How the COVID-19 pandemic changed the outlook for business

March 4, 2021

Dr Elisabeth Slapio, Managing Director, Cologne Chamber of Commerce and Industry.

The Chambers of Commerce and Industry in Germany, as self-governing peak industry groups representing the business community, are involved in many government measures to support the economy. They advise companies in their regions. Thanks to their constant intensive contact with their member companies, they provide politicians and the government administration with a real picture of the economic situation facing the German economy.

The pandemic has impacted many countries in Europe severely at a time when many national and global problems also need to be solved simultaneously. In addition to important energy and climate protection goals, the main focus is how to modernise the national infrastructure. Furthermore, the impact of digital transformation forces us to rethink our approach to achieving change in the economy and society. It is also an open question how the pandemic will ultimately 

affect the way we all live together within our democratic structures.

At the Cologne Chamber of Commerce and Industry, it is my task to define what challenges need to be considered regarding the future of work, the future of investment and indeed the required infrastructure.  Especially in the fields of innovation and the environment, there are changes which we identified would help us to overcome the COVID-19 crisis and the resulting recession.

A major concern we had as the pandemic progressed, was whether many of the government financial support measures that were introduced would enable business to survive the pandemic. For example, globally operating companies, such as the automotive and aviation industries, are dependent on substantial support due to massive downturns and subsequent losses. Small and medium-sized enterprises also needed support to bridge the COVID-19 period and emerge on the other side. There is a real risk that these companies will not have the financial and factual basis for a future resumption of business operations due to a lack of liquidity.

During the pandemic, the government in Berlin co-ordinated the development of the laws and regulations needed to address the public health emergency with the 16 federal states. This federal system distinguishes Germany from many other states in Europe.  On the one hand, it can result in different framework conditions in each of the federal states. On the other hand, it also promotes individual solutions in the very differently structured regions of Germany.

At first sight, this process seems quite complicated. But it proves its worth wherever regional particularities of the economy make different solutions meaningful.

In terms of our day to day business, this means that the Chambers of Commerce and Industry in North Rhine-Westphalia work closely with the state government and its ministries to support the regional economy with appropriate measures.

Our main task is to represent the interests of business and industry in political discussion and in administration. Because of the severe impact of the pandemic, this task has become more challenging and more urgent. Many issues have needed to be discussed intensively and resolved more quickly than usual. At the same time, the need for concrete help for our member companies has continued to increase.

Every day throughout the pandemic new regulations have been introduced setting out new rules that business must comply with. Companies have lost customers and have had to put their employees on part-time work or close the business entirely for liquidity reasons. At the same time, trade relations with other countries have been changing. Supply chains are under pressure because production processes have been stopped or reduced. It is clear that COVID-19 has had a very negative impact on all sections of the economy.

We are experiencing worldwide that the functioning of the healthcare system is reaching its limits. And the future also leaves open how a new basis for the economy can be created at the end of a pandemic. In addition, the clearly noticeable changes in civil society pose major challenges for the future of all of us. This is why we are working very closely with national and international business associations to explore these challenges and find solutions. We can only master the future if we solve the current issues together.

The Chambers of Commerce and Industry have been giving great attention to future changes that we believe will occur as a result of the pandemic, particularly for small and medium-sized enterprises.

In particular, the main issues we have discussed with experts from business, science and academia are:

  • What effects do the changes in global industries have on medium-sized suppliers?
  • What is changing in logistics, is the “just in time” practice obsolete?
  • Is the new regionality an alternative model to global supply chains?
  • The new world of work – what is it going to look like? Do we need more mobile workplaces and home office space? 
  • How will our employees, their working environment and the entire civil society develop in the future?
  • Are there new opportunities for climate protection and energy supply to safeguard future generations?
  • Is ecology a new opportunity for a modern economy?
  • Finally, we have seen that digitalisation cannot solve all problems. Is this the end of the hype and the belief in a limitless digital future?

The Chambers of Commerce and Industry in Germany are an essential component of the economy and its democratic processes. Therefore, our employees are continuing to work tirelessly to support our members to emerge from these difficult times.

As managing director of the Cologne Chamber of Commerce and Industry Elisabeth Slapio is currently responsible for the business unit Innovation and Environment. In addition to supporting various industries, inter alia: companies of all levels of trade, information and communication technology companies, the tasks of her section include topics of innovation, technology and higher education, energy and environment, as well as the management of electronic government for the sixteen Chambers of Commerce and Industry in North Rhine-Westphalia. Furthermore, she represents the Cologne Chamber of Commerce and Industry in several national and international committees as a (board) member, e.g. member of the DIHK Committee for Information and Communication Technology, board member of BioRiver eV, member of the University Council of the Ruhr-West University and member of the International Board of the Global Telecom Women’s Network (GTWN).