Experts criticize the shift in the digital budget

Digital Minister Volker Wissing (FDP)

Federal government experts warn that digitization is not being adequately funded.

(Photo: IMAGO/Political Moments)

Berlin The federal government is postponing the planned central digitization budget. The innovation consultants of the federal government are now massively criticizing this.

“This means that the digital policy promised by the traffic light from a single source is a long way off,” writes the expert commission research and Innovation (EFI) in a still unpublished paper on the occasion of the adoption of the federal budget. This is available to the Handelsblatt.

A separate pot of money for them digitalization had been promised in the coalition agreement. This should make more money available for digital projects than before. But it is now clear that the budget will come in 2024 at the earliest.

The consultants around the EFI chairman Uwe Cantner criticize that “the necessary boom” is missing for the urgent digitization projects. In the run-up, they had insisted massively on a central budget and thus coordinated action by the ministries.

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The criticism is correspondingly harsh: “It weakens innovation, because today it is inextricably linked to digitization,” writes the EFI. The consequence is that Germany will continue to fall behind the Asian competition in particular. “We’re running out of time when it comes to digitization.”

Digital comparison with South Korea, the USA or Japan would be “devastating”

The government itself has pointed out that Germany is only 13th in the EU according to the European index for the digital economy and society (DESI). “An international comparison with countries like South Korea, the USA or Japan would probably look even more devastating.”

>> Read also: Economic experts warn against delaying digitization

The innovation experts are concerned about the implementation of the digital strategy adopted by the federal government in August. In it, the traffic light had outlined its digital policy goals. But the paper had been criticized by experts as lacking in ambition.

In the opinion of the EFI, it is currently questionable whether these goals can be implemented at all without an additional budget. Because the digital strategy only covers the period up to the 2025 election and the digital budget will not come before 2024, “at least one miracle would be necessary to help digitization in Germany achieve a breakthrough in this legislative period”. Not only were the necessary funds missing for the implementation of the digital strategy, but also “the urgently needed signal to move on”.

According to information from the Handelsblatt, the ministries were required to have already organized in-house financing for the projects presented in the digital strategy. In this way, existing and unclaimed funds could be reallocated, according to circles in the Digital Ministry under Volker Wissing (FDP).

Criticism of unclear responsibilities between ministries

The EFI criticizes this approach: Of course, the individual ministries can approach their digital projects independently of one another. However, this “still does not solve the central problem of German digital policy, the fragmented responsibility between the ministries”.

In addition to the competitive disadvantage for Germany as a location, this also prevents massive cost reductions, which could make stringent digitization possible in the next few years.

The EFI had repeatedly warned that Germany’s innovative strength was already comparatively low internationally. For example, Germany missed out on crucial new developments in robotics and artificial intelligence.

A “cleverly controlled catching-up process” is also necessary for other key digital technologies in order not to fall further behind. “The export nation Germany risks not only losing the international competitiveness of its companies, but increasingly also its technological sovereignty,” warns the EFI.

The waiver of the digital budget is therefore not only “endangering the future”, but also sends a fatal signal: At home and abroad “the impression is growing that digitization in Germany is a subordinate project that can be postponed indefinitely”.

In order to advance digitization after all, the innovation experts are not only calling for better financing, but also for an organizational restructuring of responsibilities and a digital ministry “worthy of the name”.

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