E-Germany: is it the “sleeping beauty” of EU?

Published on July 01, 2021

Our modern society is subject to underlying processes of change at an accelerating pace, creating many new challenges for all governance systems worldwide, including that of the Federal Republic of Germany. So what is the factor that is changing the rules? Digitisation, of course. It is causing enormous shifts in business and society, cooperation, consumption, and communication. And whoever is the fastest when it comes to digitalisation, and able to quickly set new standards will be end up winning the digital race and being the most successful.

Slowly consolidating the public sector.

The German government has lately focused on innovation & digital transformation of the public sector as the two most critical areas and top priorities. For this reason, it has created an e-government strategy for 2025 and has consolidated all IT/ Software systems at the federal level. The Federal Minister of the Interior is responsible for the strategic development of e-government in Germany. This minister and the Federal Government Commissioner for Information Technology are active in numerous projects to develop e-government, representing federal interests in the political sphere. 

These efforts to design and implement a national digital e-Government strategy has just started a few years ago in public administration. This strategy aims to guide digital consolidation in the public sector, improve public digital services, and bring many new digital projects in upcoming years. The E-Government Act facilitates electronic communication with public administration. In addition, it enables federal, state and local authorities to offer more simplified, user-friendly and efficient electronic administrative services.

An innovative leader in the private sector but not in e-government

Even though Germany is one of the largest economies in the world with the most prominent ICT Industry in Europe, this country has consistently been ranked in the low- to mid-field of digital government rankings. Additionally, the private sector is among the most innovative ones in Europe and the world and has some of the best technology leaders in different industries. 

However, digital innovation has progressed real slowly when it comes to the public sector, and it is not a leading nation in that area. This mostly happens due to the independence between administrative levels and the German culture. This means that the country has further unexplored potential for solid growth, and the digital transformation of its public administration is an urgent matter.

Germany lags behind in the EU’s DESI index.

The COVID-19 pandemic really brought up many unpleasant truths to the light, such as the lack of digital adaptation within the German economy, especially in the public sector. According to DESI (the Digital Economy and Society Index) in 2020, Germany performed below the European average regarding the degree of digitisation of public services and the integration of digital tools in working processes. As a result, it languished in 21st place out of 28 countries, being only ahead of the Czech Republic, Bulgaria, Hungary, Croatia, Slovakia, Greece and Romania. 

What’s more, a Eurostat statistic reveals that it has also to do with German citizens. According to this study, even if digital infrastructure and public service processes are accessible, Germans are hesitant to manage administrative acts with public authorities digitally. So, it’s not only about the mere lack of innovative capacities or policies but also about the culture barrier. Indeed, the citizens are reluctant when it comes to using information technologies. The pandemic, however, forced many people’s hands and in 2020, 54% of Internet users used digital administrative services for the first time. 

Moving forward

The president of the DBB (the German federation of civil servants), Ulrich Silberbach, stated at a recent event that the country remained a “sleeping beauty” when it came to digitisation. “We would have liked to have landed on the moon in this digital age, but we’re still stuck in the basement. This is important to me because our colleagues currently have the impression that they are being portrayed as the guilty ones in public discourse,” Silberbach said. “And, of course, we vehemently reject that. So the problem doesn’t lie with our colleagues, but rather it’s because we’ve been cutting the public sector to the bone for years.”

Silberbach also has mentioned that the confusion of competencies between the federal, state, and numerous authorities hinders digitisation. According to him, Federal Authorities and the Bundestag need to do a little more to make sure that the legal guidelines are being carried out promptly and that the administration and residents are transparent on the benefits of digital public services. Furthermore, strategies need to be decoupled from existing European models, as they cannot be neatly converted to the German context. In accordance, focusing on the importance of cultural change, he calls for policies that reflect on these acceptance issues.







About the Author

Mohammad J Sear is focused on bringing purpose to digital in government.

He has obtained his leadership training from the Harvard Kennedy School of Government, USA and holds an MBA from the University of Leicester, UK.

After a successful 12+ years career in the UK government during the premiership of three Prime Ministers Margaret Thatcher, John Major and Tony Blair, Mohammad moved to the private sector and has now for 20+ years been advising government organizations in the UK, Middle East, Australasia and South Asia on strategic challenges and digital transformation.

He is currently working for Ernst & Young (EY) and leading the Digital Government practice efforts across the Middle East and North Africa (MENA), and is also a Digital Government and Innovation lecturer at the Paris School of International Affairs, Sciences Po, France.

As a thought-leader some of the articles he has authored include: “Digital is great but exclusion isn’t – make data work for driving better digital inclusion” published in Harvard Business Review, “Holistic Digital Government” published in the MIT Technology Review, “Want To Make Citizens Happy – Put Experience First” published in Forbes Middle East.

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FRIDAY, 30 JUNE 2022