Many tunnels which Herrenknecht helps build, "really are projects that go down in history", the Chancellor declared, praising the work of the Baden-Württemberg-based company. Angela Merkel has known the family company for many years, and company representatives have accompanied her on some foreign trips.
Not long ago the Chancellor stood by the Yangtze River in China beside CEO Martin Herrenknecht. Machinery manufactured by the company has already been used to drill several tunnel under the river. "You simply must respect the technology available here in the company," said Angela Merkel. In Germany, Herrenknecht is involved in the "Stuttgart 21" railway project and in the construction of a tunnel for Berlin’s underground railway, or U-Bahn.
Young people are given an opportunity
The family company offers excellent training opportunities and is seeking young people well beyond the immediate region. "The almost 200 trainees, who embody the future of this company, are great," said the Chancellor.
In conjunction with the shortage of skilled workers, Angela Merkel underlined the importance of "the political project which is the Skilled Workers’ Immigration Act (Fachkräfteeinwanderungsgesetz)". This will make it easier for highly skilled individuals to obtain a visa and for the labour market to recruit them.
"What is important is that we must become faster in our planning," warned the Chancellor. If we look at both the Gotthard Tunnel and the Brenner base tunnel we can see that the "feeder routes through Germany are lagging far behind". It must be possible to get this done faster. Projects are realised faster, she said, "in other parts of the world, like Egypt for instance".
Germany, declared the Chancellor "must always be up there with the leaders in technological development and innovations". Herrenknecht is a good example, and is now moving into other areas alongside classical tunnel building – including wastewater and the construction of power transmission lines.
The company has one advantage because it always works below ground. When it comes to long-suffering neighbours weary of traffic noise or the question of how to avoid tailbacks "tunnels are almost always a pretty good infrastructure option".
A more enabling environment
Policy-makers have a duty to put in place the environment that allows medium-sized companies to operate effectively. That is what makes research and innovation so important, stated the Chancellor. Over and above the goal set by the European Union of investing 3 per cent of gross domestic product (GDP) in research and development, Germany is in fact now moving towards spending 3.5 per cent of GDP on research and development. This is important since other countries including South Korea, Israel, Japan, the United States of America and China are also on the ball, said Angela Merkel.
For multilateralism and fair world trade
An economy like Germany’s that is strongly export-driven feels keenly "that the global economy is currently going through a period that is anything but easy". This is partly due to economic cycles, but partly also the result of trade conflicts, like that seen between the United States and China. The German government will "continue to work extremely hard for multilateralism and fair world trade".
Germany and Europe must remain competitive – this includes good wages, research and innovation, but also speed and accelerated planning procedures. For Europe it is vitally important to make use of the large European market, added the Chancellor.
With a view to the uncertainties surrounding Brexit, the Chancellor expressed her hope that "we can all make an effort and find a sound solution. I for one will continue to work for this right up to the last day."