How Germany wants to stop being ousted by China when it comes to standards
Berlin German, English, French, Spanish and a little Hebrew: Franziska Brantner (Greens) speaks four and a half languages. But the state secretary of Federal Minister of Economics Robert Habeck is now taking care of a uniform language for the economy: norms and standards.
Brantner chairs the new “German Strategy Forum for Standardization”, which meets on Thursday for its constitutive session. 42 members from politics, business, science and society belong to the committee, they were appointed for two years.
There are, among others, Volkswagen division manager and ex-head of research Ulrich Eichhorn, Tüv association president Dirk Stenkamp, Klaus Hamacher, deputy head of the German Aerospace Center (DLR), and Jutta Gurkmann from the board of the consumer center federal association.
The forum is intended to develop strategies for norms and standards and bring the German perspective to the international stage. “Standardization is becoming more and more important for Germany from a strategic and competition policy point of view,” Brantner told the Handelsblatt.
Anyone who thinks that norms and standards are only about connectors and the dimensions of printer paper is wrong. The field is not very popular, but has long since become central in the back rooms of decision-makers in the struggle for dominance in global markets. It’s about the basics of the Internet, mobile phone standards, artificial intelligence and international climate protection.
Topic crucial for the German economy
This topic is particularly important for the German economy. Standards have given companies a competitive advantage for decades. European and especially German rules are often international standards. This makes business easy for the Germans because the foreign competitors have to adapt.
But this supremacy has faltered. Above all, China has recognized the leverage that norms and standards have in the geopolitical economic struggle. China wants to become a leader in standardization and thus expand its influence on the global economy.
Beijing is increasingly conquering the international bodies in which business agrees on the standards. In the International Organization for Standardization (ISO), the number of Chinese-occupied secretariats grew from six in 2000 to 79 in 2019.
Brantner doesn’t explicitly talk about China when it comes to standardization. However, the State Secretary says: “This valuable instrument is also used strategically in other parts of the world to gain competitive advantages.”
The Green politician’s target description in the new forum is therefore: “We have to use this instrument more strategically ourselves again.” Because the decisive difference between Europe and China is the role of the state.
reticence on the subject
So far, local politics has stayed away from standardization as much as possible. Most standards are developed by companies themselves and agreed upon in standardization organizations. So far, this has been a competitive advantage for the European economy.
She knows her needs best and can therefore decide for herself which definitions are important. This was possible thanks to the supremacy of the Europeans in many industrial sectors. But with digitization and the transition to Industry 4.0, this advantage is increasingly disappearing.
While Germany is dominant in classic areas such as mechanical engineering, the People’s Republic has developed a strong position in software and artificial intelligence. The People’s Republic is taking a different approach, seeing norms and standards as a political instrument.
The government is much more involved in the processes and offers bonuses to align the economy more closely with norms and standards. In addition, Beijing’s Silk Road initiative is spreading its own standards around the world, which makes market access more difficult for European companies.
>> Read here: EU stops influence of Chinese companies on European standards
The Europeans have realized that they have to react to this. The race for standards is also about the distribution of the next future markets after digitization, such as green hydrogen or recycling of critical raw materials.
Course change in standardization strategy
A year ago, the EU Commission presented its standardization strategy. And that includes a significant change in course. In the future, only national organizations such as the German Institute for Standardization (DIN) will be entitled to vote in the entire European standardization process.
The federal government now also wants to reflect the new orientation with the strategy forum that has been set up. Sibylle Gabler, member of the DIN management board, says: “The leverage effect of standardization is unfolded when German experts contribute their knowledge to European and international standardization.”
The forum is intended to identify where interventions in standards and norms are needed in the interests of Germany as a business location. At the same time, Germany should use the committee to exert more influence on the new European approach.
>> Read here: Stop Russia as a deterrent against China
According to State Secretary Brantner, standardization organized by the private sector is not being called into question. But she also makes it clear: “It is important to make a substantial contribution to the process at European and international level in good time.”