Starting Germany’s election year, the CSU presents its digital agenda

CSU leader Markus Söder showing the coronavirus tracing app on his phone. [EPA-EFE | Michele Tantussi / Pool]

The Bavarian-governing party, the Christian Social Union is adopting its digital strategy this week. Among other things, it calls for a digitally sovereign Europe, but some of the plans smack of national unilateralism. EURACTIV Germany reports

With the German election year now up and running, every party initiative, every meeting, and every paper is viewed as part of the campaign.

This is also the case with the Bavarian sister party of the conservative CDU, the CSU’s, strategy meeting on Wednesday and Thursday (6-7 January). A draft resolution on the Bavarian conservatives’ “Digital Agenda 2021” was circulated in advance.

Thomas Duhr, vice president of the German Digital Economy Association (BVDW) eV, sees this as a “prelude to the federal election campaign.”

“That’s how you have to see it,” he said in an interview with EURACTIV Germany. However, the paper is also relevant for the expiring legislative period, given that the CSU’s Dorothee Bär is Minister of State for Digital Affairs.

2021: A new European digital generation

Since the pandemic started last year, European citizens have had to radically realign their lives to the new reality. For the most part, this has meant rapidly migrating our personal and professional lives online. With this comes a broad range of policy measures aimed at reinforcing Europe’s connectivity and heightening cybersecurity standards across 2021.

Broadband expansion: the never-ending story

On five pages and in 17 points, the CSU paints its vision of a digitally sovereign Germany at the forefront of technology.

At the top of the list is infrastructure expansion: On the way to becoming a “gigabit society,” Germany is to eliminate all white spots (below 30 Mbit/s) on the broadband map by 2024. “Gigabit in every region and every community” is the goal, and a total of €15 billion is to be invested in this by 2025.

However, this promise is old, it was already in the last coalition agreement, but CSU Transport Minister Andreas Scheuer was unable to deliver – partly because of conflicts with the EU over a toll on foreign motorists.

Germany is faring poorly when it comes to international comparisons, Duhr said. “If this were the Bundesliga, we would be on the verge of relegation,” he says. “And we would have changed coaches infinite times already.”

Laura Dornheim goes one step further. The Green digital expert and candidate for the Bundestag is annoyed by the CSU’s formulation that it is “continuing to push ahead intensively” with gigabit expansion. Dornheim says there is a lack of “minimal self-awareness” on the part of a party that has had years of opportunity to keep its coalition promises.

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Europe: Yes, but…

It will be interesting to see what role Europe plays in the CSU’s digital plans. At first glance, it seems to be a big one: According to the Bavarians, European solutions are needed on digital tax, platform regulation and competition law. In any case, Europe is to become digitally sovereign.

A spaceport should even be built in the North Sea, which will enable other EU countries to launch their satellites into space.

However, the devil is in the details.

Some of the plans counteract the European approach – albeit indirectly. For example, the paper explicitly praises the new German competition regulation in the form of the amendment to the Act against Restraints of Competition (GWB). It defines new forms of market power and allows authorities to take action earlier. Now the CSU wants to extrapolate these principles to Europe.

But that is already happening.

In December, the Commission presented the two most important digital policy bills in years: The Digital Services Act (DSA) and the Digital Markets Act (DMA), which is intended to ensure more fair competition, including by regulating online companies like Facebook or Google.

Neither piece of legislation is mentioned once in the CSU paper. That surprises both Dornheim and Duhr, especially since the head of the EPP, Manfred Weber, is from the CSU.

“It is more than annoying that neither DSA nor DMA appear in the paper,” Duhr said.

This also applies to the “smartphone ID” [Smartphone-Perso] from the strategy paper. The CSU is proposing a German solution, but the EU is already dealing with digital identities and is currently working on the amendment of the eIDAS regulation, among other things.

According to Duhr, it would be better to support the Commission here instead of pushing ahead with national solutions.

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Hands off the cookie jar

Further, the CSU plans to make Internet surfing faster and more convenient by eliminating the annoying push notification of cookie warnings.

“Information that annoys everyone but no one reads may be well-intentioned, but it is not well done,” the paper says. Therefore, in the future, users should be able to set their browser to agree to such pop-ups across the board.

The only difference is that the cookie warnings are the result of the requirements of the  GDPR.

Apart from questionable legal feasibility, this would contradict the CSU’s desire for European sovereignty, Duhr says. That’s because most browsers are from the US, while the GDPR is a European achievement. Outsourcing to the browsers would only give an advantage to US companies again, which would then get by without cookie warnings.

The fact that the CSU is also making commitments to “ecological and sustainable digitalisation” is welcomed in principle by the Green Party’s Dornheim.

Climate-neutral data centres, for example, would indeed be an important step. However, these paragraphs are too vague for her. More public transportation in rural areas is planned, for example, but without any concrete implementation plans, apart from the promotion of autonomous driving.

A few more bus drivers would do the trick, said Dornheim. She sees too much “digital basic trust” in the CSU: The main thing is modern.

What Dornheim believes is missing from the paper is digital education. Duhr’s conclusion is that the CSU’s digital agenda is “in principle the right way to go about digitalisation, but in places it takes a turn in the wrong direction.”

[Edited by Benjamin Fox]

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