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Germany

Cautious Optimism Sets the Tone for CeBit

Chancellor Schröder officially opened CeBit 2002 on Tuesday. After a year in which the IT sector's growth declined, the industry hopes CeBit 2002 will turn the tide.

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Ones and zeros make the world of CeBit go round

The worlds of business and politics joined forces at Tuesday's opening of the CeBit computer fair. Microsoft Chief Executive Steve Ballmer was part of the official opening ceremony, as was German chancellor Gerhard Schröder.

It almost appeared as though both of these heavyweights in their respective fields were needed to boost the spirit of the industry.

Hoping for an upswing

This year's CeBit is mired between hope and despair. For many years, the telecommunications and IT-sectors continuously reported two-digit growth figures. But that changed dramatically last year: the worldwide growth rate slumped from 12.9 to 4.4 percent.

The 2002 CeBit reflects this development. For the first time in the fair's 16-year history, the number of exhibitors has shrunk. This year, 7.962 exhibitors from 61 countries are taking part in CeBit - 131 less than last year.

The number of U.S. exhibitors alone has gone down by 132 this year. A consequence of the recession that hit America and the rest of the world after September 11.

Nevertheless, CeBit is still the world's largest information and telecommunications technology trade fair.

And it's the trade fair that attracts the most visitors. Last year, some 850,000 people came to see the newest developments in the field of information technology at CeBit.

Beacon of hope

In Tuesday's opening address, German chancellor Gerhard Schröder said that there was reason for optimism. Schröder said he was confident that CeBit would send out a signal of confidence.

Schröder used the stage at the CeBit opening to point to the success of Germany's green card program for computer specialists. Schröder had announce the launch of the green card program two years ago at the opening of CeBit 2000.

The green card program enables highly qualified computer specialists from all over the world to work in Germany for a limited time. According to Schröder, almost 11,000 people have been issued a green card so far.

But the program was and is controversial in Germany. Some say it will attract increasing numbers of immigrants into the country.

Immigration is a touchy issue in this year's election campaign in Germany. Chancellor Schröder and his coalition are facing a crucial vote on immigration in the German parliament on March 22.

Mobile communication takes center stage

But immigration and a shortage of qualified IT specialists in Germany isn't likely to be on the top of the agenda for most exhibitors at this year's CeBit.

A survey among exhibitors published on Tuesday shows that mobile communication will be in the spotlight at this year's fair. The exhibitors polled mention third generation UMTS phones as one of the prime areas of interest, but also say mobile computing, wireless networks and IT security aspects will be important.

As far as their prospects for the future are concerned, the communications industry is somewhat more optimistic than electronic data processing companies. Many of them think they'll have to cut back in the coming years.

At least one of them - the microelectronics company Infineon - has already scaled down to an extent that it's not even taking part in this year's CeBit.

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