European ideals fostered industry and commerce
Europe is the cradle of many civilizations. In its age of enlightenment, it shaped ideals – freedom, equality, tolerance and reason – which many today still see as worth defending and living for. These ideals helped to establish a climate that fostered science, industry and commerce. They have strongly contributed to Europe´s position in the world. In the 20th century, Europe became an integral part of the western world, the dominant economic and cultural block. It relied on and co-operated with its bigger partner the USA and integrated its economies to prevent future wars on its continent. To many people in the world, Europe became a model for political and individual freedom, high living standards and modern life-style.
A new era where Europe is falling behind
Now we have entered a new era. China / Zhõngguó, the empire of the middle, is on the rise. Its Belt and Road Initiative – The New Silk Road – is a clear demonstration that it is taking the initiative in matters of industry and commerce. The USA reacts and secures its interests. Europe seems to be waiting. But while it waits, it loses its economic clout.
Just consider the following situations. Duisburg is the biggest inner harbor in the world and a strategic hub in the Belt and Road Initiative. Rotterdam, the sixth biggest sea harbor, is also part of it. The ports of Duisburg and Rotterdam are still owned by European corporations. However, Greece and Italy are among the 16 European states that cooperate in the Belt and Road Initiative, resulting in Chinese investments in the harbors of Piraeus and Trieste. At the same time, European investments in its infrastructure are falling behind. The collapse of the Morandi Bridge in Genoa is an extremely dramatic example. Under the motto ´no pay, no say´ Europe loses influence and future revenues when it leaves investments in its infrastructure to others. It is a sound principle of free trade that all parties benefit from each other´s competitive advantages. However, the one who strategically invests in infrastructure calls the shots, determines the awards for building contracts and controls the consequent trade as well.
Entrepreneurship is the point of leverage
Europeans do not need to fear the innovative strength of other nations. The ideals of our age of enlightenment are identical to and preconditions for other innovative competencies like communication, motivation and creativity. Chinese values are much less beneficial for innovation. China leads in scale but lags in creativity, the defining factor that translates into economic value added.
So, where Europe´s position in the economic order of the new era is concerned, innovation is not the constraint. That is to say innovation in the technological sense of the word. What is a constraint, however, is innovation in the Schumpeterian sense of value creation. Europeans can take the entrepreneurial spirit of the Chinese as an example to make more out of the combination of scientific and technological inventions that meet the challenges of new physical and digital infrastructures and climate change. Entrepreneurship is the point of leverage for Europe´s position in the new era.
Europe in pole position to shape the new era
Europeans are among the highest educated people in the world. Its cultures, values and brands are associated with an attractive lifestyle by people around the globe. The European Community is the world’s second-largest consumer market. In terms of time zones and travel time, Europe is at the center of a tri-polar world it can help to create. It takes a united effort by entrepreneurs, business and political leaders to realize the opportunities.
Europeans seem to be held back by an attitude of complacency as if the old times will continue to endure. That brings us down. At the verge of a new era we have to find inspiration to start anew. Ideals like freedom, equality, tolerance and reason lay at the basis of European societies. They put Europe in pole position to shape the new era as well.