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Bureaucracy meets faltering digitization – How fast is the “German pace”?

August 31, 2023. For a long time, the much-quoted “German pace” dreamed up by Chancellor Olaf Scholz was a mystery. How fast can Germany move, more than a few wondered. Not as fast as necessary, underlines the current “Monitor Digitalpolitik” of the digital association Bitkom. Within the current legislative period, a meager 38 of a total of 334 projects have made it to the finish line so far. The rest are stuck on the track – sometimes shorter, sometimes further – or have not even moved yet. Yet less bureaucracy and more digitization could provide important impetus not only for the German economy. Instead, more and more new requirements and regulations from Brussels and Berlin are hampering Germany’s economic backbone – the many small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs). From the German Data Protection Regulation (DS-GVO) to the whistleblower system, elaborate requirements now have to be met. Instead of “creating more time for the economy to perform its actual tasks” as promised in the coalition agreement, SMEs are left with less and less freedom to develop. Germany is increasingly lagging behind its own demands. The “pace of Germany” is becoming a problem.

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Germany is a planning giant and an implementation dwarf at the same time, as shown once again by the latest evaluation of the digital association Bitkom – the “Monitor Digitalpolitik“. When Chancellor Olaf Scholz took office, the government put a total of 334 digital policy projects on its own agenda. After just over half of this legislative period, a meager 38 of these projects have made it to their conclusion, 219 are “in implementation,” while 77 projects are still waiting to take their first step. A sobering result, if one takes the pithy appearances of Chancellor Scholz and his ministers as a yardstick. At the very least, the “German tempo” often and gladly propagated by Olaf Scholz is increasingly taking on a negative tinge. What initially sounded impressively like an express train is increasingly turning out to be a slow train. Not only is it slow. Increasingly, the question is whether it will even reach its destination in the allotted time.

Corona made administration faster, but only temporarily

At the same time, digitization offers a great opportunity to make many things easier, and not just for German citizens – from education to health to administrative procedures. The German economy in particular, and especially the many small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs), would benefit significantly from a reduction in bureaucracy and a reasonably ambitious digitization. It is not for nothing that the “traffic lights” in the coalition agreement had resolved to give business in particular “more time for its actual tasks.” And yes, in the meantime it really did seem as if politicians had understood the call of the hour. But what was misunderstood by many in recent years as clear progress was no more than one of the few positive “corona effects.” Approval and planning procedures were waved through quickly. Applications and forms could be submitted digitally in many places. However, with the “official end” of the Corona pandemic, these developments faded away just as quickly as they had begun. In the meantime, much is old.

More and more expert opinions and permits are adding to the bureaucracy

It may once again be diligently printed out, signed by hand and submitted by mail, as if there were no more yesterday. While the economy is trying to cope with one new regulation after the next, from DS-GVO to Notification Protection Act, Germany and Europe are limiting themselves to either sleeping through the once huge digital demands or simply passing them on. As early as late 2022, industry president Siegfried Russwurm complained, “Lengthy procedures cost companies money and competitiveness.” Even then, 65 percent of the companies surveyed said that bureaucracy had grown over the past seven years and called for the swift digitization of administration. The result, which Bitkom has now published in its “Digital Policy Monitor,” raises the question: Has Germany failed to understand its economy or, in the end, does Germany not want to understand it? Just one example: according to Bundesverband der Deutschen Industrie, ten years ago an approval process in industry required an average of two expert opinions. Today, the average is seven.

Germany is being overtaken by more and more European countries

The fact that Europe’s south is increasingly being cited as a positive example of how large-scale government projects – such as the Morandi Bridge in Genoa, which collapsed in 2018 and was rebuilt in 15 months – can be handled should give German government offices food for thought. Especially since, at the same time, Europe’s north is now so far ahead, and not just digitally, that comparisons no longer even seem appropriate. Experts such as Prof. Sabine Kuhlmann, an administrative expert at the University of Potsdam, are currently unanimous in stating that employees in the German administration are increasingly protecting themselves legally by obtaining more expert opinions and approvals in order to avoid being held personally responsible in the worst case scenario. This is an uncertainty that has considerable consequences for Germany as a whole. In addition, the fundamentals of digitization are lacking above all. Although Germany is picking up speed in terms of fiber-optic expansion, it remains at the bottom of the table in an OECD comparison (average: 35.9 percent) with a share of 8.1 percent. By comparison, more than 87 percent of all broadband connections in South Korea are already implemented via fiber optics, and 81 percent in Spain. “Germany procrastinates” therefore now seems far more plausible than “Germany picks up the pace.” A circumstance that causes concern.

In a performance society, politics must also do more

Because performance should not only be a valid demand in school, in training and studies or in the free economy. Also the policy must fit into the achievement society, which demands it again and again and wants to advance. In the meantime, Germany is panting after the North in Europe and is being overtaken by the West, East and increasingly also the South. Yes, Mr. Scholz, Germany is moving at its own pace, the much-cited “German pace.” And that is problematic. It is time to finally take responsibility, to move forward digitally and to make important decisions in the interests of the German economy – in administration and politics.

TIP: You haven’t heard of the Whistleblower Protection Act yet? As of January 1, 2024, the obligation to offer employees a secure and confidential reporting channel for submitting tips about violations of the law will also affect companies with 50 or more employees. If you would like more information on this or are looking for support in implementing it, please contact Frank Bösenberg directly (

Photo: pixabay

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