The Bundestag elections mark the end of the Merkel era, and a new government is getting underway in Berlin – possibly with a digital ministry at the federal level. Even though there was hardly any talk of it in the first TV coverage, all parties are discussing the idea, and the business community is clearly in favour of a digital ministry. It would suit the printing industry as long as the bureaucracy is kept in check.
In digitization rankings, Germany performs differently with regard to the prerequisites. In the current E-Government Development Index, Germany has fallen from 9th place in 2003 to 25th place in 2020. Germany’s undisputedly great potential remains untapped in many cases. Business and other interest groups, as well as politicians, have identified one possible reason for this: the lack of a federal digital ministry. Most recently, the president of the IT association bitkom, Achim Berg, called for digitization in Germany to be driven forward in a centralized manner and for a corresponding ministerial office to be created in Berlin. So far, he says, the country has been far too slow in digitization.
Currently, the topic of digitization is being negotiated at the level of the secretaries of state: Dorothee Bär (CSU) is responsible for this department. In addition, the Ministry of the Interior can claim the title of Ministry of Digitalization. Only a few German states have created their own state ministry for digitization – and, like Hesse’s Digital Minister, Kristina Sinemus, they are convinced of the model, even at the federal level.
The Association of the Internet Industry, eco, has taken a pro-ministry position, as has the German Digital Economy Association. The political parties are at least discussing the project, if not even supporting it: The CDU and FDP are explicitly calling for it, while the SPD, Greens and Left Party do not want the ministry for any price but are not opposed to it in principle. Critical voices that see a digital ministry as a figurehead for a digital policy that continues to be weak come not only from the political arena, but also for instance from the NGO, germanwatch. The “Stiftung Neue Verantwortung” (New Responsibility Foundation) also criticizes the possible creation of a corresponding ministerial post as a sham solution that would merely engage in symbolic politics without actually addressing the problems of digitization.
The printing industry, with its growing online print segment, is also interested in a strong digitization strategy from the federal government – preferably not just as a symbol but driven forward by an independent ministry. As early as 2018, the German Printing and Media Industries Federation (bvdm) commented on the current government’s coalition agreement along these lines: “It is questionable to what extent a digital agency will help to move the expansion forward quickly, as it could create further bureaucratic structures. Despite the high priority the coalition agreement attaches to digital transformation, it does not provide for the creation of an independent digital ministry,” remarked the association critically. At the time, the bvdm welcomed the planned “rapid, nationwide broadband expansion by 2025” as an “important step for print and media companies that process large volumes of data.”
Such a ministry is not only being called for by associations, but also by individual entrepreneurs. Gerhard Klein, Managing Director of Braun und Klein Siebdruck GmbH, for example, would like to see a central point of contact against cybercrime. He is particularly sensitized by a hacker attack on his company, as he reports in an interview with the German Insurance Association. Braun may soon be able to rejoice that his wish has come true.