More Investment in R&D

In a radically honest post-election assessment, Brigitte Zypries, Germany’s minister for economic affairs, calls for the democratic parties in the Bundestag to work together with determination to win back voters and solve people’s problems. Zypries demands more investment in R&D, tax incentives for small and midsized companies, and points to ways Israeli-German economic cooperation can be optimized…





In your eyes, what were the chief reasons for the SPD’s dismal election results?
Despite a successful term in office, both parties in the governing coalition suffered heavy losses, including to the AfD. For the SPD, we did not receive credit for many of the projects we accomplished, such as a minimum wage and eligibility for pensions following 45 years of contributions. In the next Bundestag all democratic parties will have to work together and with determination to win back voters and solve people’s problems. That will eliminate the AfD’s basis.


Franz Müntefering, an old ally of former Chancellor Gerhard Schröder, called being in the opposition “crap.” Now the SPD has decided to go that way anyhow. What can the party achieve economically in the opposition?
We have excellent minds and clear positions and will remain a strong voice of democracy in the opposition. Germany needs Social Democratic policy, so that all can benefit from growth and prosperity. More investment in education, schools and digital infrastructure are only a few of the steps we need. We will continue to fight for them in the opposition.
Will the presence of the AfD in the Bundestag harm Germany̕s economy abroad?
I certainly hope not. We have a strong and robust economy that offers high value products that are rightly prized internationally.


The “Agenda 2010” labor market reform was arguably the most successful economic legislation in recent decades in Germany. And yet instead of taking credit, the SPD is now trying to distance itself from the reform.
It’s true that Gerhard Schröder was the chancellor who took the last major step to modernize Germany. There’s been no courage to continue since. The SPD is debating Agenda 2010 openly, and I think an open discussion is important and correct.


The SPD has a heroic history, for instance in 1933, when it was the only party to vote against granting Hitler dictatorial powers. Why is it having such a hard time in day-to-day politics?
For more than 150 years the SPD has been the party of social progress in the interest of the great majority of Germany’s people. I do not think we are having a hard time in day-to-day politics. In the past four years we accomplished a great deal in government. And the essential achievements of this past legislative period came from us. Just remember minimum wage, pensions following 45 years on the job and – in my own portfolio – forward-looking issues such as the challenges of digitization.


Your fellow party member, Munich’s former mayor Christian Ude, has warned the SPD it has to be political at the local level, then it will win more elections.
That’s true. In practically all big cities, even in conservative-governed regions as well as the city-states, the SPD is in power. We do politics on the ground. Still, the image being conveyed is not what it should be. But one thing is clear: We Social Democrats have left our mark on the government’s work in the past four years, and we’ve made sure that people in our country are doing better today.


The SPD began as a workers’ party. Today, most workers vote for other parties.
Classical voter allegiances to single parties have eroded. Switch-voters have become much more commonplace. We have identified the important issues and must keep stressing them – education, more investment in education, digitization, tax reform, better wages for nursing care workers.


The SPD pushes for more justice – but so does every other party, really.
Justice means having the same chances, services, and social equality. That is Social Democratic policy. We have made clear why we need more justice in Germany and have presented ways to achieve it, in every part of life. Everyone can read exactly what we want in each area of policy.



Germany is booming. Conventional technology, auto making, machine construction – but hardly any leading tech companies, besides SAP.
Well, we certainly do have companies that are successful in technology and software solutions, besides SAP there’s Software AG from my constituency in Darmstadt. There are big opportunities for us in the “Internet of Things,” the world of digitally integrated machines. “Industry 4.0” is a neologism invented in Germany and today the term is commonplace in China and the U.S. Machines and facilities made in Germany are in great demand in the U.S.


In Israel funding for research and development accounts for 4.1% of GDP, in Germany that figure is 2.9%.
During this entire legislative period, the SPD has insisted on tax breaks on research. But Finance Minister Wolfgang Schäuble and Chancellor Merkel have put up roadblocks. We have to invest more in research and development. We also must create tax incentives for companies, especially small-and midsized ones.


What’s going on in economic cooperation with Israel? What can we learn from one another?
Germany is Israel’s leading trade partner in the European Union. Cooperation is especially close in high tech. We cultivate intensive cooperation with Israeli startups and encourage young Israelis to come to Germany. That’s the core of our EXIST program for founding businesses. Israel is currently the only country we collaborate with in it. That includes easier access to possible German subsidies.


You were also German Justice Minister. The country has strict laws against anti-Semitism. But how can we win the minds and hearts especially of young people, and most particularly migrants from Muslim countries who have grown up with everyday anti-Semitism?
Laws are the one side. Anti-Semitic utterances or using comparable symbols can be prosecuted in this country. But we must also remain committed to an open and tolerant society in which people respect one another, regardless of what religion they espouse. And that applies not only to religions but also to other forms of discrimination, based on age, gender, national origin and discrimination against women. This is where we must make sure education and awareness in the schools are as good as they can be.


No child is born an anti-Semite. Besides schools, the family homes also play a role.
As a state we have access to the young only through the schools and that is why this kind of education must take place in the schools. For example through role-playing or discussion circles. That way people get to know and therefore accept each other better. We also see that in the refugee debate. Of course there are also people here who talk about excessive migration and who reject refugees. But, happily, there are also a great many others who actively help and support refugees.


You did no longer seek a Bundestag seat. Why would you do that, as one of Germany’s most experienced female politicians?
I have decided that it’s enough. But I will remain a political person and remain committed, for example as President of the German-Israeli Lawyers Association, a position I will continue to carry out.

Brigitte Zypries talked to JVG editor Rafael Seligmann

Photo Credit: jvg (2)

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