After Brexit, Europe’s Elite May Now Opt For Germany

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.

Willkommen in Berlin
Willkommen in Berlin
Clemens Wergin

BERLIN â€" 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 â€" 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.

Do you speak German?

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.

Learning German â€" 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.

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Air Next: How A Crypto Scam Collapsed On A Single Spelling Mistake

It is today a proven fraud, nailed by the French stock market watchdog: Air Next resorted to a full range of dubious practices to raise money for a blockchain-powered e-commerce app. But the simplest of errors exposed the scam and limited the damage to investors. A cautionary tale for the crypto economy.

Sky is the crypto limit

Laurence Boisseau

PARIS — Air Next promised to use blockchain technology to revolutionize passenger transport. Should we have read something into its name? In fact, the company was talking a lot of hot air from the start. Air Next turned out to be a scam, with a fake website, false identities, fake criminal records, counterfeited bank certificates, aggressive marketing … real crooks. Thirty-five employees recruited over the summer ranked among its victims, not to mention the few investors who put money in the business.

Maud (not her real name) had always dreamed of working in a start-up. In July, she spotted an ad on Linkedin and was interviewed by videoconference — hardly unusual in the era of COVID and teleworking. She was hired very quickly and signed a permanent work contract. She resigned from her old job, happy to get started on a new adventure.

Others like Maud fell for the bait. At least ten senior managers, coming from major airlines, airports, large French and American corporations, a former police officer … all firmly believed in this project. Some quit their jobs to join; some French expats even made their way back to France.

Share capital of one billion 

The story began last February, when Air Next registered with the Paris Commercial Court. The new company stated it was developing an application that would allow the purchase of airline tickets by using cryptocurrency, at unbeatable prices and with an automatic guarantee in case of cancellation or delay, via a "smart contract" system (a computer protocol that facilitates, verifies and oversees the handling of a contract).

The firm declared a share capital of one billion euros, with offices under construction at 50, Avenue des Champs Elysées, and a president, Philippe Vincent ... which was probably a usurped identity.

Last summer, Air Next started recruiting. The company also wanted to raise money to have the assets on hand to allow passenger compensation. It organized a fundraiser using an ICO, or "Initial Coin Offering", via the issuance of digital tokens, transacted in cryptocurrencies through the blockchain.

While nothing obliged him to do so, the company owner went as far as setting up a file with the AMF, France's stock market regulator which oversees this type of transaction. Seeking the market regulator stamp is optional, but when issued, it gives guarantees to those buying tokens.

screenshot of the typo that revealed the Air Next scam

The infamous typo that brought the Air Next scam down

compta online

Raising Initial Coin Offering 

Then, on Sept. 30, the AMF issued an alert, by way of a press release, on the risks of fraud associated with the ICO, as it suspected some documents to be forgeries. A few hours before that, Air Next had just brought forward by several days the date of its tokens pre-sale.

For employees of the new company, it was a brutal wake-up call. They quickly understood that they had been duped, that they'd bet on the proverbial house of cards. On the investor side, the CEO didn't get beyond an initial fundraising of 150,000 euros. He was hoping to raise millions, but despite his failure, he didn't lose confidence. Challenged by one of his employees on Telegram, he admitted that "many documents provided were false", that "an error cost the life of this project."

What was the "error" he was referring to? A typo in the name of the would-be bank backing the startup. A very small one, at the bottom of the page of the false bank certificate, where the name "Edmond de Rothschild" is misspelled "Edemond".

Finding culprits 

Before the AMF's public alert, websites specializing in crypto-assets had already noted certain inconsistencies. The company had declared a share capital of 1 billion euros, which is an enormous amount. Air Next's CEO also boasted about having discovered bitcoin at a time when only a few geeks knew about cryptocurrency.

Employees and investors filed a complaint. Failing to find the general manager, Julien Leclerc — which might also be a fake name — they started looking for other culprits. They believe that if the Paris Commercial Court hadn't registered the company, no one would have been defrauded.

Beyond the handful of victims, this case is a plea for the implementation of more secure procedures, in an increasingly digital world, particularly following the pandemic. The much touted ICO market is itself a victim, and may find it hard to recover.

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