When Olaf Scholz speaks at Germany’s largest digital conference, the Republica, this Thursday, he will be the first Chancellor on this stage. That says less about Scholz’s competence in this field than about the importance that the event has long since had for corporate representatives and politics.
Digital policy, regulation, artificial intelligence: the briefing on digitization
The visit is more likely to demonstrate once again that there is a long way to go towards a change in awareness as far as the fundamental importance of digitization is concerned. So far, this federal government has shown very little ambition.
Scholz took the issue out of the Chancellery and gave it to the FDP. Not in the form of a digital ministry with the authority to issue directives, as desired by the Liberals, but in the form of two departments in the transport department, whose budgets were cut right from the start. So far, nothing more is known of the announced digital strategy than a loose-leaf collection of smaller and larger projects that the ministries have on the to-do list anyway.
Department head Volker Wissing is still confused about his role in the complex. He recently warned citizens to share fewer photos of their food on Instagram in order to save CO2. This earned him all sorts of ridicule, mostly illustrated with older pictures of him eating a waffle. Wissing later admitted that the energy efficiency of the digital infrastructure was also his area of responsibility.
For the time being, however, nationwide coverage with broadband would be nice. But that has just been postponed to the end of 2030, while Ukrainian refugees are amazed at the poor internet connection in Germany – and their German hosts are amazed at the Ukrainian app, in which both state ID documents and proof of education can be stored.
Secure digital identities have been discussed in Germany for years – but just as much about ministerial responsibilities, security requirements and other sensitivities. So far, there is little evidence that the traffic light government has the will to bring the project from the background round into households.
This is negligent – and cannot be justified with the many other crises. Because without digitization, the government will not be able to solve any of the current and future crises. From digital education to data-driven epidemic protection to modern interlockings that would allow the railways to run more trains on the same tracks – digitization is a basic requirement for survival in the 21st century.
The fact that this is not being considered was shown again when the Bundeswehr received an additional 100 billion euros for equipment – and zero of it for cyber defense. Or even before that, when the state-owned company Bahn shares its millions of mobility data with Google, but not with German start-ups.
If Scholz now wants to appear at the Republica and give a speech, that’s at least a gesture – it can’t stop there. The current crises are too complex, too difficult and too serious to try to get them under control in an analogue way.