To take stock of the German federal government’s digital policy, the Network Policy Forum will take place on 25 April with Digital Minister Volker Wissing.
- eco Chair Süme formulates three core requirements for the implementation of the Digital Strategy
- Coordination: The Digital Ministry must take on a coordinating role
- Budget: The traffic light coalition must not cancel the digital budget agreed upon in the coalition agreement
- Evaluation: The federal government must transparently document the implementation of the Digital Strategy
Getting Germany to become one of the top ten digital countries in Europe by 2025 – that is the German federal government’s declared goal for this legislative term. With that in mind, it presented its Digital Strategy in August last year, which is intended to provide a concrete roadmap for digital transformation.
In taking stock of the circumstances three quarters of a year after the presentation of the Digital Strategy , eco Chair of the Board is of the view that, “The status quo is not quite satisfactory.” In comparing Germany to European and international countries, it is at best in the midfield, clearly behind other industrialised nations, but also behind European neighbours such as Slovenia or Malta.
“It is clear that the challenges faced by our society – and thus also by the German federal government – are not diminishing: the Russian war of aggression on Ukraine and the associated consequences for energy supply, but also for the security situation, have an impact on the entire economy and all citizens in Europe. Climate change is also advancing and the time to reach the 1.5 degree target of the Paris Agreement is getting shorter and shorter,” says Süme. Digitalisation could be the key to a more climate-friendly and sustainable economy, guarantee resilient communication channels and also support the energy transition itself. “I would like to see a more functional digital policy that is more oriented towards concrete current challenges. For this, the German federal government would also have to deploy digitalisation much more strongly and strategically as an enabler for a more sustainable, resource-conserving and public welfare-oriented economy.”
The Digital Strategy that has been presented offers some correct approaches in this regard. However, as Süme goes on to say, these must now also be implemented: “In my view, three points are crucial for the successful implementation of the Digital Strategy and the digital awakening in Germany: coordination, a digital budget, and a transparent evaluation of the leverage and flagship projects.”
1. Ministry for Digitalisation must take on a coordinating role
“Unfortunately, as in previous legislative terms, we are currently experiencing a somewhat tentative digital policy, unclear responsibilities, activities from different ministries that are redundant – or, in the worst case, contradictory – as well as a lack of alignment between the federal government and the states, not to mention a general lack of coordination.” In sharing this perspective, Oliver Süme calls on the Federal Minister of Digital Affairs Volker Wissing to take on a stronger coordinating role in the future. “Of course, digitalisation is a cross-cutting issue that essentially affects all federal ministries. But digital transformation will only succeed if it is not weakened by shared leadership, too many responsibilities and bureaucratic effort.”
For example, when it comes to digital infrastructures, the focus is still on the networks, while the importance of data centres as the backbone and foundation for digital sovereignty and sustainable digitalisation is largely ignored or is merely instrumentalised by individual ministries to achieve their own goals – for example, in terms of the heat transition. “From my point of view, adopting an Energy Efficiency Act that compels data centres to relocate in the medium term, while at the same time striving to be the AI world leader: that simply doesn’t fit together.”
2. The traffic light coalition must not cancel the digital budget agreed upon in the coalition agreement
The fact is: a strong Ministry for Digitalisation with creative power needs a corresponding budget that can be used flexibly across all ministries. This applies all the more if digitalisation is viewed as a cross-sectional task. As Oliver Süme sees it: “A digital minister who has no budget to support projects other than his own, and who simply has to hope that the other ministries will have their budgets approved before the budget committee, loses the opportunity to shape developments and cannot provide any impetus for digitalisation. In view of the current crises, which are also hampering economic growth in Germany, it may be understandable at first glance that the traffic light parties are considering cuts to the federal budget. However, cutting back on digitalisation leads to a homespun downward spiral in digital policy.”
3. German federal government must transparently evaluate the implementation of the Digital Strategy
In principle, eco welcomes the prioritisation of the leverage projects formulated in the Digital Strategy: the network roll-out, the introduction of uniform technical norms and standards, as well as the establishment of secure digital identities. The monitoring of the flagship projects by an advisory board, in which eco’s Managing Director Alexander Rabe also participates, is also a sensible inclusion of expertise from business, academia and civil society. “A well-founded interim assessment of the Digital Strategy is nevertheless difficult, as, so far, there is no documentation or official evaluation of the flagship projects formulated in the Digital Strategy,” Oliver Süme notes. The leverage projects have an impact on digitalisation as a whole. Therefore, readjustments must be made at an early stage and a discussion must take place about where things went wrong. If there are structural problems in government and administration, these must be addressed promptly. Independent academic monitoring is also important to show whether the German federal government has really achieved its goals and where hurdles have risen. Here, it is important to wait for the evaluation commissioned by the German federal government. A broader mandate for the advisory board could also be helpful in this context in the future in order to further increase transparency and the exchange with business and society concerning possible hurdles or interactions between the projects.
The eco – Association of the Internet Industry’s Network Policy Forum will take stock of the implementation of the Digital Strategy and discuss the potential of digitalisation for a sustainable transformation of the economy with Digital Minister Volker Wissing and the German federal government’s Commissioner for the Digital Economy and Start-ups, Anna Christmann. This will take place on 25 April from 6:15 pm in Berlin.