The German government unveiled plans to overhaul the country's Registration Law on Wednesday, in a bid to ease the bureaucratic burden on residents and local administrators.
Under the draft law, the process to register your move and change your address in Germany will have a digital option in the future — in what could be a major step forward in Germany's push to catch up with digitalization.
"The digitalization of administrative work is running at full speed," said Interior Minister Horst Seehofer, who put forward the draft law. He added that he hopes to "make visible progress here soon" and modernize Germany's administrative system.
Read more: Will the coronavirus crisis drive digitization in Germany?
What will change?
Under the current rules, anyone who moves to a new apartment or house in Germany must register their move with a local city hall within a certain time frame or face a fine or other penalties. The process involves a series of letters, written confirmation from the landlord, and often an in-person meeting with your local administrative authorities.
Under the new changes, residents would have the option to completely register their move online. A code will be mailed to the person's new address and they can enter that code into a website.
The draft law stresses, however, that the online option is not mandatory and that residents will still be able to change their address in person.
Read more: Coronavirus crisis pushes Germany toward online democracy
Furthermore, residents will have the opportunity for the first time to digitally access their data that has been saved by local authorities. Using an administrative portal, they will be able to retrieve their data and use it for other administrative tasks, such as future moves.
The reforms also make it easier for local authorities to digitally access data from different states. Until now, certain data could only be released if a written application was made.
Why is this a big deal?
What appears to be a small and benign administrative step for Germany actually signifies a significant jump forward in Germany's push to digitize its infamously analogue bureaucracy.
Digitization has been a frequently repeated goal of Merkel's government for the past few years. The term itself encompasses a broad range of fields from expanding and updating the country's internet infrastructure and mobile networks, to increasing technology in schools, to moving more administrative tasks online.
Despite recent ramped-up efforts, several studies have shown that Germany remains far behind its European neighbors in terms of digital infrastructure and "e-governance."
The new changes would move a substantial portion of local administrative work online and seek to improve data-sharing across states.
Although digitalization plans have been in the works for years, the coronavirus pandemic has served as a catalyst. Measures to curb the spread of the virus shut down local administrative offices in Germany, prompting a push to expand digital services.
What happens next?
The draft law still needs the approval of parliament before it can take effect — though it is likely to pass. But for those hoping for swift change will have to wait a little bit longer.
After the law is approved, the new digital processes will get a test run in the city-state of Hamburg before they take effect nationwide.
The move will take time, with the nationwide rules currently slated to take effect in November 2021.
rs/stb (dpa, AFP)