Volker Wissing (FDP) has put digital issues first in his ministry. So far, however, he has primarily had to take care of the second part and the old core of his house: flight chaos, a ban on combustion engines, fuel discounts and 9-euro tickets shaped the debates in the first six months of his term.
In terms of digitization, on the other hand, he only drew attention to the energy consumption of food photos on the Internet. That should change now. Germany is to be advanced with a digital strategy.
Digital policy, regulation, artificial intelligence: the briefing on digitization
The SPD economic forum had just shown how necessary this is in an analysis in which the previous digital policy under Olaf Scholz was also criticized. “Germany is lagging behind and is about to endanger its role as a powerful industrial nation in a digital future,” the SPD experts warn, in view of a “constantly growing digitization deficit”.
The Federal Ministry for Digital and Transport (BMDV) has also recognized the problems. “Germany needs a comprehensive digital awakening” is the first sentence of the digital strategy, the draft of which is available to the Tagesspiegel. When it comes to digitization, they have only been in the middle for years, which is not enough to want to continue playing in the top league in international competition. Therefore, one now wants to “finally resolve the implementation backlog of the past legislative periods”.
The strategy is to be seen as an “obligation for us as the federal government”, and it also sets goals against which the coalition wants to be measured at the end of the legislative period. “Administrative services can be carried out quickly and easily online, from the living room, instead of having to sit in the authorities’ waiting room,” says the target image, for example. “Everyone can identify themselves securely online, relevant documents can be called up digitally and no longer have to be printed.”
In addition, half of all households should be supplied with fiber optics and the latest mobile communications standard by the end of 2025. Schools should then also be “connected to fast networks” and effectively improve the digital skills of teachers and learners.
In the healthcare sector, “continuous digital data availability should be implemented” so that doctors and patients can always access the latest health information.
The transfer of science and research has “increased by leaps and bounds” in three years, the business location is “the focus of the digital economy”, the “skilled labor base in the field of digitization has been significantly strengthened” and “autonomous vehicles relieve drivers of routine tasks and increase traffic safety “.
When asked how these goals, some of which are ambitious, are to be achieved, three projects are mentioned that the government hopes will have a “leverage effect”:
But is that enough to develop the hoped-for “catalyst effect”? “I’m not satisfied yet,” said Digital Minister Volker Wissing a month ago at the Republica digital conference. Especially with the plans of the other ministries, whose projects are bundled in the strategy, more “butter in the fish” must be put in place.
But even now, a large part of the measures outlined are already existing projects of the previous government, which will be continued. A core project in the plans for digital administration is online ID on the smartphone, the project was actually supposed to be rolled out a year ago.
There is also little that is new in the digitization of the healthcare sector, where the electronic patient record (ePA) is to become the “heart of digitally networked healthcare”. The ePA started at the beginning of 2021, so far they have activated a good 500,000 of the more than 73 million people with statutory health insurance. Since then it has been tinkered with.
How the government envisages a groundbreaking innovation in the process and by when ePAs and ePrescriptions will be widely introduced is literally still open. In addition, there are plans agreed in the coalition agreement, such as a data institute or the German Agency for Transfer and Innovation (Dati).
The concrete goals against which the traffic light coalition then wants to measure itself are usually formulated comparatively vaguely. A “stronger quantification” is one of the two points that the BMDV is now pushing for in the departmental coordination with the other ministries. And even with the planned projects, one hopes that more will come from one or the other house.
The implementation of the strategy should then be “accompanied and controlled” by a state secretary’s committee. In addition, it should be flanked by the digital budget. However, how much money is available and from when is still completely open.
The digital budget was missing again in the government draft for the 2023 budget that had just been approved. This should also explain the reluctance of some ministries to design new major projects as part of the digital strategy.
“With the digital budget, there is a clear agreement that it should be used for three, four, five major projects,” Wissing’s Digital State Secretary Stefan Schnorrange announced. “So no spilling, but padding. These really have to be flagship projects.” However, there are hardly any flagship projects of this kind.
The traffic light coalition has a typical chicken-and-egg problem: One requirement for the ministries was to focus the digital strategy on projects that could be implemented within their own areas of responsibility and budget by the end of the legislative period.
And in view of the difficult overall economic and political situation and the focus of Federal Finance Minister Christian Lindner (FDP) on complying with the debt brake, funds have already been cut for a number of digital projects.
Without an additional digital budget, many ministries are therefore holding back on their ambitions. But the BMDV assumes that the digital budget agreed in the coalition agreement will come – even for the coming year. Then additional innovative projects would also be conceivable.
The departmental coordination must now show how much butter still comes with the fish. The BMDV already makes it clear in the introduction to the strategy that further work is to be done. It is now a matter of raising the digital strategy “to a high level of ambition” “in a collaborative process led by the BMDV”. Projects could be added, revised or replaced. In addition, the goals should become “tangible and measurable”.