spot in the international competition, especially considering the demographic changes.
Innovations are investments in the future. They secure and create jobs. If you do not come up with new inventions, you soon end up in a backwater. New technologies are the key element to overcoming the challenges of demographic development, energy supply and climate change. More than before, Germany must become a country where new technologies can actually be turned into marketable products. All too often, technologies are developed here on paper, but are not implemented in the end. All the while, a lot of money is being made abroad with German product ideas. Examples from the past are the fax and MP3s. We require a technology-friendly environment in Germany. That is why the Federal Ministry of Economics and Technology has launched a technology offensive. It includes better protection of intellectual property, an accelerated introduction of the EU patent and an efficient accompaniment of key technologies such as energy. Research in the fields of energy and information technologies as well as aeronautic and astronautic technologies is indispensable to reaching the objectives of the federal government’s energy concept for a clean, dependable and affordable energy supply by 2050. The federal government sees a key element for the mobility of the future in electric mobility. By 2020, one million electric vehicles are to be rolling on German roads.
Our recovery was made possible only because our companies have asserted themselves on the global market with new ideas and creative products. That must remain the same. That is why, in addition to an innovation-friendly climate, we need an increased willingness to take risks. New technologies are the path to fighting diseases, overcoming climate change as well as improving and simplifying the lives of many people. We must generate acceptance of new technologies. We must not become the “anti” republic. The market economy does not guarantee success in business, but it does offer opportunities and possibilities. That is why we do not rely on paternalism and guardianship. Instead, we rely on freedom and personal responsibility.
The author was born in Vietnam in 1973. Dr. Philipp Rösler studied human medicine at the Hannover Medical School (MHH). He has been a member of the Free Democratic Party (FDP) since 1992 and of the federal FDP committee since 2005. From 2009 to 2011, he was Federal Minister of Health. Since May 2011, Dr. Philipp Rösler has been Federal Minister of Economics and Technology and assisting federal chancellor.