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Addressing Germany’s real economic challenges: ageing, underinvestment, and red tape

Germany finds itself at a critical juncture, grappling with economic challenges that demand immediate attention and strategic reforms. Despite widespread concern over its economic model and recent setbacks, the country's true obstacles, according to the IMF lie in issues such as demographic shifts, insufficient investment, and bureaucratic hurdles rather than solely in energy dependencies.

Last year, Germany experienced economic contraction, standing as the sole G7 nation to do so. Forecasts indicate that it will continue to lag behind its peers in growth this year. Critics often attribute this decline to a supposed failure of the German economic model, citing its historical reliance on cheap Russian gas for export competitiveness. However, while the cessation of Russian gas imports in 2022 did lead to inflation spikes and cost pressures, subsequent developments have shown these effects to be temporary. Wholesale gas prices have reverted to pre-shock levels, and measures of international competitiveness have recovered, with Germany's trade surplus showing resilience.

Photo © Rudi1976 |

Claims of widespread deindustrialisation also exaggerate the situation. While some energy-intensive industries have contracted, they represent a minor portion of the economy. Contrarily, sectors like auto manufacturing are adapting, with electric vehicle production witnessing significant growth. German manufacturers have pivoted towards higher value-added products and streamlined processes, maintaining manufacturing value-added despite a decline in industrial production.

Yet, Germany's economic weakness stems from both temporary and structural factors. Temporary challenges include consumer spending cuts due to inflation and European Central Bank actions to control inflation, along with a global shift in demand towards services. However, more enduring issues such as sluggish productivity growth and an ageing population pose greater threats.

Germany must address these fundamental challenges to bolster its long-term growth prospects. As the working-age population declines due to retiring baby boomers and waning migrant inflows, lobour shortages loom large. Increasing immigration and enabling greater workforce participation among women could mitigate these effects. Moreover, enhancing productivity necessitates addressing underinvestment in public infrastructure and cutting bureaucratic red tape.

Public investment in Germany has been insufficient to meet infrastructure demands, exacerbated by bureaucratic inefficiencies leading to underspending. To remedy this, Germany could enhance municipal planning capacity and explore financing options such as adjusting debt limits, IMF reports. Additionally, easing regulatory burdens and digitising government services would expedite processes and stimulate investment and entrepreneurship.


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