Germany and Britain have always competed for top European talents. Now, Europe's best and brightest may see the UK as too complicated. One of many potential positive side effects of Brexit.
BERLIN — The outcome of the Brexit referendum is a shock for Germany too. With Britain's coming exit from the European Union, the weight of the EU shifts towards the weak economies that are neither fond of globalization nor particularly competitive in the face free trade.
Germany on the other hand, with its strong export economy, benefits like no other European country from the open international marketplace. With Britain out, Germany's globally geared economy loses its toughest companion within the EU. There are already EU member countries who want to severely punish Britain in negotiations for the establishment of new contracts of collaboration. Berlin should do everything possible in order to resist such desire for vengeance.
Britain has become the biggest export market for Germany. And only if the EU grants Britain free access to the European market in the future will German companies be able to continue to have such success in the British market.
Yet even if Britain leaving the EU has negative consequences for Germany, it also represents an opportunity. In particular, our country now is positioned to become the most attractive talent pool for high-end educational and professional profiles in Europe. Because, in contrast to what Chancellor Angela Merkel might say, it won't be Syrian refugees who save Germany from demographic and economic ruin. Most of these refugees aren't educated enough — and even those who are, normally can't keep up with levels in Western countries because Arab dictatorships have not educated them as free and independent citizens.
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That's why the future of Germany will keep depending on attracting ambitious and talented people from economically underdeveloped countries in Europe. Indeed, over the last couple of years, there has been intense competition between the UK and Germany to attract the brightest minds. And though the Germans tend to be better represented in many industries, the British had one major advantage: the language.
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Learning German — Photo: Binary Koala
English is the language of worldwide business, learning German on the other is tough and time-consuming, representing a natural hurdle for top performers who might have otherwise be interested in moving there.
All of that was true until last week. Because now the British have built up their own barrier: the expected end of free movement of workers within the EU. The unhindered access of EU citizens to jobs and education was one of the main reasons the British opted out of the EU. But now that will also mean major bureaucratic obstacles for top talents who might have sought to settle down there.
Germany, therefore, gets the chance to return to its status as a cultural and economic center for the world, hailing back to more glorious times before the barbarity of the Nazis. In the beginning of the 20th century, this country had been Europe's scientific, economic and cultural reference point for Europe, and its culture and language went far beyond the national borders, especially to the East of the continent.
Germany's "soft power" came to an abrupt end with the Nazi's campaigns of destruction. Germany got erased from the map as a transnational culturally-driven nation, and the German language that had been one of the most important economic tools in the world was reduced again to a simple regional language.
Though nobody should think the German language will return to its former status, Britain's exit does mean that Germany will begin to attract more ambitious people. Still, this country has many hard questions to tackle, from refugees to its reputation to public safety. And the German language must no longer be an entry barrier. More English-speaking university programs in German universities and English as common language in global companies, following the example of Switzerland, might be a first step in the right direction. Which would make German the second foreign language, after English, in Europe.
Either way, everything should be done to minimize obstacles for high-potential candidates from across Europe. Then we might start to see Brexit not as a cataclysm for Germany, but as once-in-a-generation opportunity.