August 25, 2017 By FTI Consulting
How many ministers does it take to advance digitisation? Well, if you ask politicians in Germany, their answer is five: One responsible for digital infrastructure, one for the digital economy, one for data protection, one for the digital impact on labour, and a last one for digital education. What sounds like a joke is reality in Germany where a total of five ministries is tasked with things digital, but none is in charge. Little wonder that the Economist is asking: Does Deutschland Do Digital?
Too Many Cooks Spoil The Broth
Only after the last general election in 2013, Germany’s government committed to a “Digital Agenda” drafted by the Ministry for Economic Affairs and Energy, the Ministry of the Interior and the Ministry of Transport and Digital Infrastructure. This first ever digital government plan was focussed on broadband expansion, a modernisation of administration, and security on the Internet. And in parliament, there was a new committee on digitisation whose opinion was heard but which wasn’t authorised to initiate and decide on key digital legislation.
Due to the ministers’ ensuing fight of competencies, endless coordination loops and Germany’s federal structure, overall progress on digitisation has been slow. A recent study by Fraunhofer Institute has shown that in digitisation, Germany is far behind other industrial nations. And guess what: What’s most urgently needed is better broadband connections (roughly 84 percent of the rural connections are not viable) and e-government, which is practically non-existent. No wonder that digitisation has become a campaigning topic for some at this year’s general elections.
You’ve Got To Be In It To Win It
German politicians are now fighting to win the second half-time in the race for a better, digitised future. The first half-time clearly was lost to companies focussing on products and services for customers like Facebook, Amazon, Uber and the likes of which, most of them American. Germany now hopes to be able to play its strength when it comes to the digitisation of B2B markets. The parties are therefore looking for ways to find a better governmental structure to win this second round.
For example, Angela Merkel’s Christian Democrats want to install a “state minister for digital policy” in the Chancellery. Advantages: The chancellery coordinates the activities of all ministries anyway and could stop the turf battle. However, this person needs credibility and enough power to actually become influential.
The Greens and the Liberal Democrats of the FDP are even calling for a “Ministry for Digital Affairs”. Both could possibly become coalition partners of Chancellor Merkel, who is likely to stay in office with her CDU currently polling at 39 per cent. The driving idea behind the plans of Greens and FDP is that with an own ministry, you can finally pool competencies and use synergies so as to have more efficient policies in the end.
Digitisation: A Matter For The Boss
But this rather technical approach shows what’s lacking in Germany, even today. It’s no good looking at digitisation in an isolated manner. The country, people and politics alike, need to understand that digitisation brings fundamental changes to all areas of life and therefore to all current 14 German ministries – from defence to health and to justice. As a result, it will be more important for the German government to develop a digital mind-set. What is needed is each minister to have their own digital agenda with clear goals and to put someone senior in charge of it – be it a digital state minister or even better: a digital chancellor.
The author is a so-called digital native who sometimes finds herself frustrated by old guys in charge who don’t really know what they’re talking about. Get the drift?