16.04.2021

eco Association: Minister for Digitalization Must Be on the German Agenda – Even Before the Bundestag Election!

A position from Oliver Süme, eco Chair of the Board

The current Corona crisis has brought home to us once more just how immensely important the consistent digitalisation of the economy, society and administration is, both for the well-being of all citizens and for the competitiveness of Germany as a business location. The strategic relevance of a modern and future-oriented Internet and digital policy goes beyond the mere provision of access to the Internet and the expansion of broadband and must not be confined to just these factors. In addition to numerous detailed regulations that are dealt with by the relevant sectoral ministries, there are overarching central issues concerning the handling of data, services and networks that require clear, efficient and rigorous regulation. This is particularly visible, for example, in how data centres and initiatives like GAIA-X are currently being handled. Here, too, it is clear that what is needed is a consistent and agile network and digital policy from a single source; there must be no piecemeal approach in this field.

Paradigm shift: Government level reorganisation is overdue

The past years have shown that there quite simply needs to be a central digital ministry that pulls the threads together and keeps an oversight on the broad lines of the digital agenda. In the field of digital policy, this is the only way to circumvent both the wrangling over responsibilities and the inconsistency which we have experienced in recent years.

For such a digital ministry, three central aspects are called for:

  • For key areas of digital policy (communication networks, services) and important cross-cutting areas of digital policy (technology policy, IT security), the ministry should be assigned a leading role and take over the tasks of the previously responsible ministries.
  • For other clearly defined specialist projects (such as the establishment and operation of central authority gateways and access to digital administrative services, operation of the telematics infrastructure, use of artificial intelligence in various contexts), the federal ministry should be given a co-lead role in order to ensure their harmonious integration into the overall digital policy.
  • The organisational configuration of subsidiary authorities, which to date have been the responsibility of individual federal ministries, should then be reallocated accordingly and in future be affiliated to and placed under the Digital Ministry, in whole or in part. In this regard, authorities worthy of particular mention are the Federal Office for Information Security (BSI) and the Federal Network Agency (BNetzA). Discussion would also need to take place concerning the Federal Office of Administration (BVA) and the Federal Cartel Office and certain tasks performed by these authorities.

Bundestag needs digital steering committee

The reorganisation at government level should ideally also entail the establishment of a corresponding steering committee in the German parliament. All relevant Internet policy issues would thus be consolidated into one specialised body. The past years have shown that central debates on Internet and digital policy in Germany have been discussed between the various ministries and have often been delayed and sometimes even blocked by differing views. An inconsistent digital policy overshadowed by departmental disputes – as has frequently been the case in central debates in Germany in recent years – must not be allowed to continue. It is clear that a paradigm shift is needed.

It’s not the name that counts, but the resources and the set-up

Whether this ministry is then called the Z-Ministry or the D-Ministry is ultimately of secondary importance. What really counts is that it is assigned the necessary budget and the necessary competences to be able to implement central digital policy tasks in an agile and timely manner. To ensure this, it may also be necessary to adapt the processes and rules of procedure within the federal government. So once again, I would advocate for laying the groundwork for the establishment of such a house and its administrative staff in this legislative term, so that the new digital minister can take up his or her work as quickly as possible in the next legislative term. The topic should be on the agenda of the cabinet and the Bundestag now, not only after the Bundestag election!

 

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