Good intentions, poor implementation - the German government introduces new indicators of economic and social welfare but is still struggling with basic digital public services

On January 26, 2022, the Annual Economic Report for 2022 (Jahreswirtschaftsbericht) was released by the German government. The report lists key economic and financial policy issues and makes predictions of macroeconomic trends in 2022, which makes it a strong planning instrument provided by the Federal Ministry for Economic Affairs and Climate Action (Bundesministerium für Wirtschaft und Klimaschutz, BMWK). For the first time, societal welfare was analyzed using other welfare, equity, and sustainability indicators in addition to GDP.

Minister Robert Habeck (Bündnis 90/Die Grünen) made a rather vague prediction of this year’s economic growth and inflation. In 2022, GDP is expected to grow by 3.6%; this forecast is lower than the one from autumn 2021. However, the report reflects the change that has been on the horizon since the signing of the 2021 coalition agreement: sustainable development, i.e., greener and more equitable growth is on the government’s agenda.

What does the report say with regard to digitalization? It can be summed up as follows:

It is a challenge - Digitalization is considered as one of the greatest challenges we face. At the same time, the report acknowledges the potential of digitalization, especially with regard to a sustainable future; for example, platforms and data can be used to simplify, save resources, and open up to new innovations. It seems that the mistakes made in the past are increasingly evident so that lessons can be learned from them.

Again, public administrative bodies have to become more digital; Germany is below EU average when it comes to the implementation of e-government:

  • Onlinezugangsgesetz (OZG, Online Access Act) - The OZG is one of the government’s top priorities. Passed in 2017, the act aims to enhance digital public services by focusing on IT standardization. It obliges public authorities to offer all administrative services online by 2022 and make them accessible via a network of bundled platforms bound by a one-for-all principle (Einer-für-alle-Prinzip), i.e., a user account similar to online shops. In practice, more than 6,000 services, which are combined in 575 so-called “OZG bundles”, have to be digitalized. According to the latest numbers, 140 services have been digitalized so far. The report says that the most recent economic stimulus package provided EUR 3 billion for the accelerated implementation of the OZG, for example. Nevertheless, according to a recent eGovernment Monitor Report by Initiative D21 and Fortiss, digital administration is making only slow progress due to differences at vertical (federal vs. state level) and horizontal (e.g., different departments in one municipality) levels.
  • Modernization of registers - Another part of the package is EUR 300 million for the modernization of civil registers. By doing so, the government aims to offer public services with a “once only” principle (Once-Only-Prinzip), i.e., citizens only need to register once with their local authority to use multiple services. This project obviously goes hand in hand with OZG implementation.

With regard to digital infrastructure, the German government aims at nationwide fiber coverage and the latest mobile communication standards. The rollout of broadband and 5G is therefore a priority. By emphasizing this issue (again), the government underlines its goal of making the benefits of broadband connections available to all companies, seeing as, for example, new ways of working are a top priority for all players in the German economy.

Nevertheless, it remains to be seen to what extent 2022 will be a decisive year for digital transformation. The two public administration projects mentioned above are very ambitious. The question is whether the goals related to the OZG and the modernization of civil registers can be achieved by the end of the year. Moreover, the persistent delays in broadband expansion also show that a stronger momentum is needed. However, the fact that additional indicators have now been included in the Annual Economic Report might indicate a change in mindset.

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