On behalf of the state government of Lower Saxony, a team of experts chaired by Dietmar Harhoff is to develop options for action on how the federal state can respond to current major societal challenges. In the next few years, the course will be set for future developments. By the end of 2020, twelve renowned experts are to analyze opportunities and challenges.
Harhoff does not want to anticipate possible results. However, the Commission could “point out options for action, reveal weaknesses and make recommendations” – with a long-term perspective. “Those who only think until the end of any given legislative period cannot implement major plans,” says Harhoff. “The period up to the year 2030 is a good medium-term planning horizon for state policy.”
Of all the changes, digitalization is probably the most far-reaching. For example, in the area of mobility, major innovations are likely to change the choices for users. “Many experts anticipate, for example, that forms of autonomous driving in which drivers become passengers but still have to intervene at some point, will become wide-spread by 2030.” In addition to the federal government and local authorities, the federal state also has to prepare for this – for example, by setting regulatory guidelines for autonomous driving or by providing test-beds for the new technology.
According to Harhoff, Lower Saxony, as a coastal state, is particularly affected by climate change – and therefore particularly called upon to commit itself to climate protection. “The state can, for example, use subsidies to set a direction in research and say: This is relevant”. The Commission could also draw the politicians’ attention to good examples according to the best practice principle. The neighboring country, the Netherlands, for example, has been dealing with coastal protection for centuries. Recently, the neighbors have attracted attention with a speed limit of 100 km/h to reduce nitrogen oxides, and the country is also regarded as a pioneer in the expansion of cycling.
The issue of migration has now become less dominant in politics – but the Commission will deal with it anyway. “The question of immigration is also a cultural question,” says Harhoff and explains: “In Japan, for example, robotics is being promoted so strongly because, in view of an ageing society, citizens prefer to rely on robots rather than immigrants in nursing care. For Lower Saxony, the main issue is how the integration of immigrants can be supported or how the shortage of skilled workers can be compensated.
The Commission’s Objective
“Scientists are not the better politicians,” Harhoff says. “We can, however, advise politicians on difficult decisions. This will require patience and perseverance. Many of the Commission’s topics are so broad that it will take time until the effects of individual changes become apparent. “By 2025 we can see whether our recommendations will be taken up and whether, for example, there will be intense political discussions in the Lower Saxony Parliament,” says Harhoff. “By 2030, I would hope that some of the measures taken will show initial effects. Especially with regard to nutrition and climate change, the changes take a lot of time, so you have to start early.”