In the following interview, Michael Westhagemann, Hamburg Senator for Economic Affairs, Transport and Innovation, explains the importance of the renewable energy sector in the current situation, and the role that business clusters such as the Renewable Energy Hamburg Cluster (REH) must now play.
REH: "Senator Westhagemann, we are delighted that you are taking a little time to answer our interview questions during this eventful period. Firstly: when did you personally become aware of the implications of the coronavirus crisis for society and the economy in Germany and, consequently, also for Hamburg? Was there a specific key moment?
Senator Westhagemann: “The implications changed gradually. So there was no specific key moment but rather a shift in consciousness in each individual in the face of the increasing numbers affected by the crisis around the world.”
REH: “The renewable energy sector already faced considerable challenges from many federal political obstacles before the coronavirus crisis. In the future, how are you planning to support this important sector that forms part of the critical infrastructure from Hamburg’s perspective?
Senator Westhagemann: “We have supported the renewable energy sector in Hamburg for many years in a variety of ways: for instance, with the Renewable Energy Hamburg Cluster, projects such as NEW 4.0 and the North German Real-World Laboratory initiative, the energy research network and a number of other measures, including in the area of funding. This will not change after the coronavirus crisis. National political obstacles will most likely still exist in a few weeks’ time too. What we are building on is the fact that the coronavirus crisis has brought with it a number of insights. Firstly, that the climate crisis will cause much greater problems than the coronavirus if we do not act quickly now, and secondly, that our federal and state governments are quite capable of implementing rapid and drastic measures when they need to. The combination of these two factors should motivate us to tackle the issue of transforming the energy system and climate change with even greater determination. Hamburg is certainly not going to let up in these areas, nor in terms of its positioning vis-à-vis the Federal Government. On the contrary: the climate crisis must not now be neglected as a result of the coronavirus crisis."
REH: “When did you come up with the idea of the coronavirus protective shield for the Free and Hanseatic City of Hamburg? Who specifically was involved in its development and implementation?”
Senator Westhagemann: “When the general lockdown order was issued and the Hamburg economy was shut down, it was clear to us that we needed to take measures to support Hamburg’s economy. My colleagues Senator Andreas Dressel and Senator Carsten Brosda and I considered what we could do to help those who are currently suffering financial hardship.
It was equally clear that, as a city, we wanted to provide resources to support Hamburg companies above and beyond the government programme. It was obvious to us that this help needed to be provided quickly and without complications.
So we launched the development of the Hamburg coronavirus protective shield together with IFB Hamburg (Investment and Development Bank Hamburg). Naturally, Hamburg City’s administration staff were also closely involved in its development and implementation at specialist levels. In my opinion, they have done an excellent job in a very short space of time.”
REH: “How did you coordinate the initiative with the Federal Ministry of Economics? How do you think it will affect future collaboration?”
Senator Westhagemann: “Coordination with the Federal Ministry of Economics started at a very early stage. Initial meetings at ministerial and senatorial level were held in Berlin at the start of March. Since then, there has been regular exchange with the federal and state governments at various levels. And I believe that this has gone well, so far. For example, working together, we have dovetailed the Hamburg coronavirus protective shield with the federal programme. So applicants only have to submit one application to us a single time to simultaneously apply for assistance from the state and federal governments. And all of this is carried out completely digitally and seamlessly so that applications can be submitted quickly from a home laptop, for example."
REH: “As Hamburg's Ministry of Economic Affairs, Transport and Innovation, what do you expect from Hamburg's business clusters in these challenging times? What role can they play in Hamburg’s economy?"
Senator Westhagemann: “Hamburg’s cluster structure has absolutely proven its worth in recent weeks. The clusters act as an information hub. On the one hand, they determine the situation within the companies and pass on urgent questions and problems to the Ministry so that we can respond. And on the other hand, the cluster agencies in the companies are available as points of contact and can pass on information, for example concerning the city’s protective shield or applications for reduced hours compensation. That helps to relieve our hotlines. I also find the cooperation between the clusters particularly impressive: for example, the way in which they coordinate the exchange of workers between industries that are currently severely affected by declining orders, such as aviation, and industries that require additional personnel, such as the life sciences sector. As an example, many lateral career jumpers from the aviation industry are also providing support in manufacturing urgently needed protective equipment to meet the current demand. All this shows us that the networks that we have established and maintained for years in our city are of great importance and value, especially — but of course not only — in times of crisis.”
Senator Westhagemann, thank you sincerely for taking the time to answer our questions during this turbulent period. The Renewable Energy Hamburg Cluster wishes you and the entire Ministry of Economic Affairs, Transport and Innovation continued energy and motivation for the coronavirus protective shield and all further measures.