Olaf Scholz and the snails

The author

Sebastian Matthes is Editor-in-Chief of the Handelsblatt.

Olaf Scholz is not a man of big words. His public appearances are more like the camouflage nets of the Bundeswehr, which are so inconspicuous that they almost disappear in their surroundings.

Only once did the chancellor coin a term that has defined debates ever since: the “turning point” he proclaimed after Russia invaded Ukraine.

Perhaps he succeeded in creating such a concept again during his appearance at the World Economic Forum. “This is the new German speed,” Scholz proclaimed in Davos. The world should measure Germany by this new pace. He meant the permanently connected liquid gas terminals and the accelerated expansion of renewable energies.

But then a murmur went through the hall in Davos, because of course no one thought of liquid gas. Most of the listeners had in mind Leopard 2 tanks, about the delivery of which to the Ukraine Germany did not want to comment for days, only to finally deliver. One could “really only laugh out loud” about the “speed in Germany”, said a European banker after the Chancellor’s speech in Davos.

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Perhaps, in addition to the tank debate, the banker also had to think about the Germany speed of Deutsche Bahn, whose trains ran less punctually than ever in the past year.

Or the Germany speed, with which the dead spots next to the railway lines are being closed, so that at some point you can at least give your current delay by phone.

Germany is becoming more and more sluggish

Whether it’s fiber optic expansion, airport checkpoints, securing skilled workers – the Germany speed can actually be seen everywhere. The more often representatives of the Federal Government now speak of this new pace – Finance Minister Christian Lindner has also done this from time to time – the clearer it becomes how slowly Germany has actually become. And how clumsy.

There are many reasons for that. Demographics are definitely one of them. In a country where the median age of voters is in their mid-50s, interest in the past is sometimes more pronounced than in the future. The urgently needed conversion of pension insurance into a sustainable system with a share component that needs to be taken seriously? In the end there was only one reform left. Promoting investments in technologies such as nuclear fusion, quantum computing or biotech? Only with great caution. It all sounds spooky. Should rather do China.

But the real pacemaker when it comes to speed in Germany is bureaucracy. Ever new regulations and laws are hampering the new beginnings, which politicians are invoking all the more heartily.

If a founder wants to close a new round of financing, he sometimes has to print out 800 pages of paper. “The lack of digitization and increasing bureaucracy in administration are slowing down companies that want to invest in renewable energies, for example,” says Lutz Goebel, entrepreneur and chairman of the Regulatory Control Council.

>> Read also: Read, suffer, punch – bureaucratic madness in Germany

Ironically, with the urgently needed digitization of the authorities, we observe a very special way of dealing with Germany’s speed: because things are moving too slowly, those responsible simply remove the speedometer and throw it out the window while driving. Hopefully he doesn’t hit one of the Roman snails overtaking to the left and right.

In concrete terms, this means that after the federal and state governments missed their self-defined goal of digitizing hundreds of administrative services by the end of 2022, the Federal Ministry of the Interior under Nancy Faeser (SPD) is taking the consequences.

In the future, there should no longer be a timetable for the provision of a digital offer for citizens and companies. The advantage: You can’t miss targets that have not been set. Just as canceled trains are not considered to be delayed.

All of this has economic consequences. The admired pharmaceutical company Biontech from Mainz recently decided to strengthen its cancer research abroad. Bayer, on the other hand, is moving the focus of its pharmaceutical research towards the USA because the climate in Europe has become too “investment-unfriendly”.

The short-term economic crisis may be off the table, this week Economics Minister Robert Habeck called off the recession – as the Handelsblatt had been prophesying for months. But in the long term, given Germany’s new speed, the economic prospects appear rather gloomy. I would be happy if I was wrong with that prediction.

More: Annual Economic Report – Fears of a recession appear to have dissipated

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