Feb 7, 2019 - World

Germany presents ambitious alternative to "China 2025"

Chinese President Xi Jinping has "China 2025." Now Peter Altmaier, Germany's economy minister, has introduced "National Industrial Strategy 2030."

The backdrop: European regulators yesterday blocked a mega rail merger between Germany's Siemens and France's Alstom despite strong support for the deal from leaders in Berlin and Paris who said it was necessary to fight off competition from China's state-owned rail giant, CRCC. Regulators said the deal would give the new giant a near-monopoly in European markets, where CRCC isn't even a major player at present.

  • However, critics say European "champions" are needed to compete globally in the coming decades.

As the FT's Ben Hall framed things on the World Weekly podcast: "[Altmaier] warned Germany and Europe risked being mere bystanders in the next industrial revolution unless states were able to protect technologically important companies or subsidize research and innovation. But is this protectionism in a 21st century high-tech disguise?”

  • One of Altmaier's proposals — a state investment fund to block takeovers of critical tech companies — "goes against many of the principals Germany has espoused up until now: a completely open free-market economy," the FT's Guy Chazan in Berlin pointed out on the podcast.
  • German political and business leaders were stunned by the 2016 purchase of German robotics firm Kuka by a Chinese company, Chazan said. They're also "absolutely paranoid about losing their global leadership in cars" as the market shifts toward electric vehicles. Thus, Altmaier is calling for a major battery cell factory in Europe.
  • Altmaier's fear: Europe, the "development laboratory of the world," will become the "workbench of our competitors."

What to watch: Axios Future Editor Steve LeVine points out that just as this debate is taking place, European antitrust regulators are taking aim at American tech giants, most notably Facebook. "Here you have the tension — between the antitrust impulse and the champions impulse," he says.

Go deeper ... Monopolies vs. China: Europe debates which presents a greater threat

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