Ursula von der Leyen’s unfinished cyberagency

Germany's incoming cyber agency is based on the US Department of Defense's DARPA research agency, which has existed since the 1950s.

Ursula von der Leyen, the European Council’s pick for the EU Commission boss, had been setting up her prestigious ‘Agency for Innovation in Cybersecurity’ in Germany. However, due to concerns raised by the German court of auditors, it will be her successor at the defence ministry who will have to pick up the pieces. EURACTIV Germany reports.

While von der Leyen is meeting with MEPs in Strasbourg to strengthen her bid as the next president of the European Commission, she missed another meeting in Germany.

Together with German Interior Minister Horst Seehofer, she was expected to have signed a memorandum of understanding to set up the cyber agency in the city of Leipzig.

In the end, the meeting was still successful without her attending.

Seehofer, Saxony-Anhalt’s Minister-President Reiner Haseloff and Saxony’s Minister-President Michael Kretschmer, all from the conservative Union between CDU and CSU, signed the memorandum.

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The German government decided to set up the so-called ‘Agency for Innovation in Cybersecurity’ in the summer of 2018. The cyber agency will be led by the ministry of the interior and the ministry of defence.

The aim of the agency is to protect Germany’s digital infrastructure from hacker attacks by “securing technological innovation leadership”, according to the government’s homepage.

To this end, the agency is supposed to promote innovations from the private sector that are relevant to internal and external security, especially “radical technological innovations with market-altering effects.”

This new cyber agency is modelled after the US Department of Defense’s DARPA research agency, which has existed since the 1950s. It laid the technological foundations for the internet and the GPS satellite navigation system.

However, the German agency has been riddled with problems since the government decided to set it up.

According to the official timetable, it should have been established in spring. The first idea contests and research contracts are planned to be implemented for 2019.

On Wednesday (3 July), the location of the future agency was determined: Leipzig/Halle in Saxony. The agency is planned to created 100 jobs, yet it is still unknown when the agency will open, with its financing still pending.

The cyber agency, which is to be set up as a company with limited liability (GmbH), is expected to cost €152.5 million by 2022.

According to information from  SPIEGEL ONLINE, however, the German Social Democratic Party (SPD) is trying to distance itself from the setting up of a private entity without parliamentary control.

During a meeting of the Bundestag’s budget committee, the agenda item “decision on financing the cyber agency” has been removed.

The SPD, as a coalition partner, is not alone in criticising this project.

The German federal court of auditors (Bundesrechnungshof) also massively objected to the planned agency, netzpolitik.org reports.

The court pointed to the risk of multiple state subsidies since comparable institutions already exist. For example, the Bundeswehr already has a cyber innovation hub for “disruptive innovations and digital transformation”. According to the court’s report, there are five other similar organisations nationwide.

The German court of auditors also doubts whether the cyber agency will actually find enough qualified staff, according to netzpolitik.org. The demand for IT specialists is high and salaries in federal companies are often lower than in the private sector. The court is calling the cyber agency’s staffing plan “ambitious”.

Despite criticism, Germany’s defence ministry is clinging on to the agency and is hoping for a  decision by the Bundestag’s budget committee after the summer break.

If so, the agency could even be set up this year, a defence ministry spokesman told EURACTIV.

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