Public Affairs

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 has been a Managing Director at Deekeling Arndt/AMO and head of the Berlin office since 1 April 2020. 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.