Olaf Scholz became the first German chancellor to address participants at the re:publica conference on Thursday.
The three-day Digital Life Conference – focusing primarily on Web 2.0 issues, including blogging and social media – meets live in Berlin for the first time since before the coronavirus pandemic hit in 2020 .
Scholz spoke in dire terms when assessing the state of affairs today, noting that the ‘partition of the world’ threatens to ‘play everyone against everyone rather than fostering global responsibility and solidarity international”.
He praised his own efforts to achieve solidarity, such as inviting leaders from Africa, Asia and South America to Berlin to engage in talks and show that Germany is listening to others’ concerns. . He also denounced the ascendancy of the concept of de-globalization – embodied in grassroots nationalist movements like Brexit in the UK or Trumpism in the US – as “a dangerous aberration”.
Scholz told audience members, “No one can disconnect from the rest of the world. This applies to the analog world, where climate change, health crises, the fight against poverty, trade and knowledge transfer make international cooperation is essential. But this also applies to the digital sphere, perhaps even more so.”
Scholz says China and Russia are creating a ‘splinternet’
The Chancellor called out state actors – notably China and Russia – for limiting internet access, using the word “splinternet” to describe their success in keeping their citizens in the dark.
He also noted that state actors and criminal organizations are aggressively weaponizing the digital realm to launch cyberattacks and digital disinformation campaigns in the geopolitical sphere – something he says democracies need to better defend against.
Against this backdrop, Scholz said a “digital political transformation” was needed to ensure the internet remains “a space for progressive democratization that fosters the free exchange of ideas.”
Berlin takes inspiration from Brussels when it comes to digital infrastructure
He praised the chipmakers’ decision to expand and diversify production, pointing to Intel’s decision to build a new chip factory in Germany. Scholz noted that new EU policies were partly responsible for development and that they had personally inspired him to push for massive national investments in digitalization, pointing out that Germany was lagging far behind in terms of development. digital infrastructure.
Scholz, who relayed an anecdote lamenting the fact that he could not renew his passport online but had to do it in person, also pledged to present a legislative framework by the end of the year that would allow Germany “to reduce administrative processing times by at least half.”
Corporate responsibility and “enlightened civil society”
Finally, Scholz explained how the “limits of what can be said” are deliberately shifted every day, highlighting “the ever-widening gulf between what one would say face to face and what one faces on Twitter, Facebook and elsewhere.”
He said “freedom of expression is a precious commodity” which the state itself cannot, should not limit, but instead called on platforms and companies to recognize and take their own responsibility towards the society in the digital realm, just as others do in the analog world. .
Still, the Chancellor was keen not to give individual users a free pass, calling for a renewed awareness of what is acceptable online behavior. This, he said, should be encouraged by schools, but noted that this alone was not enough.
“Ultimately,” Scholz said, “what is needed is a vigilant and enlightened civil society: a society that recognizes that democracy requires rhetoric and controversy, but also ethical safeguards.” .