eco Criticizes German Coalition Agreement: Digital Policy Modifications Rather Than An Overall Visionary Concept

The German coalition agreement between the CDU/CSU and the SPD presented this week incorporates, in the view of eco – Association of the Internet Industry, some important digital policy decisions which the German federal government had failed to make in the last legislative term. However, there is still no discernible political vision for digital transformation in Germany. “We can appreciate that the coalition parties have recognized the shortcomings of the past four years in many fundamental areas of digital policy and that they want to rectify them accordingly – for example, in the areas of digital education and research and the expansion of digital infrastructures,” says Chair of the eco Board, Oliver Süme. The Association nonetheless regrets that a forward-looking overall concept for shaping the digital transformation in Germany is still not in evidence. In particular, the Association is disappointed that there are no plans to finally assign the topic of digitalization the institutionally appropriate status that it deserves through providing it with its own department. “The fact that, in 2018 we are to once again have a home ministry, but still no digital ministry, is highly lamentable and does not exactly testify to the visionary power of the future federal government.”

After the German Bundestag elections, in a five-point paper, eco defined the most urgent Internet policy tasks for the new federal government from the point of view of the Internet industry.

Digital infrastructure: Correct expansion targets, sparse financing, fair competition

With the promise to make the Gigabit Society a reality by 2025 and an associated commitment to primarily competition-driven fiber optic expansion, the coalition agreement meets an important core requirement of the Internet association. From eco's point of view, however, the financing could be given a more stable footing and there could be a clearer focus on ensuring fair competition. Depending on its design and the budget allocated, the requirement to provide fast Internet access could prove to be a challenge, and could have a particularly adverse effect on small and medium-sized enterprises who themselves want to expand or who will become obliged to do so.

Digital economy and education: Fostering innovation

eco also welcomes the announced initiatives to promote digital education and research. In the association’s view, the consistent implementation of the digital pact #D, which was presented in the last legislative term, and the plans for teacher qualification, are important prerequisites for the successful digital transition of the German education system. Also to be welcomed from the Internet industry's perspective is the planned adaptation of the High-Tech Strategy with a view to boosting support for digital innovation technologies such as blockchain, AI, robotics, and quantum computers. The development of such technologies should serve to strengthen Germany as a digital location.

Law and injustice on the Internet: Flawed decisions from the last legislative term have not been rectified

eco is very critical of the fact that the highly controversial Network Enforcement Act (NetzDG) remains essentially unchanged and that the plan is merely to amend it. The association continues to regard the law as a threat to freedom of expression on the Internet and as a highly misguided decision in terms of Internet policy. In principle, eco also rejects the plans formulated in the coalition agreement for a revision of the e-Commerce Directive. It is surprising that the measures are considered to be tried and tested, that upload filters are rejected as excessive, and yet that a revision of the Notice and Takedown Regulation will still be sought at European level. Such a move would represent an immense disadvantage for the desired European SMEs and start-ups, and would further exacerbate the international sluggishness of the European industry.

Security and trust: Government must take its responsibility seriously

The “National Pact for Cyber Security” proposed by the negotiating partners favors a discretionary approach to the design of cyber security. However, trusting cooperation between the state and industry, as called for in the draft agreement, can only succeed if the state takes its responsibility in digital space seriously. And yet highly controversial points such as “state Trojans” or data retention are not even mentioned in the coalition agreement. This raises doubts as to whether the pronounced commitment is backed up with serious intent and appropriate consideration.

Political status: No ministry for digital policy

When it comes to eco's core demand for a fundamental upgrading and repositioning of digital policy in the overall institutional structure of the German federal government, the coalition agreement also falls short of the expectations of the Internet association. As eco sees it, the fact that there are apparently neither plans for a separate digital ministry nor for central coordination in the Federal Chancellery is evidence that the coalition partners have still not recognized the strategic importance of digitalization for the economy and society in Germany. “As in the former government's past years, this narrow institutional mindset could become a stumbling block for the implementation of the ambitious goals in the areas of infrastructure expansion and encouragement of innovation. From the point of view of the Internet industry, this is a missed opportunity,” says Chair of the Board at eco, Oliver Süme.

The complete Internet Policy Agenda with its total of 30 core demands of the Internet Industry for a modern Internet policy is available online for download.