Germany needs to be jolted awake. Long ago, a legendary German President made this demand. When you take a look at the coalition agreement signed by Germany’s current administration, you get the impression that the coalition parties have agreed on a digital jolt of sorts. Besides climate policy, digitalisation would seem to be the dominant issue in this piece of legislation. In the agreement, which weighs in at 177 pages, the word “digital” appears 226 times. The Minister for Digital recently appointed a State Secretary exclusively for mobile charging infrastructure and pledged before the Bundestag that his digitalisation efforts would be closely oriented to people’s actual needs. That all sounds very promising! But as everyone knows, simply writing things down on paper is easier than making them a reality. On //next, ERGO CDO Mark Klein has formulated five demands from politics.
This government has set itself a number of goals. In fact, the scope statement on “Digitalisation” is so ambitious that even the Chaos Computer Club has applauded it. The header for the very first topic in the coalition agreement is “Modern government, digital transformation and innovation”. From A as in advanced fibre optics to B as in blockchain, and from F as in fintech to O as in open source, the text mentions a range of areas in which concrete measures are to be implemented.
Above all, digitalisation is to make the “modern government” come alive. Citizens are to be able to use a broader range of government services online. When it comes to public IT projects, the rule of thumb is “Public Money, Public Code” – in other words, as a rule, projects should be awarded as open-source assignments. In this way, everyone should benefit from the code and be free to improve it.
When it comes to the financial and insurance sectors, the goals are just as ambitious. A legal framework is to be provided, so as to ensure that digital financial services can be used “with seamless media continuity”. Fintechs and insurtechs are to be supported, helping to make Germany one of the “leading locations in Europe”.
What I particularly like about the paper is the spirit you can sense in certain lines; they not only claim: “We want something new and will foster technological, digital, social and sustainable innovation”, but also speak of a digital transformation “that safeguards our values, our digital autonomy and our role as a strong location for technology”. I like the sound of that, as well as their plan to consistently combat cyber violence and close the legal loopholes in this regard.
But despite my anticipation: in many ways, the 177-page document remains vague and unspecific. Accordingly, let me take the liberty of supplementing it in a few points. These are my requests from the various new Ministers for Digital.
#1 I’m in favour of an overarching digital task force that brings together all of the core ministries involved. One with a binding common vision and an expiry date.
The former Ministry of Transport is now the “Federal Ministry for Digital and Transport”. Especially considering the urgently needed expansion of networks, transport and digitalisation are a good fit. But what does combing them mean for agriculture? For education? For the environment? Will the “Digital” be less important than the “Transport”? I would have liked to see a Ministry for Digital with broad powers transcending the borders of individual departments.
From the previous administration, we know that at times, trying to make effective climate policy was no easy feat, given the participating departments of the Environment, Economy, Transport and Agriculture. Now Vice-Chancellor Robert Habeck will be in charge of the economy and climate alike. Those are promising conditions for the climate. But when it comes to digitalisation, I – still – have a few concerns.
I would like to see the coalition agreement’s good intentions when it comes to digitalisation endure over the next four years – on the basis of close collaboration across ministerial borders. And in a task force of sorts that brings together the ministries most directly involved, who will pursue a shared, coherent vision. One good point: a central digital budget is to be introduced. In addition, every law will be subjected to a “digitalisation check”.
And one more thing – the digitalisation task force should have an expiry date. In other words, it should be disbanded at some point – as soon as a digital culture has been established as the cultural standard in every ministry, every government office and every department. This will take some time. But the goal has to be that taking digitalisation into consideration in all decisions becomes standard practice.
#2 The digital infrastructure not only has to be expanded, but also made available to everyone. And we urgently need to invest in the digital expertise of Germany as a location.
According to the coalition agreement: “Our goal is to achieve universal coverage with fibre optics and the latest mobile communications standard.” I think we can all get behind that. We’ve long-since arrived in the 5G era, and 6G is just around the corner. Yet in many regions, broadband and acceptable transfer speeds are still just wishful thinking. The important thing to bear in mind is that everyone stands to gain from an expansion: communities and citizens, pupils and teachers (at school and in home-schooling), craftspeople, freelancers and companies. In the town and country, in cars, on trains and at home.
But that’s not all: it has to be ensured that Germany has the necessary digital expertise and corresponding labour force. It takes more than budgets alone to release the potential of digital. We also and especially need the right skills and technologies. It takes people; experts who can do the programming for this modernisation offensive.
And it also takes the business sector, including us, to pitch in. Not only do we need to create more digital jobs and train young people to be tomorrow’s programmers, developers and data engineers. Above all, we have to assist people in the transformation from focusing on analogue career profiles to a greater technological affinity.
#3 We should stop seeing our General Data Protection Regulation as a stumbling block and start seeing it as an accelerator. As a new form of “Made in Europe” that stands for legal certainty in the context of digital expansion.
According to the coalition agreement, in the future, data gathered using taxpayer money should be made more accessible. A right to encryption is also in the works, meaning that government authorities would offer citizens encrypted communications. In contrast, the mandatory use of real names online has been ruled out. Otherwise I can’t find much on data protection in the agreement, though it expressly praises the EU’s General Data Protection Regulation.
I would focus more on making the GDPR the core of a European-German digital policy. Europe is widely recognised as a global leader in data protection. California, which is the world’s digital pacemaker, is steadily coming closer to our standards.
Germany is the location of choice for all those who want to ensure that their data is secure. Here, human beings aren’t transparent, privacy rights are strong, and the legal and political system are stable. We welcome people who ask questions. If you ask me, that’s an asset that we should capitalise on more. We could make data protection our USP, make it the Made in Germany of tomorrow.
#4 We should teach people not to be afraid of technology. To do so, we should communicate more and establish cultural standards. With all groups in society.
Many people are afraid of technology. Which is why we have to demystify it and explain it transparently. We have to make it clear what’s possible and openly address stereotypes and limits. At the same time, we have to be sure to create suitable frameworks – for instance, for exponentially evolving AI logic. We need ethical standards that help us decide where to use these technologies and where not to. Government and the private sector not only need to manage this massive change and its repercussions, but also to communicate and facilitate it. Together with all societal groups.
At ERGO, employee representatives and the management have agreed on ethical standards for the use of AI, developed a data strategy and set our own transformation in motion. A safe internet is called for; people shouldn’t be afraid to be active online. Certifications and trustworthy platforms are one way to help achieve this – but the right education, which begins in school, is much better. As a father of three, I support the approach put forward by the entrepreneur Verena Pausders: children have to be taught to create, not merely to use.
#5 We should put aside our German perfectionism and be more open to experimenting. And take more chances, so as to keep up with other providers on the market.
“We will consistently approach it (modernising government) from the user's perspective.” Yet another quote from the coalition agreement that’s not typically German, but could become so. We have to move away from excessive bureaucracy, away from monopolies of knowledge – and toward pragmatic, interdisciplinary implementation across the board. In this regard, we can’t let our characteristically German perfectionism stand in our way. If we insist on waiting until every eventuality has been taken into account before rolling out new products and solutions, other providers will always be faster to market.
In the digital world, the perfectionism that we’re known for can hold us back. We need spaces for experimenting, supported by sound know-how. By university at the latest, every student should know what a sandbox is and how to use one. Discussions and concerns are important, but can’t be allowed to slow us down. That’s what many consumers and others have been demanding for some time now. After all, today 94 percent of the population is now online – across all age groups.
I have a printed copy of the coalition agreement on my desk. The contents have all the makings of a true digital jolt. In 2025 at the latest, I’ll wade through it again. As Chief Digital Officer and as a citizen of Germany, I look forward to the next four years – and wish Minister Volker Wissing and the rest of the Cabinet the best of luck!
Text: Mark Klein, CDO ERGO Group