Here’s another episode of your favorite weekly. We wish you a great and (still) quiet election week, and if you want to know how Europe would have voted, check out today’s WOOM!
FIRST, SOME SOLID INTEL:
Germany’s “November Surprise”
Bad Corona-news: Despite continued reminders from Chancellor Merkel and other prominent politicians to limit social contacts and take this pandemic seriously, case numbers continue to rise to astronomical heights. In fact, 24-hour positive case numbers are now far beyond their highest point during the first wave in the Spring (16,000+ on October 28th). As a result, the federal and state governments are now ordering a “lockdown light” for Germany in November.
New measures for November include the mandatory closure of restaurants and bars, no sports (except for tennis, sigh of relief), no private trips, and extremely limited social contacts outside one’s own household. The only positives to be taken from the new situation: no more patchwork of measures. The Federal and State governments have agreed to apply these rules uniformly across the country. Also, schools and daycare centers are to remain open (collective parental sigh of relief).
Other European neighbors are not faring too well either – after France reported more than 36,000 cases on 24 hours, President Emmanuel Macron announced a second lockdown with incredibly strict measures: a ban on travel between regions, required documentation to leave the house, and mandatory work from home. In Spain, a state of emergency was declared, and authorities have even begun using drones to enforce social gathering rules in Madrid’s cemeteries. Both sides of the Atlantic are struggling, and all we can do is wish health and safety from our family to yours.
What About the CDU?
The election of a new CDU party leader was a non-issue for a long time, just like Anna reported in her WOOM two weeks ago. Now, things are moving. The election should have happened on December 4th at a party congress in Stuttgart with 1001 delegates, which was now postponed till January due to – SURPRISE – Corona. This led to criticism by Friedrich Merz, currently the candidate with the strongest support from CDU members (because they seem to like his image as an old-school conservative who will break with Angela Merkel’s liberal course). He seriously suggested, the “party establishment” is running a campaign to prevent him from becoming party leader. Sound familiar?
Yes, we also have prominent politicians who tweet like Trump. That being said, tweets that sound an awful lot like conspiracy theories might cost him his momentum. This is a pity as he actually had some solid arguments. For example, that the party should have anticipated not being able to hold an in-person party conference with 1001 delegates while infection rates are rising. What’s more, German party law even allows for digital party congresses with voting via mail (digital voting is still not allowed by law). Maybe the CDU will finally have come up a concept for a digital party congress by January. Ultimately, this postponement and Merz’s unfortunate reaction to it could change the dynamic and increase chances for his competitor Armin Laschet – aka the “party establishment.”
Where Are Our Weapons?
If you want to have a good laugh, we highly recommend you take a look at the “Where are our weapons”-campaign from the “Zentrum für politische Schönheit” (transl. “Center for political beauty”). The center is a non-profit organization run by various activists and artists, and has previously made headlines with actions like building a mini version of the holocaust memorial in front of the house of Germany’s most prominent right-wing politician. This week, they unraveled a drop-off box in front of the Federal Chancellery. The box promises that you can return them anonymously but “one weapon at a time and, please, no hand grenades”. LOL. The slogan refers to Germany’s armed forces, where a frighteningly high number of guns and explosives was stolen.
To accompany the box, the center forged a letter from the State Secretary of the Federal Ministry of Defense about the campaign. The guerilla art campaign was done so well that quite a few newspapers and media agencies fell for it. Some even applauded this “creative” approach by the ministry to handle its own mistakes. A day later: awkward silence and excuses by journalists. Even though we laughed quite a lot, the situation with the stolen weapons is gravely serious. The fact that so many people believed this was a campaign by the ministry itself illustrates this quite well.
The (not so) Mean, Green, German AI Machine
Back in 2018, the German government launched an Enquete Commission on Artificial Intelligence (AI) to investigate what potential AI has for greater society, and how it can be used in an ethical way. Now, the Commission has completed its work, and presented its findings in a whopping 800-page report. Here are some of the most interesting and relevant findings:
First, because we now live in an age where European digital sovereignty is hot topic number one, the Commission called for a “European-style” AI. Specifically, this means trust and humans must be at the center of any technology, as this is the way AI technologies will find societal acceptance and economic success in Europe. Essentially, for the citizenry to accept widespread use of AI, applications should be aimed at improving people’s wellbeing, and should bring clear societal benefits. Furthermore, in line with Europe’s ambitious green goals, the Commission proposed the German government should rapidly expand the funding of AI applications for environmental and climate benefit. Lastly, the Commission warned of potential discrimination by AI. Although the ultimate goal should be to identify and actively remove discrimination through software development, no solution is perfect. Therefore, AI decision-making needs to be transparent, comprehensible and explainable to allow for judicial review of automated decisions.
So, what have we learned? Those of you looking to bring AI to Europe and Germany, make sure to really hit home how societally beneficial, green, and transparent your technology is. There, we just saved you 800 pages of reading, you’re welcome.
I’ll Show You My Data if You Show Me Yours…
If you’ve been following this newsletter for a while, you’re well-aware that Germany is pushing hard for digital development. Now, the government wants to drive growth and innovation in the mobility sector by creating a “Data Space Mobility,” for which Chancellor Merkel will present a concrete plan of action at the Automobile Summit on November 17th. The idea: a shared data space can lay the foundation for innovative mobility solutions like autonomous driving maps and rival solutions from companies like Google or Tesla.
To make this initiative work, there must be active participation from various stakeholders within the mobility and transport sector, and currently, there’s only been commitment from federal data suppliers like the German Train- and Weather Services. Private companies, and more specifically the large automotive manufacturers (Daimler, BMW, Audi) are still hesitant to share their data. They are only prepared to share their data if and when concrete benefits emerge from the project. This had led to a bit of a chicken-and-the-egg-scenario, as benefits will only emerge if more data is shared. The hope is that by presenting a concrete plan at the Automotive Summit, more companies and organizations will see the benefit, participate, and therefore increase the pressure on automobile companies to do the same. If you’re interested in participating in a shared mobility data space, or can think of a way to rev up the German automotive industry to get it involved, reach out to us.
Excuse Me, There Is Poison in my Stuffed Animal
Product safety has been a big issue in the EU for a long time. We have some strict guidelines that forbid various toys or other products that are permitted in other states. But these guidelines are from 2001 and are outdated. For instance, it is hard to regulate a product invented in 2015 with a guideline from 2001. This is why the EU is working on new product safety guidelines, which are expected in 2021. Under particular scrutiny are children’s toys, as these could potentially be dangerous.
It is not just about stuffed animals. There are various EU politicians which want to connect this issue with platform and AI regulation. First, most toys are currently sold via platforms like Amazon and so far, Amazon doesn’t have to ensure that suppliers are complicit with EU guidelines. Furthermore, AI is seen as a product that needs to be safe, not just when issued but also when it is developing via self-learning. This will be a huge package to discuss and negotiate on EU level. Discussions between the Commission and Member States will begin next year, but the EU Parliament is already working on it. Reaching an agreement on how to tackle this problem will be a long and complicated process, but it is absolutely necessary.
LONG STORY SHORT:
- We mourn the sudden and unexpected loss of SPD politician and Vice-President of the German Bundestag Thomas Opperman, who passed away this Sunday after collapsing shortly before a television interview. Thomas Oppermann was one of the most respected German politicians throughout all political parties. With his humorous and unagitated nature, he will be deeply missed as a calming anchor in heated times.
- Testing for COVID: Stephan Pilsinger is both a doctor and Member of the German Bundestag for the CSU. Pilsinger does not only work part time for a doctor’s office in Munich but now also in the Bundestag. As a doctor. At the beginning and end of every week with plenary sessions, he tests his CSU colleagues for Corona. This is probably the engagement we currently need.
- Lobby Register: There was already agreement on a lobby register within the government. Now, the Justice Ministry (SPD) sent back a draft by the Interior Ministry (CDU/CSU) with some ideas for improvement. Now, the conflict: the SPD wants more transparency for lobbying activities than proposed; the CDU and CSU probably already dislike the level of transparency in the current proposal. Unfortunately, it seems a solution is now further away.
WHAT’S ON OUR MINDS
We are at least as interested in US news as we want you to be in our Krautshell. Despite some huffs in the last years, the US has always been and is a close ally to the EU, especially to Germany. What’s happing across the Atlantic is of big interest to us. And recently, we just couldn’t stop watching:
This effect is due considerately to the election campaign and all its sideshows. Just as in the States, no one here dares to call a clear favorite based on the polls. In Germany, 41% expect Biden to win, while 38% think it’s gonna be Trump.
While we can’t predict how you will vote, the Europeans have a very clear opinion on who they would vote for: According to a recent poll in the European Union, Trump would receive 17% of the votes as opposed to 45% of the votes for Biden, those results being even clearer in Germany, 10% to 56% respectively.
We will be eager to wake up early next Wednesday and find out the actual results. Maybe we’ll even pull an all-nighter. Watching election projections is only a short delight in Germany, 3 minutes at 6 pm on election day and everything’s said and done. The US elections next week promise quite a different experience.