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German IT lobby chief calls for relaxed immigration controls

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Hannover has a modest track record in IT, since it was here that Leibnitz developed the binary system in 1673, and built the first useable calculator -- well, that's what Hannover mayor Herbert Schmalstieg said at the opening ceremony. Of course, the Hannover area has also produced Mixter,the hackmeister, who became in a few days better known than Leibnitz. He also noted that German access to the Internet is expected to increase four-fold by 2005, to 33 million users, creating 400,000 jobs. The snag is that there aren't enough people to do the work. Volker Jung, president of BITKOM, the new German Association for Information Technology, Telecommunications and New Media, noted that in 1970, German ICT sales were DM 20 billion, one tenth of the world total, but this year the German proportion has declined to less than 7 per cent. Although eastern Germany has more Internet connections than it had telephones just ten years ago, there are only 11 million German Internet users in the 48 million total for Europe. So far as Europe is concerned, Jung pointed to the latest tome from the so-called European Information Technology Observatory of the EU (which gets IDC to supply most of its data). This indicates that Internet usage in Europe will grow three-times faster than in the USA, until 2002, when it surpasses the US in the number of users. In the mobile communication market, Europe and the US are neck-and-neck, with Europe expected to take the lead shortly, thanks to the US fragmentation and local standards. The US-dominated "immobile" Internet of the 1990s will give way to a mobile Internet "with a European hallmark", Jung predicted. That's where BITKOM is supposed to come in -- as the promoter of this development within Germany -- since it now represents some 1,200 member companies with 700,000 employees and sales of DM 200 billion. No New taxes Jung took the opportunity of Schröder's presence to set out what the German IT industry wants. For a start, he pitched for "ground-breaking, forward-looking policies -- not policies that lag behind market developments". Oh yes, "the harmonisation of data protection, instead of hiding behind our national traditions" as well, and interestingly, "the reform of German competition legislation". It seemed that Jung was playing the role of Deutsche Telekom chairman Ron Sommer's hardman. Also on Jung's wish list was a desire for German consumers to have "the same rights as their European neighbours to participate in the price-cutting benefits of the Internet". He added the mantra that BITKOM wanted no "additional taxes and levies". It was refreshing to hear a German commentator pleading for an end to discussions about cryptology at an international level, which had been going on for "three long years", and for negotiations about international data protection, "about to enter their fourth year" to be concluded speedily. A German concern is apparently that a licence fee might be imposed, in the same way as it is on TVs, on business PCs and WAP phones in 2003, when the moratorium expires. On the job scene, Jung noted that Germany had 75,000 unfilled vacancies (there are 350,000 in Europe), and that sending highly-qualified Germans on visits to the US was risky because "they don't come back" because they are fed up with having "to invest 60 per cent of their working hours for the benefit of the income tax authorities and the social security system". Jung wants there to be 30,000 permits for IT specialists to come to work in Germany. He argues that each foreigner would create up to five new jobs, as had been shown to be the case in the US. In the long term, his solution was better education in Germany. But whether Germany will transform itself into an entrepreneurial information society is still a matter of some doubt. ®

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