“Trump Is The Best Thing That Has Happened To Europe”

"Trump is the best thing that has happened to Europe"Daniel Dettling is professor, editor and president of the think tank Future Institute of Berlin Zukunftspolitik

Lidia Conde (Fráncfort) | Daniel Dettling is professor, editor and president of the Future Institute of Berlin Zukunftspolitik, one of the most prestigious European think tanks in Euro trends and futures thinking. Advises parties, ministries and companies. In his last book, “An agenda for the Neorepublic”, he focuses on the configuration of a just future.

What should we be most afraid of in the future?

Fears don’t help us. In general future investigators are critical optimists and possibilists (a political orientation which opts for negotiation with political adversaries). Disruption and crisis are for us important irritants because they force us to think and reflect. According to a current study, the majority of people around the world are worried about climate change. In second place is terrorism. Both fears are based on megatendencies like globalisation, migration and digitalisation.

What should be the policy priorities, taking into account the growing left/right divide and the destruction of the centre?

Coalitions are almost always in crisis mode. As for priorities, politics should firstly deal with the crises and challenges. Sometimes it means dealing with crises in parallel. At the moment all is interrelated. Globalisation means open trade, freedom of movement for capital and people. All this leads to more migration and new social challenges. Until not long ago, globalisation was an abstract economic concept for most people. With the refugee crisis, the concept gained a face, a face which appeared at the door of our house. This has generated much insecurity… The populists of both left and right have taken advantage of this situation because they back a model of homogeneity and isolation. At the same time they argue that globalisation is a project of urban elites from the big cities. For their part, the main parties have tried to respond by promising security and more control and claiming that globalisation is beneficial and will be positive. This need to respond to the crisis returns the political parties to their roots. The CDU to the right. The SPD to the left. It is interesting that in this situation in Germany the Greens are the party which has benefited most. One reason is that they are the party which most credibly rejects the populists. 

One of the big issues in Germany now is poverty in retirement. One in four jobs is precarious. In the future, millions of workers will receive miserable pensions. What future awaits German and European pensioners?

Until now poverty in Germany has been young and female. It has affected primarily single parent woman who do not work or work little. I believe this will change. Ever fewer people are reaching retirement age in what used to be normal circumstances; in other words, working their whole life full time, with a good wage through more than 40 years without interruption. Whether poverty amongst European pensioners becomes a mass phenomenon will depend above all on education, qualifications and life-long learning. And of course on wages. What is clear is that being trained and having a job will decide your resources in retirement.

The other major concern is that in the future the digital revolution will further divide society and increase inequality …

Yes …, but until now technological revolutions have also led to social advances. The first industrial revolution led to the creation of the welfare state and the formation of unions. Will the same happen in the future? For that to happen in Europe we must configure the digital revolution, socially and politically. China and Russia have opted for the authoritarian state, not free, which keeps their populations under control. For its part, the US has gone for the “economics platform” of the monopolists (the economics of digital platforms like Google, Apple, Facebook, Apple), which pay hardly any taxes and use the data of their users. Europe must find its own path, a balance between the capitalism of data or digital economy, industry, workers and users. The first steps have been taken. For example, the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR),and the reform of the right to intellectual property. After the May European elections, the new Parliament and the new Commission will have to advance this European configuration of the digital revolution. I understand that the European model of the future can only be a social market economy (ESM) in the digital age.

The controversial response of the current Economy Minister Peter Altmaier is to increase the share of industry in the German and European economy.

The chances of politics and the state imposing more industry are limited. The reality is that China, Russia and the US support state industrial policies. Without the Pentagon there would be no Silicon Valley. Without the US Defence Department one of the most important technology parks in the world would not exist. The question is whether there are correct rules for all; that is which protect patents, respect property and which can allow access to all markets. There is also the issue of “a level playing field”, equal conditions for all. Above all China and the US have invested billions in artificial intelligence and automation and in this way are preparing for the acquisition of competing companies. Taking into account the lack of a level playing field between Europe and the rest,  it would naive for us to argue only for competition and economic freedom. Altmaier’s idea is a policy of “strengthen and protect”. What? Well the key sectors, where national security is also in play. It is legitimate. And for me it is legitimate that Altmaier wants to strengthen European corporate leaders in the world with his industrial strategy. If Europe wants to have a role in the 21st century global economy, it will need numerous large global companies. Global players which operate internationally.

How do you interpret Trump’s tariffs?

Firstly, the sanctions are only a threat. Trump wants a better commercial relationship and to export more to China and to import less. These differences will probably be evened up a bit. But with limits. The chances for states to intervene in commercial relations are limited. And, lastly, protectionism and isolationism will definitely prejudice the US economy.

The US and China compete for global technological leadership. Who will lead most effectively in AI? China? The US? Is Europe prepared?

There is no doubt, the 21st century will be asiatic. Both from the technological and AI and economic points of view. Many studies forecast that the US will lose its economic and military hegemony and will follow more protectionist policies. In the future, there will be competition between systems in China and Europe. We still do not know what the game will be like. Tough? Cooperative? That will depend on how China’s domestic politics develop. In AI Europe can be a leader if it can connect industry and AI in a way that creates a new formula for generating added value. Business models based on data offer significant opportunities to German industry (companies can use AI to connect their industrial data with knowledge to develop innovative products and services and new business models). The US won the first round of digitalisation. Thus first phase dealt with consumer data bases B2C. In the data base B2B, business to business (in which you reach clients through specific networks), Europe is stronger, but China is moving ahead.

What will happen to the so-called digital losers? One of the major economic and welfare state financing dilemmas of the current government. To what point can it be more social – as the SPD demands – and be fair to those who finance it?

Both globalisation and digitalisation question social policy. Above all the question arises of what will happen to those who cannot adapt to the new times. The European social model opts for a balance between competition, market, solidarity and security. This means that, if workers have the feeling that their efforts and work are not worth it, the model loses credibility. From that point they vote for populist parties. For that not to happen, you have to put a limit above and guarantee social security below. Excessively high wages and wealth are seen as wrong as excessively low wages and incomes. Every country in Europe should determine these limits, a convergence between welfare and security. The aim is that everyone benefits from economic progress.

You have said that “populists are useful”. For what and for whom?

Populists stir up politics and society. They put a mirror in front of us and question our ideas and decisions. The reality is that we have believed and spread the idea that there were no alternative policies. And the truth is that there are always alternatives, also in democracy and in the market economy. Nevertheless, we cannot tolerate alternatives to democracy with our fundamental values like the protection of minorities and the majority principle in democracy, which means that in democratic decisions the result voted by the majority is valid. These would be the red lines.

Populists oblige us to ask ourselves what kind of Europe we want. Do we really want more Europe? For what does the Brexit threat serve? Will the current challenges (climate, migration, trade and digitalisation) lead us to a greater union?

Firstly, Brexit, like the populists, is an irritant, a major disturbance. As to what Europe we want, a Europe in which the member states completely abandon their sovereignty and control, or a Europe in which each country decides its own policies on key issues? I think that the rest of the states share part of the responsibility for the UK abandoning the EU. We should have been more flexible responding to London’s demands on migration and integration. There is not a single road for all. Unity in diversity does not mean imposing one model on all the world. Europe only has a possible future if it is united on the major questions, but flexible and federal in their application. Take into account that the idea of a United States of Europe is only defended by a small minority of intellectuals and bureaucrats. It is not a matter of more or less Europe but a better Europe for the largest possible number of European citizens in their countries.

To what extent can we benefit in Europe from the “Trump shock”?

Well, a lot. Nothing better could happen to Europe than Donald Trump. Seriously. Without the commotion caused by the US President, the necessary debate on what Europe wants would not have emerged. No we ask what Europe represents, what Europe we want for the future, and what we are willing to do for it, what we want to do and what we are willing to pay for it? Whether Trump is good for the US is a different question. This the Americans must decide.

Germany and France are trying to find a common position on fiscal policy, the euro budget and competition rights. But Paris always seems to be ahead of Germany …

France has always been one of the motors of the EU. On the other hand, Germany has been more of a brake. But you are right: without both of them, Europe does not advance. After Brexit it will depend on France and Germany whether Europe has a role in the world of the 21st century. For this it is important that Europe advances towards a social union. Without minimal social standards acceptance of Europe will decline, especially in southern countries. This is why we have to invest more in poorer regions. However, I am convinced that after the European elections in May there will be further reforms.


About the Author

Lidia Conde
She studied journalism at the Autonomous University of Barcelona. Since 1991, Lidia lives and works in Germany as a correspondent for several Spanish newspapers, in which she has covered the fall of the Berlin Wall and the German reunification. Seeking an answer to how Europe could become competitive and fair, too.