How Germany can steer digitalization in the right direction

Posted by Tobias Gerlinger – 23. June 2020

Orange speaker on orange wall

The corona crisis has provided a real boost to digitalization. This momentum must be carried along when Germany takes over the EU Council Presidency in July – and steer it in the right direction.

Then all of a sudden, here we are. Employees are equipped with notebooks, holding their meetings by using videoconferencing tools and organizing their teamwork via digital collaboration platforms. For years, German companies and government agencies struggled with digitalization and fought tooth and nail against letting their employees work from home or allowing remote work in general. Because of the corona virus, half of Germany is now working from home in digitalized environments, and even though it may have been a bit of a snag here and there, it’s working. The corona crisis has boosted Germany’s digitalization efforts by several years.

Germany can utilize this momentum when it takes over the Presidency of the Council of the European Union in July – and steer it in the right direction. To ensure long-term success, digitalization must address one central issue: Germany’s and Europe’s digital dependence on the United States. During the corona crisis, this dependency became more obvious than ever. In order to facilitate large-scale work from home within a short period of time, many IT departments simply relied on well-known and popular public cloud services from US internet giants. In many cases, this was simply because there seemed to be no alternatives.

Such dependence causes trouble in several respects. One of them is called the US Cloud Act. It allows American authorities to demand from cloud providers in their country to release all data relating to a person or a company. This even applies if they are located on servers that are not in the USA. This is not only diametrically opposed to the European Union’s major data protection regulation, GDPR. It also deprives our companies and authorities of sovereignty over their own, often highly sensitive data. Sustainable digitalization looks different.

It also limits both the strategic ability to act and the ability to generate added value for Europe and its companies.Through digital trap networks and technological monopolies, the United States demonstrate a very active and skilful approach to controlling third party countries. It is giving them means of pressure and options for action which are detrimental to Europe and significantly restrict our own room for manoeuvre. The Android boycott of Huawei, for example, is a vivid example of how the USA is using its market power over IT and data infrastructures to its own advantage. Europe should no longer expose itself to such potential blackmail.

We must continue to push ahead with the development of European cloud infrastructures. The open-source community provides the ideal basis for this. It can already boast numerous successful projects on which to build. But not only that. Open-source software also has a strength all of its own that virtually guarantees independence and digital sovereignty: Since open-source source code is freely available, anyone can see for themselves whether a piece of software contains backdoors that allow data to be leaked to unauthorized third parties; and dependencies of proprietary systems are also unknown to open-source software.

However, this can only work if the state itself sets a good example. In future, its authorities and organizations should themselves step away from US cloud services and rely on open-source solutions that are hosted in Europe in a data protection-compliant and transparent manner. And thereby set an additional important signal: Tax money invested in digitalization should be devoted exclusively to European technologies. “Cloud made in Europe” has a distinct regional advantage and with political support can turn into a genuine export success.

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