Portrait of Mrs. Nadja Hirsch

Portrait of Mrs. Nadja Hirsch

The economic significance of the internet industry in Germany is constantly increasing. Entrepreneurial players are not only internationally active internet corporations, but also small and medium-sized companies. How do you assess the competitiveness of German companies in the international comparison? Which potentials do you see and how can these be used and secured in the long term?

SME are often characterised by their better understanding of customer requirements and more creative response – whether local or as a response to international trends. However, I can assume that the market for internet companies is becoming increasingly linked and therefore more international with the growing digitalisation. In my opinion, Germany has two factors, which will benefit us in the future in the international comparison: We have a solid industrial basis and we have a great sensibility for the protection of our data. The first one will be a benefit in the growing link of the “internet of things”, especially in machine-to-machine communication. If we keep on the ball, we could take on international leadership. Data protection may sound like climate protection to many companies – they could not grow if they were burdened with too many obstacles and guidelines. This is not necessary: We must understand that solutions dealing with the increasing demand of customers on the protection of their data are a competitive advantage.

In the case of financial support, we mostly think of the support of start-up companies. But what about existing companies of  the medium size range we mentioned? Will they not be neglected due to focussing on the start-ups?

I can only tell you that very little start up companies have the impression that they receive sufficient financial support. Financially supporting one must not be at the expense of another one. Especially the Liberals have spent a lot of time in the last few years on supporting SMEs (see the campaign “Boost SMEs”) and I myself have taken care of the support of start-ups in the internet sector. As many start-up companies eventually develop into small and hopefully medium-sized companies, the support must be continuous and be available to a company at each growth stage and in each product development or marketing phase. The goal must be that these companies can stand on their own legs. We have produced a guide through the EU funding jungle, which can be ordered via email to nadja.hirsch@ep.europa.eu.

The shortage of skilled professionals is a big challenge for the ICT and internet economy. What do you suggest to solve this problem?

The shortage of skilled professionals is not only a German problem. But especially in Germany, where the industrial base is so prominent but its growth still not exploited, the MINT sector is lacking attractiveness – this applies to students as well as teachers. Here we have to catch up. The lack of skilled professionals however, cannot be solved only within Germany. We rely on skilled professionals from non-European countries and third countries. Germany however is lacking a welcome culture, i.e. it is less attractive for skilled workers compared to other EU countries, such as the UK. Even though the priority review for understaffed professions has been abolished for third country citizens, there are still a number of hurdles to overcome if you wish to work in Germany. The conditions in respect to residence and work permit for skilled professionals and their partners are simply better in other countries. Even for skilled professionals from EU countries, work in other EU countries is often more appealing. There it is, for example, less complicated to have qualifications and certificated recognised.

Last autumn, the EU parliament adopted a compromise on the EU Data Protection Regulation. How do you rate this negotiated compromise? What is the current situation in the implementation of these compromises and where are there still hurdles to overcome?

The result of the negotiations in the committee of internal affairs is – as you say yourself – a compromise. But it has managed to unite all fractions and created a good basis for negotiations, when we continue in the next legislation period and the council will finally comment on it. We Liberals, however, had to sacrifice some requests, e.g. where we had wished for a more practicable data protection. Now it will be about not having the member countries drop the subject in the next legislation, but finally understand that the EU needs a common data protection to prevent incidents like the NSA scandal and the illegal tapping and transmitting of data. If we make clear internationally that the data protection in Europe is not a mere lip service, the EU must speak with one voice.

Where do you see opportunities for German and European companies resulting from the planned Data Protection Regulations, especially in the international competition?

As I mentioned above, I see a big opportunity for German and European companies in respecting the customer request for more data protection. European data protection can become a competitive advantage. Whoever understands how to include these requests in practical solutions, which guarantee citizens the sovereignty over their data, will definitely score. I could imagine such solutions with servers or the “Cloud” or even search engines, platforms and “Big Data“, where large amounts of data are processed but not always handled with particular care.

The European Union has more and more influence on the economic framework conditions in the individual member states. Which subjects dealt with on EU level apart from the EU Data Protection Regulation, do you consider important for the digital economy?

The digitalisation allows us a further and further reaching access to a large amount of information, services, entertainment and culture. However, the pre-requisite here is access to a fast internet – broadband expansion is therefore an important subject. With a bigger use and increasing number of services and data scope the subject of net neutrality will become inevitable. I would like to set in stone the net neutrality, i.e. all data is transmitted equally quick and well, as nothing else would deserve the name “net neutrality”. The completion of the digital internal market also requires solutions in the case of cross-border offers, e.g. music or TV offers: licensing, packages, roaming, radio frequency – we will deal with all this. The regulation (or not) of platforms, the liability of data providers and the copy right – this will all be about creating a secure handling and legal framework for companies.