Number’s up: Bundestag belatedly bins 8,000 fax machines

Germany’s government has been slow to embrace new technology – such as emails

Bavarian politician Dorothee Bär loves Instagram but has yet to embrace irony. This week the 42-year-old posted a picture of herself yanking a fax machine from the wall, celebrating news that the federal government and parliament, the Bundestag, is mothballing more than 8,000 fax machines still in use.

“These machines still carry a whiff of the Bonn republic,” she wrote. “The era of digitalisation has finally reached the high house.”

The irony is that, for the last four years, Ms Bär has been Germany’s federal minister of state for digitalisation. Her party, the Christian Social Union (CSU), has been part of the government since 2005. But German government is still trapped in 1995.

In Europe, Estonia has led the way for years on e-governance, with 99 per cent of public services available online, saving an estimated 844 years of working time nationally.


Other countries such as Finland and Denmark have followed, offering citizens electronic platforms for all official business. Ireland was singled out last year by the European Commission for progress in implementing digitalisation strategy.

Confidential documents

Meanwhile, in Berlin, some 200 fax machines are still whirring in the foreign ministry, 135 in the labour ministry and 130 in finance. One opposition MP told The Irish Times the machines were popular for sending confidential documents back and forth for signature.

“Everyone knows the fax isn’t secure,” he said, “but we maintain the illusion.”

We've been told we'll get official laptops in the first quarter, but I'll believe it when I see it

The Bundestag’s youngest MP, 28-year-old Roman Müller-Bohm of the liberal Free Democrats (FDP), remembers with a shudder his first day at the office in 2018. “I had to learn how to send a fax.”

Last Monday federal health minister Jens Spahn announced that, since January 1st, Covid-19 laboratory results are no longer being sent to health authorities by fax. “It’s a huge time saving. Data no longer has to be typed by hand into the system, which is prone to error,” he said with a straight face.

Digital backlog

Germany’s digital backlog – apparent in every citizen interaction with all levels of government – has come home to roost in the latest pandemic debate.

As in Ireland, Bundestag MPs of all colours are demanding employees be allowed work from home. The problem is that each German parliamentarian is entitled to just two official laptops capable of logging into the Bundestag network.

For the last year, their staffers have been bending the law while working from home, emailing documents from their work phones to private email and laptops – and back again.

“We’ve been told we’ll get official laptops in the first quarter, but I’ll believe it when I see it,” said one Bundestag employee.

If the laptop doesn’t arrive as promised, it’s still not too late to fax Dorothee Bär on 227 76082.

Derek Scally

Derek Scally

Derek Scally is an Irish Times journalist based in Berlin