Blog

0 comments on “German party positions on platform regulation: Much ado about nothing?”

German party positions on platform regulation: Much ado about nothing?

For quite some time, the assessment that the peculiarities of the digital world will not only significantly trigger social changes and alter communication patterns but also readjust the very relationship between the economic and the political system has been elevated to the ranks of a commonplace. Hate speech and liability legislation, monopolies and market power – the topics directly or indirectly affected from digitization’s victory march are truly legion. In Europe, antitrust authorities and government agencies have become particularly engaged in the regulation of digital platforms, having displayed a remarkable tendency to sanction companies over the course of the last years. This was for instance the case when the European Commission decided to hand out a hefty $ 2.7 Billion fine to Google Inc., a move which was afterwards bolstered by a Commission report naming platform power as a main obstacle in completing the Digital Single Market.

However, this urge is not necessarily reflected by Germany’s governing coalition of CDU/CSU and SPD which seeks to put European regulation pieces into practice (c.f. KOM(2016) 356 concerning the Sharing Economy) but shies away from expanding, strengthening or complementing them on the national level. Even the recent passing of the ninth amendment on the federal competition law (that constituted the outline of a platform-related cartel law for the first time) was mainly based on  the already existing European Directive 2014/104/EU. Similarly, CDU and CSU also refrain from  prominently mentioning platform regulation plans in their common election manifesto; instead  they are occupying themselves with complaining that „most of these platforms (…) are located in the U.S. and China and not in Europe.“ Thus, the parties’ main focus on the platform industry is not so much a regulatory one but rather rooted in making Europe’s digital economy able to compete. The SPD has taken a slightly more combative stance on the issue but still remains torn between its implicit wish for social change and the promotion of digital liberties on the one hand and the necessity to regulate problematic web developments on the other hand. For instance, the SPD-controlled federal ministries for Economic Affairs and Energy (BMWi), of Labour and Social Affairs (BMAS) and of Justice and Consumer Protection (BMJV) recently published a joint report identifying and analyzing various trends, chances and challenges that may emerge from a more and more digitized world. The BMWi has broadened the report’s insights by also issuing the so-called White Paper on Digital Platforms which sincerely tries to combine a high level of entrepreneurial freedom with a clear framework but lacks convincing and feasible solutions for a whole plethora of contentious issues.

While the country’s major parties are struggling for a coherent platform policy, the often marginalized opposition parties have strongly spoken out in favor of a much stricter regulation policy. The Greens as well as the Left are inclined to support the societal implications of platform services, particularly as far as shifts in the fields of mobility (car sharing) and media usage are concerned, but they remain highly skeptical on pressing issues like privacy protection and power concentration. „We (…) are ready to stand up against seemingly unassailable IT corporations“, the Greens’ election manifesto quite passionately enunciated. And the Left’s MEP Fabio de Masi declared with regard to the fiscal dimension of platform business models:

„Major companies (…) are hiding their fortunes in tax havens all around the globe. Made up license fees or fictional interest payments are systematically used by Apple, Google and the like to shift  their profits across national borders.“

Surprisingly, the economically liberal FDP – which currently finds itself in a promising position to return to the Bundestag in September – has also adopted a decidedly more critical position than in the past. In a recent interview, party chairman and lead candidate Christian Lindner condemned the ramifications of what he labeled as unbridled „Silicon Valley platform capitalism“ and welcomed the European Commission’s aggressive approach. The unexpected nature of these remarks has sparked some concerns among industry representatives as well as within the CDU/CSU which remain the FDP’s most likely coalition partners. However, the liberal’s skepticism towards the economic implications of platform services is still more or less limited to its leader’s remarks and one should not draw hasty conclusions over what could be nothing more than mere campaign rhetorics. At the end of the day, every future administration’s platform policy will ultimately come down to the allocation of ministries, the details of the coalition treaty negotiations and the largely unpredictable government dynamics that may evolve afterwards. It’s not improbable that FDP or Greens would at least attempt to steer their conservative coalition partners in another direction and put more emphasis on the subject – but it’s hard to assess if that would be enough for serious change.

Plattformregulierung: Viel Lärm um nichts?

Es ist mittlerweile kaum mehr als eine Platitüde dass die Eigenheiten der digitalen Ökonomie nicht nur die Gesellschaft, sondern auch das Verhältnis von Wirtschaft und Politik maßgeblich re-konfigurieren. So wird unter dem Vorzeichen des Digitalen über Hasskommentare und Haftungsrecht ebenso heftig gestritten wie über Monopole, Marktmacht oder die Neugestaltung ganzer Branchenzweige; allesamt Themenfelder, die immer häufiger auch das Interesse von Wettbewerbswächtern und Regierungsbehörden auf sich ziehen. Zuletzt bekam das unter den großen Onlineplattformen vor allem der Suchmaschinenprimus Google zu spüren, der von den europäischen Behörden mit einer Rekordstrafe von knapp 2,4 Mrd. Euro belegt wurde – für nicht wenige das Startsignal eines gesamteuropäisches Aufbegehren gegen die Macht der Großen: Nicht umsonst zählt der Bereich der Onlineplattformen auch zu den drei „key areas“ die im jüngsten Kommissionszwischenbericht zum digitalen Binnenmarkt namentlich genannt und bei denen weitere Regelungsvorstöße angekündigt werden.

Die Politik der deutschen Regierungskoalition besteht derzeit vorwiegend darin, europäische Vorgaben abzuwarten. Man ringt mit dem Dilemma, zugleich als konsequente Hüterin des Wettbewerbs auftreten zu wollen, ohne die Dominanz einiger Unternehmen aber ernsthaft in Frage stellen zu wollen. Der politischen Kernfrage, der durch Daten entstehenden Marktmacht, kann und will man sich nicht nähern.

Insbesondere den Unionsparteien mangelt es auch an einer gewissen Emphase, sich des Themas politisch anzunehmen. Zwar wurde 2016 mit der 9. Novelle des Gesetzes gegen Wettbewerbsbeschränkungen erstmal ein kartellrechtlicher Plattformbezug hergestellt und dem Thema ein erhöhtes Maß an Aufmerksamkeit zugestanden (wenn auch nur als Umsetzung der EU-Richtlinie 2014/104/EU),  gerade in Wahlkampfzeiten bleibt es aber ein politischer Nebenkriegsschauplatz. Im CDU/CSU-Regierungsprogramm findet die Regulierung  von Plattformen gar nur an zwei Stellen Erwähnung. Am Bedeutsamsten darunter ist das Monieren, dass „die meisten dieser Plattformen (…) ihren Sitz in den USA oder China (haben)“ und Europa in dieser Hinsicht hinterherhinke.

Die SPD geriert sich im Vergleich zur Union zwar ein wenig offensiver, ist aber hin- und hergerissen zwischen dem wenig konkreten Drang nach digitaler Freiheit und dem Glauben an die unmittelbare Regulierbarkeit gesellschaftlicher Problemstellungen. So veröffentlichten die SPD-geführten Bundesministerien für Wirtschaft und Energie (BMWi), Arbeit und Soziales (BMAS) und der Justiz (BMJV) kürzlich einen umfangreichen Bericht zu Trends, Chancen und Herausforderungen der Digitalisierung. Vom BMWi stammt das Weißbuch Digitale Plattformen, in dem sich ebenfalls an der verbalen Quadratur des Kreises versucht wird indem man ein breites Potpourri an disparaten und zum Teil miteinander im Konflikt befindlichen Themenkreisen unter dem Schlagwort der Plattformregulierung rubrizieren möchte.

Während die Regierungskoalition also noch mit sich ringt, ist die Opposition schon einen Schritt weiter: Wiewohl sich Grüne und Linke auch zu einigen Plattform-Typen, bspw.  der Sharing Economy bekennen, treten sie den großen Plattformen doch ausgesprochen kämpferisch gegenüber. „Wir (…) stellen uns auch übermächtig erscheinenden IT-Konzernen entgegen“ heißt es etwa im Programm der Grünen für die Bundestagswahl 2017. Die Partei bemängelt vor allem das Fehlen von Schutzmechanismen zur wirksamen Beschneidung der Konzernmacht und hat insbesondere dem „Datenhunger“ der Unternehmen den Kampf angesagt. Bei den Linken, die schon traditionell eine kritische Haltung zum grenzüberschreitenden Treiben großer Unternehmen einnehmen, liegt der Fokus dagegen eher auf steuerlichen Aspekten. Ihr Europa-Abgeordneter Fabio de Masi drückt es wie folgt aus:

„Großkonzerne und Superreiche parken ihre Profite und Vermögen in Steueroasen. Mit künstlichen Lizenzgebühren für Patente oder fiktiven Zinszahlungen innerhalb von Weltkonzernen wie Apple, Google & Co werden so Profite über Ländergrenzen verschoben.“ 

Überraschend ähnlich positionierte sich zuletzt auch die FDP, die derzeit gute Aussichten hat, dem nächsten Bundestag mit einem recht starken Ergebnis von 8-10 Prozentpunkten anzugehören. So warnte der Parteichef und unumstrittene Spitzenkandidat Christian Lindner in einer ungewöhnlich kritischen Stellungnahme gegenüber der Seite Online Marketing Rockstars vor den Auswüchsen des „Silicon-Valley-Plattform-Kapitalismus“ und begrüßte die Wettbewerbsstrafe gegen Google. Derart regulierungsfreundliche Töne hat man bei den Liberalen schon eine ganze Weile nicht mehr gehört; die konstant guten Umfragewerte scheinen Lindner zu bestärken, durchaus auch einmal auf wirtschaftspolitischem Gebiet für Überraschungen zu sorgen und in den langsam aber merklich anschwellenden Kanon der Plattformkritiker mit einzustimmen.

Am Ende sind aber auch das nur Worte, die – zumindest abseits des harten Parteikerns – nur wenig kontrovers sind, sondern vielmehr einem breiten gesellschaftlichen Konsens entsprechen. Die Notwendigkeit politischen Handelns ergibt sich daraus ebenso wenig, wie die Gewissheit, dass das Thema in der kommenden Legislaturperiode nicht doch recht schnell beiseite gedrängt wird. Bezeichnend ist hier insbesondere das Fehlen einer konsistenten Roadmap, wie die weitgehend auf Unionsrecht fußende Regulierung von Plattformen auch national adäquat komplementiert werden kann. Sofern die jüngsten Umfragen Recht behalten und Bundeskanzlerin Merkel (wahlweise im Bündnis mit der FDP, den Grünen oder aber in einer Neuauflage der Großen Koalition) das Mandat zu einer vierten Amtszeit erhält, wäre es wohl am jeweiligen Koalitionspartner, die CDU auf dem Feld der Regulierung vor sich herzutreiben. Allein, ob dieser jeweilige Partner dazu wirklich willens und in der Lage wäre, steht auf einem anderen Blatt.

0 comments on “POLITICAL OVERVIEW: European Court of Justice rules on migration crisis, German automobile industry suspected of cartel formation”

POLITICAL OVERVIEW: European Court of Justice rules on migration crisis, German automobile industry suspected of cartel formation

In a ruling which may have far-reaching consequences on the future handling of refugees, the European Court of Justice upheld a countries’ right to deport asylum-seekers to the first EU county they enter. The court ruled that the EU’s Dublin regulation, under which refugees must seek asylum in the first member state they enter, still applied during the unprecedented inflow in late 2015. Yet, the court also ruled that Germany acted not in violation of the regulation when it did not return refugees to the member states they first entered.

The decision reaches Germany as Martin Schulz’ has begun to attack Chancellor Merkel on her performance on migration. Schulz attacked Merkel on the grounds that a repeat of the situation in 2015 should never happen again. Several public appearances with strong words from the SPD candidate resulted in heavy handed replies and accusations from the conservative CDU, but also some of the oppositional parties that condemned the obvious campaign move.

Overall, the situation of Schulz couldn’t be any worse. None of his big campaign moves have worked out and recognition for his policy positions has been very very limited. With so little success, him resorting to attacking Merkel on the migration issue looks desperate and doomed to fail. Poll numbers reflecting his latest comments aren’t in yet, but initial reactions don’t seem too positive.

After both Daimler and Volkswagen issued voluntary declarations concerning agreements between the five industry giants VW, Porsche, Audi, BMW and Daimler that could violate competition rules, the European commission is investigating. In the declarations Daimler and Volkswagen admitted to coordinating their strategies concerning technology, delivery and markets in several working groups. According to experts the companies will face extensive penalty payments. Green party politicians have called for a special meeting of the Transport committee for transparency on the „manipulations of the automobile cartel.“ According to the FDP party leader Christian Lindner the suspicions are shocking and a confirmation of the suspicions should not remain without consequences.

Automobile industry leaders currently are refraining from any public comment political leaders from the German government are also not acting tough on the issue, yet. Still, Minister for Transport Alexander Dobrindt has been increasingly hawkish on Diesel-gate, the use of so-called defeat devices in diesel engines that allow to cheat in exhaust fumes testing. Just today, Dobrindt banned the current version of Porsche’s flagship SUV model Cayenne from registration in Germany, effectively halting the sale of the car type. Similar bans on models from other producers might follow shortly.

For Angela Merkel, the situation could spell trouble, as it reflects badly on the amount of influence the car industry had politically, particularly on the CDU/CSU part of the government.

0 comments on “Political Overview: German-Turkish relations face new pressure, Berlin enchanted by Royal visit, CSU publishes „Bayern Plan“”

Political Overview: German-Turkish relations face new pressure, Berlin enchanted by Royal visit, CSU publishes „Bayern Plan“

The already tense relationship between Germany and Turkey has suffered another major blow this week with Turkish police forces arresting six human right activists, including a German citizen, they accuse of supporting violent terrorist groups in the Kurdish areas. German politicians across the political spectrum have voiced harsh criticism on the Turkish government’s course of action and called it „a politically motivated farce“ as well as a clear violation of the rule of law. Chancellor Merkel, who used to be quite reluctant in the past in an effort to not damage her work relation with Turkish President Erdogan more than necessary, expressed „major concerns“ and demanded the immediate and unconditional release of those arrested. Foreign minister Sigmar Gabriel, SPD, even announced that Germany would need to reconsider its entire Turkey policy since „the most absurd things“ seem to be possible now and Turkey is no longer the trustworthy ally of the past.

While a tough stance on Turkey remains a largely undisputed issue in German party politics, the country’s gatekeeper position and its ability to significantly curb refugee flows from the Middle East are still valuable assets. For the conservative CSU, this kind of dependency should be abolished  rather sooner than later and replaced by a tougher national border regime and less immigration. In their recently published „Bayern Plan“ (a composition of ideas either too radical for the common election manifesto or too specific), the CSU puts great emphasis on exactly this kind of domestic security issues, fighting for potential AfD voters who feel disenfranchised by the political mainstream. Again, they embrace their infamous „Obergrenze“ (upper limit) for asylum seekers and the very concept of a German „Leitkultur“ (lead culture) as a guiding principle for integration and community. Since there will be Bavarian state parliament elections in 2018, the CSU needs to satisfy its conservative clientele and the „Bayern Plan’s“ content may provide a helpful tool in this regard.

0 comments on “Political Overview: Varying reactions to G20 summit, government increases legislative transparency, SPD further falling behind in polls”

Political Overview: Varying reactions to G20 summit, government increases legislative transparency, SPD further falling behind in polls

The Hamburg G20 summit has come to an end and sparked a wide range of different reactions among German political actors on both domestic and international issues. On the one hand, the violent riots caused by far-left extremists have unsettled politicians of all major parties who have collectively condemned them and announced forceful legal reactions. Olaf Scholz, Hamburg’s current mayor and a potential contender for the SPD leadership position in the future, even warned perpetrators of „severe consequences that are awaiting them“ while defending the use of force by the city’s police. On the other hand, the summit’s content itself has led to various reactions with the CDU/CSU praising both published communiqués as signs of Merkel’s global leadership skills and the oppositional Greens and Left downplaying most of the results, calling them not courageous and resolute enough to actually bring change.

Meanwhile, the federal government has announced plans to make all draft bills and corresponding lobby statements of the last legislative period available to the public. This idea, that would affect up to 600 laws with approximately 17,000 single documents, is widely recognised as the government’s response to the so-called #GläserneGesetze (transparent law) campaign which has gained quite some steam in recent months. Referring to the contested „Informationsfreiheitsgesetz“ (freedom of information act), the campaign has sent more than 1,600 requests to obtain information, thus significantly hampering the administration’s capability to act. However, it is uncertain if a future government will maintain this transparency-centred approach after the upcoming federal elections.

Concerning said elections, the once hopeful SPD has suffered another blow in a recently published series of polls that saw the Social Democrats and their lead candidate Martin Schulz with further decreasing numbers at 22% (Forsa, -1) and 23% (Infratest dimap, -1). This comes at least partially as a surprise since the party’s bold decision to revolt against their coalition partner and push for full same-sex marriage legislation was widely hailed as an equally clever and courageous piece of policy making. With the CDU/CSU still achieving 39%, the Left having climbed up to 9% and the FDP, Greens and AfD trio running neck-on-neck at 8%, Mr Schulz’s chances to create a viable path to the chancellorship seem to get worse by the day.