The Pols Take On Technology

HANNOVER, Germany - The March 3 CeBIT Opening Ceremonies here featured addresses by European politicians who used the event as a means of pressing their vision of how European industry could be revitalized, how the evil empire (meaning the United States) could be kept at bay or for internal political agendas that served more for a domestic audience than the international collection of technologists who had actually gathered to view the event.

Thankfully there were a few bright spots. German Chancellor Angela Merkel, a scientist before joining the political world, clearly understood the nature of change that information technology would bring to her world, and to the rest of the world as well. In a speech that made frequent references to Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer's suggestions that IT had passed through five waves of revolution, "What will politicians do after the fifth wave?" Merkel wondered. Ballmer's fifth wave was one in which information was freely available to anyone over the Internet. "How would we influence people?" Merkel continued.

"Information technology has become a turning point in history," Merkel said, "Dictatorships have a disadvantage in the free exchange of information," she said. Merkel noted that there are already major changes in society because of IT, and she said that those changes can make things easier for people and for society in many ways. But she added, "We need people to be awake and interested in technology." Merkel said that Europe has also decided to make a €1.5 billion investment in IT and communications support.

In fact, Europe's willingness to make direct investments in technology was a major theme of Merkel's address and of the remarks by French President Nicholas Sarkozy. Sarkozy noted that it was critical for Europe to work together to ensure that the EU wasn't left behind in the development of information technology. He said that this was especially true regarding cooperation between France and Germany. "We have to work together on the computers that will be the great engines of science and technology," he said.

Sarkozy noted that France has long taken an active role in directly investing in technology companies. "Government investment is a good policy," he said. Sarkozy said that despite the great cultural differences between France and Germany, it was vital for the two nations to work closely together. "We need great positive energy," he said, saying that the two countries need to move beyond the differences in their cultures. "We must for there to be a successful Europe."

Merkel agreed, "There is great potential in working with France," she said, "Germany has to become attractive as an industrial partner." Merkel said that these changes must include ways to keep personnel costs under control, lower taxes and less bureaucracy. But she said that even with Germany and France working together, "Europe cannot do this alone. The transatlantic business partnership is important." She said that the partnership demanded that intellectual property must be respected, cultural impacts considered, "People must learn to be close to others they haven't met," she said. Merkel said that while globalization is inevitable, "People are in a position to shape globalization." She said that as a result, technology should serve people.

- Wayne Rash

Wayne Rash

Wayne Rash

Wayne Rash is a freelance writer and editor with a 35 year history covering technology. He’s a frequent speaker on business, technology issues and enterprise computing. He covers Washington and...