Issue #18 SPECIAL: Waking up to a new Germany
The federal elections marked the beginning of a new era
This issue will be a little different because something remarkable happened: Germany held its federal elections on Sunday. This means that the era of chancellor Angela Merkel is coming to an end after 16 years. I want to give a brief overview of the results and explain the implications of the election on digital work life. This piece is going to be somewhat lengthy and only focus on Germany. If you’re not interested — the next “normal” issue is coming up on Sunday, October 3rd. Or: Scroll down to the “tl;dr” section at the bottom, where I summarize the core points.
Germany’s digital agenda has been lagging behind
Let’s start with the basics. While people from abroad tend to see Germany as a strong economic force in Europe, Germans have experienced a state of stagnation and tiredness in certain policy areas. Most strikingly, when it comes to digital progress, Germany has been lagging drastically.
This becomes painfully clear in education and public administration.
According to a study by the trade union for education and science (Gewerkschaft Erziehung und Wissenschaft, GEW), only half of the German schools offer wifi for pupils. Only 57 percent of the teachers indicate a sufficient amount of digital hardware for the students, and only 40 percent use a cloud solution. Interestingly, this study was published in July 2021 — more than one year after the Covid pandemic forced pupils to switch to remote homeschooling! The situation was worse before the pandemic moved schools to update their digital infrastructure.
Another example of Germany’s digital stagnation is the digital public administration — or the lack thereof.
Booking a date at the municipality — for instance, to renew my ID or passport — can be pretty challenging. To book a timeslot, I need to search for a date online in a calendar booking system. In theory, it sounds pretty straightforward. In practice, it’s a pure annoyance: Often, there are no free dates for months, and I’m forced to book a slot in another district of Berlin. The reason for this booking mess: People can hardly do anything online from the comfort of their homes. While countries like Estonia have entirely switched to a paperless digital public administration, in Germany, you still need to go to the officials, sign paperwork, and talk to an administrator to get a task done. It’s draining and frustrating because it’s obvious that other nations are already proving that it can be done better.
These two examples show that there is no digital intuition in Germany. Digital infrastructure isn’t available to all students in Germany. Citizens deal with a public administration that seems to be working as if it was 2001 and not 2021. And these experiences contribute to a less natural approach towards digital technologies and slow adoption of digital innovation. For instance, Germans are highly suspicious of digital payment methods and still prefer to pay cash.
Of course, Germany’s top corporations are innovators. Business leaders like SAP, Siemens, and Bosch have invested heavily in digital solutions at every business level. This, however, only proves a widening gap between the private and public sectors. And for the public sector, it’s politics that determines whether there will be progress or stagnation.
The desire for change drove the election
In the last 16 years, Angela Merkel and the Christian Democrats (called Union) led the country. Out of those 16 years, the center-right party ruled in a grand coalition with the Social Democrats (SPD) for 12 years and served one term of four years alongside the Liberal Party (FDP).
After Merkel announced that she would not compete for another term, her party struggled to find a potential successor. The Minister-President of Bavaria, Markus Söder, and the Minister-President of North-Rhine Palatine, Armin Laschet, were fighting over the candidacy until April 2021. In the end, Laschet has been determined to lead the Christian Democrat’s campaign. In the meantime, the Social Democrats chose Olaf Scholz, who served as a Minister of Finance in Merkel’s last term of the grand coalition, as their candidate.
With Fridays for Future gaining traction and weather disasters pushing the climate to the political agenda, the Green Party decided to pick a chancellor candidate for themselves. This happened for the first time. In the last decades, the Greens never reached for the chancellor position. But recent polls seemed encouraging — between April and May 2021, many polls indicated that the Greens were ahead of everybody else. During their peak, 29 percent of the citizens said they’d chose the Greens, while the Social Democrats lingered at 15 percent, and the Christian Democrats ranged between 26 and 30 percent during the summer months. The Greens joined Annalena Baerbock as their candidate. Even though she lacked government experience, she embodied the new fresh face of the future: A young woman with big ambitions.
Greens, Social Democrats, and Christian Democrats participated in all the TV debates. In the meantime, the Liberals prepared a successful campaign targeting young people with policy ideas surrounding education, digital progress, and civic liberties.
Every single party — including the ones who have been in power throughout the last 16 years — campaigned with a promise to bring change. During the debates, climate change, social cohesion, education, innovation, and the digital agenda were the hottest topics.
So, Germany is saying goodbye to Angela Merkel and voted for a new government last Sunday.
Social Democrats: 25.7%
Christian Democrats: 24.1%
AfD (far-right, not relevant as all parties are isolating them): 10.3%
Linke (far-left): 4.9%
In the past, the party with the highest voter share gets to propose exploratory talks for a possible coalition with the party of choice.
This year, it’s a little messier: As the gap between Social Democrats and Christian Democrats is fairly narrow, the conservative candidate Armin Laschet has decided not to recognize the SPD as the election winner. Some critics felt reminiscent of a particular orange-haired politician from overseas.
Therefore, the Greens and the Liberals have commenced exploration talks as both parties wish to be part of the next government. Even though the market-liberal approach might clash with the climate-focused emphasis, both parties are willing to be innovation partners in the next coalition. At least, this is the impression they have been making as I’m writing these lines. The party leaders even posted a mutual selfie declaring their willingness to shape the next government towards modernizing the state jointly.
Naturally, the Greens and the Liberals frame themselves as the decisive parties that decide over the future of Germany in practice.
They can either enter a coalition with the Christian Democrats (called Jamaica coalition) or the Social Democrats (called streetlight coalition). Greens and Liberals announced that they would meet on Friday for further exploration talks.
How the future government might shape the future of digital worklife
I’ve read all party programs searching for the thoughts and ideas the political competitors are proposing for the future of work. I’ll summarize the essential concepts, specifically for a better digital worklife:
Social Democrats: The experienced labor rights protectors
The Social Democrats historically have been the party of the working class and still take pride in occupying this policy field. In the last eight years, Social Democrats have been serving as Ministers of Labor. Naturally, they want to protect labor rights:
More public investment for education and qualification: The Social Democrats want everybody to have fair access to the labor market. They believe in innovation but are concerned about unemployment due to automation and new technologies. Therefore, they propose transforming the Bureau of Labour to a new Agency of Labor and Qualification, which shall administer courses and training for adults.
The right to work from home: The Social Democrats want to help workers to work from home. The idea: If you’re working in a job that can be done from anywhere, you shall be allowed to request up to 24 mobile days legally.
Employee data protection: More and more software is collecting worker’s data. Employers could use data to track the behavior of employees. The SPD wants to forbid the collection of personal employee data that allows invasive behavior analysis.
Christian Democrats: A classic catch-all approach
The Christian Democrats have ruled the majority of the time since the end of World War II. They’ve historically addressed a conservative, the bourgeoise class, proposing policy ideas that would not rock the boat but offer a safe haven.
Digitize public administration: One of the core proposals the Christian Democrats have been cooking up is the modernization of state institutions. Two prominent members of the parliamentary faction even published a book called “New State” (Neustaat) last year. The goal: The end of faxing machines (and I kid you not — there are still many) and the path towards digitized public institutions.
Coworking spaces in rural areas: Even though Christian Democrats don’t want to secure workers’ rights in working anywhere, they believe that hybrid is the new normal in the labor market. Therefore, the party proposes subsidizing coworking spaces in rural areas so workers could save their commute and still find a professional working space in a remote location.
Fight abuse of gig workers: The Christian Democrats want to focus more on gig and crowd workers. While the number of crowd workers remains pretty low and is mainly related to delivery services, I’ve written about the abuse of labor protection in the past. The conservatives don’t want to tolerate that.
The Greens: Vague self-actualization
The Greens focus on climate and the environment. Naturally, their strength lies in decarbonization strategies in agriculture, industry, and traffic. When it comes to the future of work, the Greens hold on to progressive values and want to enable the citizens to achieve self-actualization. Yet, their proposals are somewhat vague at times.
More flexibility: The Greens want workers to have more choices when it comes to their work hours. Employees should decide when and where they want to work to allow for more work-life-balance.
Protection of gig and crowd workers: The Greens want to end pseudo-self-employment and force gig platforms like delivery services to hire workers formally. In their view, many gig workers shall not be treated as individual businesses but as employees. This would help them access more social security.
Coworking spaces: The Greens want to support more coworking spaces — not only to help workers waste time on commutes. To the Greens, commuting is a component that drives climate change.
The Liberals: Individual freedoms for workers
Classically, the Liberals don’t like regulation and opt for more individual decision-making. This view applies as well to worklife. While some fear that Liberal deregulation might undermine workers’ rights, the party has developed creative and elaborate proposals.
Work from home like in the Netherlands: The Liberals are convinced that hybrid work is here to stay. However, they are proposing a much softer solution for companies and their workers. While the Social Democrats want workers to have 24 mobile days, the Liberals pursue the Durch model. According to the idea, workers should have the right to request work from home, and the management then must respond if mobile work is an option. If not, the company must provide a detailed explanation.
4 x €1000: The Liberals propose state support for people in the midlife stage of their lives. People should be allowed to receive 1000 Euros they can invest in job training and qualification. People shall be allowed to use the money for other things like financial investments or equipment for children. In total, citizens can request the money four times.
More digital education: Liberals want to improve access to digital education and infrastructure in schools, universities, and vocational training.
It is yet tough to estimate what will happen. Whichever the next coalition will be in Germany, the citizens are expecting change. After 16 years of Angela Merkel, the sense of novelty and progress is one of the main drivers of the coalition negotiations. While there are a few solid ideas for modern digital worklife, it remains to be seen how brave German politicians will be.
Tl;dr: Four parties could shape the future of work in Germany
Federal elections took place in Germany last Sunday
The Social Democrats won the most votes
Four parties are wrestling to form a coalition. Social Democrats, Christian Democrats, Greens, and Liberals
The desire for change heavily drove the election
Germans have felt their country stagnating in terms of digital progress
All parties propose policies for a better digital worklife
Social Democrats: favoring strong workers’ rights
More investment for training and qualification
Demand a right to work from home
Implement employee data protection
The Christian Democrats: moderate modernization
Digitize public institutions
Subsidize coworking spaces in rural areas
Combat labor rights abuse of gig workers
The Greens: self-actualization in worklife
More flexible work schedules — workers should choose when and where they want to work
Protect gig and crowd workers from abusive employers
More coworking spaces to reduce CO2 emissions
The Liberals: you do you
Work from home following the Dutch model
4 x €1000 from the state for citizens to invest in themselves
More digital education
Alright, this was quite long. I hesitated to send this newsletter because so many things are happening, and nothing is certain yet. However, feel free to drop a comment and share your thoughts about your expectations.