Wolfgang Anthes, member of the Board of Management at Open Grid Europe for Business Services and HR Services, takes a stand on the small and large issues of globalization.
The interview was conducted by Alexander Land in autumn 2018.
Mr Anthes, what is "Globalisation" to you?
For me globalisation means that the majority of people have understood that there is a world beyond the horizon, that they want to explore the world and, more importantly, that today they also think globally. There is a common understanding that in today’s globalised world everything is interconnected.
When and in what context did you first hear about globalisation?
The first time I heard about globalisation was at school but, of course, the term wasn’t actually used at the time. It was in history class when we learned about "the discovery of America", which basically marks the beginning of the modern age and hence, the way I see it, the beginning of globalisation.
Are you a proponent or an opponent of globalisation?
I am in favour of globalisation.
Because to me the potential and the advantages of this process are greater and more important than the negative effects that unfortunately also exist.
Which areas of life are affected by globalisation?
I would say globalisation affects our entire life here in Germany, all areas. A few examples: Most of our food comes from abroad. Most of our clothing comes from abroad. Our mobile phones come from abroad. The same is true the other way round. Germany exports cars, machines, medicines, plastic goods etc. all over the world.
The most prominent political topics today relate to questions that cannot (any longer) be solved in Germany alone: climate protection, free trade agreements and punitive tariffs, the future of the EU, migration, secure raw material supplies, social balances and much more.
Do you find this development frightening?
No. But of course we have to actively manage globalisation. We must not look the other way when it comes to negative effects and phenomena. Globalisation is man-made and therefore I am convinced that we also have to define the ground rules ourselves. If we manage to organise the benefits of globalisation, such as knowledge and technology transfer or trade in a way that treats everyone the same, then we have taken a clear step in the right direction.
What do you believe are the advantages and disadvantages of globalisation?
That always depends on what you feel is an advantage or disadvantage. I consider it an advantage to know the world, its people and cultures. Only those who venture into new territory can discover previously unknown plants, for example, and use them to produce medicines.
Trade is probably the all-important element determining the development of mankind. People who trade with each other do not wage wars. It is important that these commercial relationships are sustainable and that both sides are treated as equals. Today’s trade models often involve dependencies at the expense of the weaker party and must therefore be rejected.
What exactly do I mean by that? If Asian or African countries only rely on monocultures and sell these products to industrialised countries, then this is not a healthy development. The exporters of sugar cane, coffee, bananas or cotton are heavily dependent on world market prices, but can hardly influence prices. If prices collapse, this usually has a devastating effect on the country in question because there are no other compensating economic segments.
Monocultures, especially if they are the only export commodity, are the beginning of the end for biodiversity, sustainable economic growth and political sovereignty.
Are globalisation and free trade interlinked?
Yes, definitely. People's curiosity and trade are the greatest driving forces behind globalisation. That’s why free trade agreements are basically a good thing because they define the ground rules for trade. But these rules have to be based on partnership and equal rights. It is important to achieve a classic win-win situation. Anything else will not be successful in the long term because it will always be at the expense of one party.
The USA's current approach to free trade agreements is out of order. You can and should review agreements from time to time and develop them further if necessary. With his motto "America First", however, the current American president is calling into question the very idea of partnership (win-win situation). For me, this has nothing to do with advancement or further development.
Has globalisation made the world bigger or smaller for us?
I think that depends on how you look at globalisation. If you look at it with a positive mindset, the world becomes bigger, if you take a more distanced view it becomes smaller because with every new discovery the world seems a little more "demystified".
The global interdependencies and interconnected systems can also give rise to things that have to be viewed very critically, such as bird flu, the banking crisis and refugee migration. Do we have to live with that? Are there answers to these developments?
These examples lead some people to reject globalisation as a whole. I think they are two sides of the same coin. Diseases spread faster in a globalised and very networked world. But the answer cannot be that we want to go back to the Middle Ages. We must actively deal with these symptoms. Man can fly to the moon; of course, we can also get pandemics under control, as we already have done. The banking crisis is a good example of what can happen if the rules we impose on ourselves are not sufficient, do not work properly or are undermined. The response of the political players was clear and correct.
The greatest challenges facing mankind are climate protection and refugee flows. We need to get to the root of these issues. They can only be solved together and globally. Of course, the strong should do more here than the weak.
Does globalisation play a role in your company? And if so, which role?
You could say we are a child of globalisation. I have already explained how important trade is for people and for the globalisation process. Raw material imports are of existential importance, particularly for industrialised countries that do not have any substitutes. Germany, by comparison, is a highly industrialised and strongly export-oriented country, but apart from lignite and hard coal, it has almost no raw materials. Natural gas, 90 percent of which is currently imported, is a welcome primary energy source. As Open Grid Europe, we transport natural gas across Germany and we are also a central hub for gas transmission across Europe. So we as a company are shaped by the increasingly globalised natural gas market. Our business model works as long as people want gas. If they want something different, we must have an alternative business idea.
How do you prepare your company for fundamentally new challenges?
That's a good question because you assume that we know what the future challenges will be. We know pretty much everything about natural gas transportation that anyone who wants to transport natural gas should know. We are now saying that our expertise is not limited to natural gas alone because we know that in future, we will be expected to do more than transport natural gas. We have therefore asked our experts to come up with alternatives to transporting natural gas. And these alternatives could be green gases such as hydrogen and hydrocarbons, as well as carbon capture storage (CCS).
We see ourselves as a company that assumes social responsibility. Our first response back in 2016 to the wave of migration that also affected Germany was to create another four apprenticeship positions for young people with a migration background as part of our apprenticeship programme. In 2017, two more positions were added. Offering these apprenticeships is one thing, but this is about more than apprenticeships. Since then, as a company and among colleagues at work, we have been addressing issues such as migration, the refugee movement, xenophobia in Germany and solidarity with minorities in a much more concrete way than before. I think this is important and right.
The two oil crises showed us what it means to be dependent on imported raw materials. The global gas market has been changing for several years now. Positively or negatively?
The trend is clearly positive. And this is also thanks to a better functioning global market. What are the indicators? A functioning market is defined by sufficient supply and, as a result, price competition. When you look at the natural gas market and the situation in Germany and Europe, it is evident that there are more and more sources (traditionally Russia, Norway, the Netherlands, North Africa, and these days also the USA, Australia, Russia via the northern route, the Arab region). More intense competition is good for prices and that’s good for customers. In addition, many sources and different transmission routes increase security of supply. This is a positive example of globalisation.
What does this mean for Open Grid Europe?
Growing competition and pressure on prices are good because it makes natural gas a more attractive product. We think it's good that there is demand for natural gas – now and in the future. We support the idea that gas can become greener and are therefore working on hydrogen, green gases and power-to-gas (P2G).
Is your company doing enough?
That, too, depends on how you look at the question. As far as climate change
and environmental protection are concerned, I think the answer is clearly NO. It’s not enough. But that’s true for all of us. We are simply doing too little.
Open Grid Europe has in principle decided to go down the green path. But for a privately-owned company that isn’t sitting on cloud 9, this means that the owners, potential investors and the team have to be convinced that GREEN is the right way to go. We’ve just overcome these hurdles. Now we have to develop concrete projects. That’s what we are working. Our company is on the right track. Whether we’re moving at the right speed is another question.
How do you prepare yourself and how have you prepared your children for life in an increasingly globalised world?
I don't think that's the right question to ask. It sounds as if we had to prepare our children for an unavoidable (negative) challenge. That’s not really a helpful attitude.
It is true that our children and grandchildren have to find answers to new questions that life will throw at them. But that’s nothing new. It has got nothing to do with globalisation. That has always been the case.
What can individuals do to curb the bad effects of globalisation?
That’s fairly simple. We must all live our lives more consciously. Why do we have to be able to buy strawberries here in Germany in winter? Why do some T-shirts sell for 5 euro? Why do we eat lamb from New Zealand when we have great heathland sheep in Germany that don't have to travel halfway around the world? Why is it so hard to take a textile shopping bag with you when you go to the supermarket? Why does everything have to be sealed in plastic all the time?
Many questions, but the answer is simple. Every single one of us can do a lot if we are willing to question ourselves, change our mindsets and simply give up certain things.
What are you personally doing in your life in this regard?
Live more consciously! I try to question things in my everyday life that we simply take for granted. Should we take it for granted that we have virtually no power outages in Germany? Do I really have to use the car for everyday errands? Do I buy my food in such a way that I don't have to throw anything away? Do I have to print out every document in the office or am I prepared to go digital? And so on and so forth. And I try to be a role model to my family and the people around me.
You have already had time to learn a lot in life. What insight would you like to share with us?
Everything is finite. The resources on earth and life itself. Therefore we should live consciously and always remind ourselves that we must not behave like bulls in a china shop if we want our children and their children to be able to live well.
The interview was conducted by Alexander Land.