Friday 20 July 2018

Angela Merkel 'open minded' on Brexit - but worried about data - at Davos

German Chancellor Angela Merkel gestures as she addresses a speech during the World Economic Forum (WEF) annual meeting in Davos, Switzerland January 24, 2018. REUTERS/Denis Balibouse
German Chancellor Angela Merkel gestures as she addresses a speech during the World Economic Forum (WEF) annual meeting in Davos, Switzerland January 24, 2018. REUTERS/Denis Balibouse
Donal O'Donovan

Donal O'Donovan

Chancellor Angela Merkel said she is “very open minded” about the nature of a future relationship with the UK after Brexit, in an address to the World Economic Forum at Davos.

It was: “regrettable that UK citizens had voted to the leave the European Union,” she said.

The German chancellor arrived in Davos after patching together a coalition pact at home to form her fourth government there.

UK Prime Minister Theresa May, who must negotiate a Brexit deal with the rest if the Union is also due to speak at the event.

While Angela Merkel was conciliatory regarding the UK, she said its decision to leave the EU created a greater imperative for closer cooperation among remaining members in areas like defence, foreign policy and banking.

In a wide ranging speech she singled out the implications of technology and big data.

“Data was the raw material of the 21st century,” she said.

But she noted that mostly US technology companies had stolen a march, while in China the state and those firms that gather user data was so slim they are “almost one and the same.”

“Europeans haven’t yet decided how to deal with data. The danger that we fall behind while debating the philosophical aspects of data is a real one... But we need to ensure that data is shared in the correct way,” she said.

Ultimately data will have to be shared in such as way as to ensure prosperity for all, she said. That’s a potential challenge to US firms that have developed and profited by collecting massive amounts of user data and turning it into products for advertisers and businesses. Her position, explicitly linking big Chinese ecommerce businesses to the country’s government will also be seen as a potential threat there, if it means she’ll attempt to restrict access to European markets for some players.

The German chancellor is a popular visitor among Davos delegates, who typically share the veteran German leader’s generally pro-business approach and multilateralism on international issues, including migration and climate.

She seen by many here as the antithesis of US President Donald Trump, whose anti-intellectualism and “America First” programme sit badly with the ethos of the WEF event.

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