"Rather than get defensive, Europe should strengthen the common market, boost industrial digitalization and its service industries in the face of rising protectionism from the United States."
The Unexpected Catalyst for a United Europe
The first weeks of Trump’s administration confirmed that his campaign speeches were not just an exercise in empty rhetoric. The new U.S. president means business and seems determined to deliver on his promise to put “America first” by ushering in a return to protectionism to beef up the American economy. In the medium-term, however, American businesses might suffer from a shortage of manpower as the new president rejects the image of America as a land of immigration.
In light of this new reality, Germany and Europe cannot simply sit back and wait for these new, unexpected developments to simply go away. The stability of our continent and its economic future might quickly be affected by the shifting political landscape across the Atlantic and we must therefore find a strategic way to react. So, what could this strategy look like?
Firstly, Europe must use digitalization to improve the quality of its products and create more competition. With our blend of industrial competence and digital talent, we have the potential to assume a leading role in sectors like artificial intelligence, robotics, virtual and augemented reality. It is precisely in this area that competition will take place in the future. And who, better than we, can win this challenge with our own special combination of talents in engineering and computer programming? Some experts claim that Europe needs to catch up in programming, but they probably ignore the fact that the 4.7 million professional developers in Europe are mostly employed in the industrial sector. In the United States, on the other hand, most of the roughly 4.1 million programmers are active in IT and software companies. This is a substantial advantage for Europe’s industrial sector.
Secondly, Europe needs to assertively strengthen its interest in the service and digitalization industries. For too long we have been neglecting our own interests in service industries to gain free market access to the U.S. for our goods. But America is now putting this sort of tacit agreement in question and we need to react accordingly without losing sight of the fact that a regime of harmonious international trade still remains a win-win situation. It is necessary, however, to create more competition without falling into the trap of nationalist rules. Instead, we should reinforce our digital internal market and introduce clear market rules to weaken the hegemony of the powerful internet giants.
Thirdly, in an era of post-truth politics, where anyone is able to find online references to support and promote their personal views of the truth, Europe must become the defender of factual truth. To cling to factual truth is of extreme importance if we wish to keep living in an enlightened and free society. This can be done by using our technological expertise to create businesses that link fact-checking with the results of search engines and communication platforms. Just think of the huge business opportunity this represents for European start-ups!
To conclude, we must react to Trump’s protectionist measures by unleashing our potential and use his tenure as president to define a new, strategic role for ourselves in international trade. It is time politics and business work together to exploit these opportunities so we can set our future ourselves.
This text first appeared in the global edition of Handelsblatt, 15 February, 2017