The result is comparatively close, but Armin Laschet was able to prevail on Saturday in the second ballot with 521 against 466 votes against his main competitor Friedrich Merz in the fight for the CDU chairmanship. The North Rhine-Westphalian Prime Minister, whom observers had not seen in the role of the favorite, declared after his victory that he was aware of the responsibility associated with the office.
Subsequent “analog” postal voting necessary
In view of the corona pandemic, the CDU carried out the first purely digital election in Germany. It must be confirmed retrospectively by postal vote, as the political party law still provides for an analogous approach. In his new role at the top of the Christian Democrats, Laschet now has to be measured in terms of network policy by his claim to get started with digitization. He had outlined this in an impulse paper for an “innovative and livable Germany” that he recently published together with his team partner Jens Spahn.
According to their agenda, Laschet and Health Minister Spahn, whom the CDU elected with a rather modest 589 votes as one of five vice-chairmen, want to create a digital ministry that “deserves its name”. It is to receive “comprehensive competencies for modernizing the infrastructure and the working methods of authorities”. The duo is also campaigning for a reform of data law and wants to “enable data protection and data usage at the same time”. When it comes to internal security, the team is promoting a “consistent implementation” of the zero-tolerance line for crime and extremism.
Digitization in administration is stuck
Laschet und Spahn envisions the “most modern digital infrastructure” as the “2030 target”. “Standardized approval procedures for the expansion of fiber optics, LTE and 5G” should help. Last week, in a video talk with the C-Netz, Laschet warned that state funding programs for digital schools and broadband expansion were not really working. Often these are so bureaucratic that people lose interest. When it comes to digitization, the state must be “at least as good as companies”, but there is “endless resistance” in administration.
“We have to take the lead in terms of technology”, stressed the 59 year old. Artificial intelligence (AI), for example, is “an urgent topic”. We must also be able to play along with “quantum computers”. Work on these key technologies should “happen simultaneously”. A head of government does not have to be “the top nerd of the republic”, but rather “listen to those who know their way around” and give them backing.
The state should influence social media
Laschet fears that the abuse of social media and other Internet forums through “hatred, anti-Semitism, conspiracy theories and very deliberate falsifications” will increase. He wants to counter this with “chairs that deal with ethical issues”. Regulation in this field is particularly delicate. The lawyer emphasized: “We have to reach a social consensus” that state influence is “in everyone’s interest”. The rhetoric from Silicon Valley that the Internet by itself leads to a “better, more informed, more transparent world” has outlived itself.
Personally, he can always be won over for a “Netflix evening”, Laschet indicated. But also “our media libraries should get even better”, he alluded to the online archives of ARD and ZDF, for example. He finds computer games “fascinating”. When he starts, “I don’t stop at all”. He therefore tries “not to sip it at all”.
File folders and fax machines in the administration
The president of the IT association Bitkom, Achim Berg, linked his congratulations to the new CDU chairman with the note: “One of his most important tasks is to advance digitization in Germany in all areas of economy, society and the state.” A “digital awakening” is necessary. At the moment, many schools continue to fail “at the simplest digital tasks, in our administration files and fax machines dominate”.
Berg complained that German medium-sized companies and the skilled trades are having a hard time with digitization. That would take revenge in the Corona crisis, since “ten months after the start of the pandemic, only a fraction of the administrative employees can still work from home”. Under its new boss, the CDU must promote digital participation and bundle digital-political competencies in one department.
Backlog in digitization as a location risk
Even for the new head of the Federal Association of German Industry (BDI), Siegfried Russwurm, the crisis shows “that the dramatic backlog in digitization in public administration and the health system is increasingly becoming a location risk”. The grand coalition leaves a large infrastructure and investment gap. Challenges such as corona, digitization and climate protection would have to be financed, which is a major challenge for the economy and society.
Employer President Rainer Dulger appealed to Laschet: “We need to focus on investments in education and infrastructure.” The head of the sister party CSU, Markus Söder, was looking for a solidarity “together we will continue the success story of the Union”, tweeted the Bavarian, who is traded as the most promising candidate for chancellor in the Union in current surveys. SPD chancellor candidate Olaf Scholz wished Laschet a “happy hand”. The head of the left, Bernd Riexinger, warned: “Instead of yesterday’s politics, we need visions for the future.”