How the corona crisis is changing the relationship between government, industry and the scientific community
by Benjamin Seifert and Margareta Wolf
The global outbreak of the corona pandemic brought society to a halt overnight. Many corporations of all sizes are facing declining order volumes, and some are even struggling to survive. Government has recognised the severity of the situation and has shown that it is able to take concerted action.
The worst difficulties are being buffered and companies and jobs are being protected by billions of euros of state guarantees and liquidity programmes. After the most recent decisions by the German Federal Cabinet, Parliament and the Federal Council, it is hard to think of almost any industrial sector in which government does not currently play a role. Within just a few weeks, economic policy debate has been transformed in the face of the dramatic economic deterioration in many sectors – for example state participation in corporations and the idea of a trust agency similar to the one set up in 1990 to manage German reunification, a “Treuhandgesellschaft 2.0“ are now on the table.
At the same time government, industry and also the scientific community are increasingly moving closer together. The huge increase in trust that government is experiencing at the moment, in spite of the difficult decisions it has had to make, is a result of this trend. A new feeling of pan-societal solidarity has emerged.
Crisis accelerates transformation in relationship between industry and scientific community
The relationship between the scientific community and industry had already been in a state of transformation for some time. The promotion of academic research aiming to advance innovative strength is no longer just a demand; observers are actually seeing signs of closer collaboration between the two spheres. And the government is playing a coordinating and catalysing role. An example of this can be seen in the current relationship to research in the pharmaceutical industry and to start-ups in the area of vaccine development.
The political decisions of recent weeks serve to reinforce this trend. In relation to collaboration between industry and the scientific community, the corona crisis may become a “founding rupture” – a term coined by French philosopher Michel de Certeau – in that it gives industry a new degree of acceptance and responsibility in society. This is also expressed in publicly recognised collaborations between research-intensive companies, tech start-ups and practice-oriented scientific institutions. Rationality, expertise and a pragmatism free from ideology are bringing government, industry, the scientific community and society together. We are seeing the emergence of a new level of bonding and trust in our society.
The challenge now is to focus on creating the conditions to strengthen Germany as a scientific and research location and to support the already existing and extensive collaborations between industry and the scientific community. It is this area that the German government must focus on promoting when it takes over the presidency of the EU Council in the second half of 2020.
Revitalisation of industry can only succeed through collaboration
The new spirit of collaboration is a good foundation on which to revitalise the German economy, and it is an opportunity to overcome age-old prejudices between government, industry and the scientific community. This new culture of mutual understanding can enable the creation of innovation platforms on which representatives of these groups engage in regular dialogue. The discussion will centre around key questions of how we are going to continue to advance our research and technology and bring them to market and enhance our competitivity.
Public life may have come to a standstill, but creative discourse has picked up speed. A lot of things are up for debate: the clear weaknesses of globalisation; the future of the EU; the consequences of the pandemic, which has also led to a competition for global leadership. However, the disruption we are currently experiencing can also lead to new types of collaboration and speed up trends that are already starting to emerge.
Dr Benjamin Seifert is a Managing Director at Deekeling Arndt/AMO and head of the Berlin office. He has many years of experience as a communications expert for German ministries as well as for the SPD party leadership and the SPD parliamentary group. Margareta Wolf has been one of our Senior Advisors for many years. Previously, she was a member of the German parliament (Bundestag) for 13 years, filling various roles, for example as economic policy spokesperson for the directorate of Bündnis 90/Die Grünen (German green party) and as a parliamentary state secretary.