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Halftime for the German government: Thank you for the fine words, now let the deeds speak!


The Free Software Foundation Europe (FSFE), together with an alliance of civil society and the Free Software industry, calls on the German government to implement a sustainable digital policy and to provide the necessary funds in the federal budget now.

Picture of the Bundestag with a hand holding a nagnifying glass on the foreground

FSFE draws a negative mid-term balance for the digital policy of the German government. Together with 20 actors from civil society and the Free Software industry, the FSFE demands: The Federal Government and the coalition parties in the Bundestag must now urgently implement their digital policy promises from the coalition agreement. They must provide sufficient funding for this in the 2024 budget. Civil society must also be more closely involved in the decision-making process. It is high time to put Germany on a sustainable, inclusive digital policy course. The government must not squander its last chance to do so in this parliamentary term.

Two years ago, the German government launched a good and widely praised digital policy programme, promising a change of course and a more successful, sustainable and inclusive digitisation. Unfortunately, halfway through the legislative period, this change of course is still a long way off. So far, the government has launched only a few projects and is planning to make painful cuts in next year's budget. This threatens to lead to a failure of digital policy at the end of the legislative period, and to long-term damage to society and the economy.

FSFE calls for Free Software in German administrations

Halfway through its term in office, the German government has failed to live up to its promise in the coalition agreement to prioritise Free Software (also known as Open Source) and open standards in the digitisation of the administration. Isolated steps in the right direction, such as the establishment of the Centre for Digital Sovereignty (ZenDiS), are to be thwarted in the 2024 budget. Public procurement law has not been modernised to facilitate the tendering and procurement of Free Software. There are still no public statistics on the procurement of Free Software by administrations.

Instead, the federal government continues to rely largely on proprietary software. More than three billion euros of budget funds are earmarked for the proprietary “Oracle cloud”, while the already too small funds for digital sovereignty of currently 48 million euros are to be cut by almost half in the new budget. At the same time, the government seems to regard Free Software as expendable in ensuring digital sovereignty. The proprietary Federal Client (Bundesclient) developed on the government’s behalf by the ITZ Bund is in blatant contradiction to the government's declared goal of strengthening Free Software and thus true digital sovereignty.

Johannes Näder, FSFE’s Senior Policy Project Manager, explains: "The German government must stand by its promises in the coalition agreement and decide that Free Software will be procured and developed as a priority for the administration in the future. The principle 'Public Money? Public Code!' must become the guiding principle of German digital policy: Publicly financed software developed for the public sector must be Free Software. This is the only way the government can achieve a sustainable, innovative digitisation of Germany that benefits everyone and empowers citizens to control technology."

Under the slogan "Public Money? Public Code!", the Free Software Foundation Europe has long been calling for the sustainable digitisation of the German administration through the use of Free Software. The fact that the corresponding plans from the coalition agreement have not yet been implemented has recently also been criticised within the government parties.

"Within the next two years, important steps need to be taken to digitise the German administration. The German Government has only two years left to fulfil the promises made in the coalition agreement. Digital sovereignty can only be guaranteed through Free Software. The government must therefore modernise public procurement law in line with ‘Public Money? Public Code!’ and finally publish statistics on the share of Free Software in development and procurement in the administration. Last but not least, a fully-fledged Free Software working environment should be made available to public authorities in a timely manner. For this to succeed, the budget for digital sovereignty must be increased and consistently used for Free Software," demands Johannes Näder.

Free Software and "Public Money"?

Free Software gives everyone the right to use, study, share, and improve applications for any purpose. These freedoms ensure that similar applications do not have to be programmed from scratch every time and, thanks to transparent processes, others do not have to reinvent the wheel. In large projects, expertise and costs can be shared and applications paid for by the general public are available to all. This promotes innovation and saves taxpayers money in the medium to long term. Dependencies on vendors are minimised and security issues can be fixed more easily. The Free Software Foundation Europe, together with over 200 organisations and administrations, is therefore calling for “Public Money? Public Code!” - If it is public money, it should be public code as well. More information on the initiative is available on the “Public Money? Public Code!” website.

A broad alliance

The following organisations from civil society and the Free Software industry published press releases on 29.08.2023 with their respective analyses and digital policy demands to the German government: