German Chancellor Angela Merkel holds her annual summer news conference in Berlin, Germany on July 22 2021. Picture: REUTERS/HANNIBAL HANSCHKE
German Chancellor Angela Merkel holds her annual summer news conference in Berlin, Germany on July 22 2021. Picture: REUTERS/HANNIBAL HANSCHKE

Berlin — Angela Merkel says the next German chancellor will have to pick up the pace of technological progress to ensure Europe’s biggest economy can remain competitive in the digital age.

Speaking at an extended press conference before what will be her last summer break as German leader, Merkel said that the next government will have to do more to digitise the public sector, help businesses take advantage of cutting edge technology and accelerate the effort to eliminate carbon emissions.

Microphone malfunctions in the press room underlined that for all its engineering prowess, Germany still struggles with the basics at times.

“We could be better,” Merkel said. “There’s a lot to do.”

While Merkel has seen solid economic growth add more than 5-million jobs during her 16 years in office, she is stepping down at a time of when questions are mounting about the country’s future. The fabled German car industry is wrestling with the end of combustion engines and competition from the likes of Tesla, the German tech industry lags behinds its European rivals and manufacturers are fretting about the cost of the energy transition.

The country’s first woman leader and the first from formerly communist East Germany has won four straight German elections as head of the centre-right Christian Democratic Union (CDU). If the coalition negotiations after September’s vote stretch on past Christmas, she will surpass Helmut Kohl to become Germany’s longest-serving postwar chancellor.

Her last victory, in 2017, was strained by a lacklustre result and six months of tumultuous talks before she could form a government with the Social Democrats. In 2018, after political fight over refugees that nearly brought down her administration, she announced she would not run again as CDU party chair or chancellor.

Merkel has done much to tout her ambitious climate agenda, and in her first term she was dubbed “the green chancellor” (she was environment minister in the 1990s). But her record is more mixed.

In 2011, she was forced to reverse a nearly complete plan to extend nuclear energy by a decade in the fallout of the Fukushima disaster in Japan. Her 2019 plan to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 55% by the end of this decade ran into opposition from climate activists and the opposition, who said it was not ambitious enough.

Similarly, she did little to encourage German carmakers to embrace the shift to electric motors until the diesel scandal of 2015 forced their hand.

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