What Germany’s likely coalition has in store for digitalisation

The exploratory paper also has a clear line on European issues, with the three parties affirming that "German interests" are to be defined in "light of European interests". EPA-EFE/CLEMENS BILAN [CLEMENS BILAN/EPA]

Germany’s Social Democrats (SPD), the business-friendly FDP and the Greens, who are soon to hold coalition talks, have pointed to digitalisation as one of the top priorities in a preliminary coalition agreement. EURACTIV Germany reports.

After the joint federal executive committee of the FDP gave the go ahead for the start of coalition negotiations on Tuesday afternoon (18 October), Germany moved one step closer to having a so-called “traffic light” coalition including the SPD, the FDP, and the Greens.

“Germany needs a comprehensive modernisation of society, the economy and the state,” Lindner said following the federal executive committee meeting, adding that Germany should become freer, more competitive and more digital.

The three parties identified digitalisation and climate change as the biggest challenge to be addressed in the coming legislative period. According to the preliminary agreement, the future coalition wants to set the course for a decade of digital and social renewal.

Germany’s likely coalition, which has been termed “progressive” aims to make the 2020s a decade characterised by forward-looking investments, including the existing investment deficits in digitalisation.

However, the preliminary agreement explicitly emphasises that this investment offensive will not be financed through tax increases or new debt. Instead, the trio said it would strengthen the economy’s competitiveness and simplify and digitalise planning and administrative procedures.

Achim Berg, the president of the digital association Bitkom, said he was optimistic about streamlining bureaucracy. “Halving the duration of administrative, planning and approval procedures and tackling this in the very first year is an important step towards a digital Germany,” he stressed in a statement.

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Strategy change in digitalisation

There will also be a complete reorientation of the government’s digital strategy, especially concerning data, artificial intelligence and blockchain.

At the same time, digitalisation is to be thought of in a more overarching way with a view to exploring synergies with other policy areas. For example, housing costs and the costs of housing construction are to be reduced through digitalisation.

However, digital associations consider these initial discussions do not go far enough in considering the cross-cutting nature of the digital transition, in particular its potential impact on climate change.

Oliver Süme from the internet association eco demands that digitisation run “like a red thread” throughout the next coalition agreement.

Digitalisation’s potential concerning the fight against climate change is something that could be exploited more. According to Süme, digitalisation and climate protection should be thought of together “from the very beginning”.

The FDP, SPD and the Greens also want to subject existing laws to a “digital check” to see if they are still up to date.

“The digital check for laws is a good idea,” Süme stressed in a statement. “However, it would be better to strategically include digitalisation in legislative processes from the very beginning,” he continued.

The federal government’s competencies are also to be reorganised and bundled. But whether this is already a hint at the digital ministry, a key proposal from the FDP remains unclear. The SPD and the Greens want to keep the coordination of digital projects in the federal chancellery.

According to the digital associations, however, introducing a digital transformation ministry would be indispensable.

Mainly because digitalisation will play an essential role in almost all policy areas, a digital ministry is the “means of choice” for the associations to “consistently bring together the issues,” Süme further emphasised.

Bitkom also considers a digital ministry essential to “coordinate and accelerate digital policy activities of the federal government,” Bitkom’s president also said.

He added that such a ministry would also be “exactly the right body” to carry out the envisaged digitalisation check of existing laws.

A clear European line

The exploratory paper also has a clear line on European issues, with the three parties affirming that “German interests” are to be defined in “light of European interests”.

This also applies to digitalisation. In its chapter on Europe, the paper explicitly states that the “liberal democracies of Europe” should be enabled to better combat disinformation and fake news. This could be a nod to the EU’s Digital Services Act (DSA), currently being negotiated at the EU level that aims to make digital platforms more accountable in the fight against illegal content.

However, it is still unclear whether a possible German “traffic light” government would aim for a more robust anchoring of regulations to combat disinformation in the DSA since the FDP previously claimed such an approach, at least at the national level would infringe on freedom of expression.

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[Edited by Luca Bertuzzi/ Alice Taylor]

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