New episode of podcast Merkel's Last Dance | DW's press releases | DW | 16.07.2021
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New episode of podcast Merkel's Last Dance

Katrin Suder, chair of the German Digital Council, on establishing a federal digital ministry: 'If we put too little or too much responsibility into it, we are creating a bunch of new problems'

For the past ten months, DW podcast hosts have been looking at the era of Chancellor Angela Merkel which will end with the German federal elections on September 26. In the podcast Merkel's Last Dance, DW journalists speak with politicians, correspondents and experts like Katarina Barley, Wolfgang Ischinger and Miriam Meckel about the Chancellor's governing style, successes and mishaps.

In the latest episode on July 16, DW Chief Technology Correspondent Janosch Delcker welcomes Katrin Suder, chair of the German government's Digital Council. Prior to this she was State Secretary at the German Federal Ministry of Defence (2014-2018) and headed the Berlin office of McKinsey & Co.

Deutschland Katrin Suder

Katrin Suder, chair of the German government's Digital Council

Suder told DW that she doesn't know why Merkel offered her the position as chair of the Digital Council, founded in 2018. "I guess it's because I have experience on both sides of the field, so to say. I've been in government, but I've also been in the private sector. And technology has always been at the heart of what I do in my life," Suder said.

"Our background in physics is a bond we share. It's the curiosity, the deep willing to really understand complex matters. That's what physicists do for a living," Suder said. Merkel "is a curious person, she wants to understand a topic, she's not jumping to conclusions. (…) She's a fast thinker."

On establishing a federal digital ministry, Suder said: "The problem is that we have to drive digitalization in every single ministry and in every single institution. There's no way around that. And now we can debate whether an additional ministry will help or not. And I've come to the conclusion that yes, it will help, but we have to be careful how we set it up, because if we set it up in the wrong way, put either too little or too much responsibility into it, we are creating a bunch of new problems." She warned that a digital ministry could not take over responsibility for all the ministries' digital agendas. If that happened, "everything will break down," Suder said.

"One ministry will not change the game. (…) I think the difficulty is that there are a lot of structural barriers in the German government which hinder speed and better evolution. And I think [Merkel] has only recently really understood [what will happen] if these structural barriers are not changed."

Current government structures "prevent dramatic change"

Suder said that the current structures in government slow down progress and "actually prevent dramatic change. This is coming from our history. (…) It is not made for fast iteration, fast failure. (…) It's not made for innovation. (…) So everything is made for preservation and tradition and not for change. I think what we have to overcome this urgently. (…) Where do we have to change the system? Where do we change laws? And how can we bring people in with the right expertise and get a mixture of people in government?"

Digitalrat der Bundesregierung

Members of the German Digital Council with Chancellor Angela Merkel and several ministers in 2018

Suder said the Digital Council was "kind of an experiment because we are nine people and there are basically two characteristics. One is that we are experts in our fields and people who have been there, done that. And the second one is that we have a very diverse group of people. We have five men, four women, and two decades of age difference. We have people who are in academia. We have people who are in start-ups, and we come from four countries. (…) It has nothing to do with interests and lobbying. It's just deep expertise and people who have actually got their hands dirty, helping the government to create something new and different."

Suder said there was "a rhythm" to meetings with Merkel. "It starts with a little bit of an intro and agenda setting, but then the Digital Council, we as the outsiders, as the experts put a topic on the agenda and give a 20 to 30 minute introduction. (…)  We bring some facts, but we also bring our opinion, our experience into that as the entire group. So usually everybody from the group presents a bit and that has a strong educational element." She explained how presenting complex data was an essential part of those meetings. "And afterwards we have a discussion and then we have recommendations. (…) Over the years, we had roughly 50."

Future of Digital Council is unknown

Asked whether she agrees that the German government still has a lot of homework to do in regard to digitalization, Suder said: "I would definitely agree. I mean, this is also what the Council is there for. (…) We're there to push. (…) We are not satisfied. And we have a lot of homework to do. By the way, we are not alone in that. (…) [Germany is] not a frontrunner, but we also are not completely behind."

Quadriga DW Sendung

DW Chief Technology Correspondent Janosch Delcker

Katrin Suder said that the Digital Council's assignment ends with the Merkel administration in September and that the next government would have to decide what happens.

This week DW kicks off its comprehensive coverage of the German Bundestag election campaign and the federal elections on September 26.

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EINSCHRÄNKUNG DW Personenfoto | Corporate Communications | Carla Hagemann

Carla Hagemann

Corporate Spokesperson and Head of Corporate Communications


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