Election special: Germany's digitalisation deficit

Election special: Germany's digitalisation deficit
Copyright euronews
By Euronews
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As part of a series of special reports on the German election, Euronews examines why Germany in 2021 is still struggling to embrace digitalisation.


In a bid to lessen the paperwork, do away fax machines and waiting times, e-governance has become key to creating efficient administrative procedures. In Germany, however, the reality of the matter is very different; public services and offices still have lengthy bureaucratic processes in place.

One man told Euronews: “My last encounter in an office was due to my student loan. It was hell to get all the papers sorted!”

“Of course, it could be easier, but try to teach something to public servants, good luck!” said another woman. 

By 2022, all the services offered by the German authorities should go online according to a law passed in 2017. Digitalisation is therefore once again part of the election campaign.

"Everyone thinks digitalisation just means: ''Well, we'll just buy software." But the problem is structural. It's the thinking, it's the culture within administration. Today we have an administration that works according to principles that were established 100 years ago, extremely hierarchical," says Thomas Meuche, Competence Centre Digital Administration, for the city of Hof

A European comparison appear to back up that claim. Germany came 21st place on the list of couuntries who have replaced traditional processes with e-governance. Meuche says Germany's federal system also doesn't help.  

"It doesn't make sense to have different solutions in every municipality, especially when there is a federal authority that has all the data, as is the case for vehicle registration, for example. Why do the municipalities also need different systems to carry out car registrations?”

Germany's digitalisation challenge looks a mammoth task. 

Eric Leiderer, Mayor of Aschaffenburg says municipalities face many hurdles until scheduled changes take place by the end of 2022.

"Day to day, there are often problems because cultural issues have not been clarified , because in some cases we cannot acquire (qualified) personnel and so on and so forth. These are things that will slow us down. Digitalisation will cost us a lot of money, but it will also bring us a lot of benefits and effectiveness in the long run," says Leiderer. 

The city of Aschaffenburg knows a thing or two about digitalisation. It's has already won a prize for a digital project. Leiderer says he doesn't want to leave anyone behind.

"We have to take the ideas of our citizens on board. That is why we have a digital lab in the city centre of Aschaffenburg. Citizens actively use it; they come here and ask us: What are you up to? What's the next step

Despite the many unanswered questions, one thing is for sure, executing e-governance will occupy the newly elected federal government for quite some time.

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