Kristina Sinemus: Hesse’s pioneer for digital policy

Kristina Sinemus is Hesse’s Minister for Digital Strategy and Development.

Kristina Sinemus is under special scrutiny. Europe’s administrative experts are likely to follow her every move very closely. This is because Hesse’s digital minister has an ambitious plan. She wants to make her state a model state for digitization. Since taking office in 2019, the 58-year-old has been pursuing the goal of turning Hesse into a “German Silicon Valley,” as she calls it.

Among other things, Sinemus is equipping rural regions with the most powerful internet connections possible, driving forward business models around artificial intelligence (AI) and digitizing administration. “We can serve as a blueprint for digital policy at the federal level and in Europe,” she says. In the German federal government and the EU Commission, digital ministries are bundled with other departmental responsibilities.

One legislative period – she would already have to deal with this duration to build up the team, her colleagues had said at the time when she took office in 2019. “I am impatient by nature and initially wanted to do it in six months.” But she had to learn that many a process passes through many hands. “The advantage is thoroughness,” she says. After 15 months, she was finally fully operational with 100 employees.

Ambitious targets at the EU level

Since then, Sinemus has already got a lot underway in Hesse. Almost 5500 cell towers have been built or renewed in the state. More than 1,500 public internet connections have been installed in the state. And a new research institute for artificial intelligence is being built in Darmstadt at an initial cost of €38 million.

She is not only advancing the topic of AI in her own state. Sinemus is also active at the European level. At her invitation, European politicians and AI experts met at the “Digital Leaders Roundtable” last November to discuss the topic of “Artificial Intelligence for Tomorrow”.

The first goal: a binding legal framework at EU level for the use of AI. And here, too, Hesse’s expertise was relied upon. Last spring, the Hessian Council for Digital Ethics had published a thesis paper entitled “Trust in AI.” “If we follow these guidelines in Europe, we can become pioneers in the development of responsible AI,” says the digital minister.

Kristina Sinemus sees her own house as a cross-sectional ministry. “We want to strengthen the other ministries in their digital projects as best we can.” For example, her ministry is supporting the establishment of a center for quantum computing with almost €3.2 million together with the science ministry. She helped the social affairs department with the purchase of 10,000 tablets for retirement and nursing homes.

Budget sovereignty as a condition

Sinemus herself manages €1.2 billion in this legislative period. “Budget sovereignty must be centralized. This is the only way to see where projects from different departments can be merged,” she says. She declared power over the distribution of funds a condition when Hesse’s Minister-President Volker Bouffier offered her the ministerial post via cell phone three years ago. “I was surprised, consulted with my family for a day and then accepted,” she says.

In fact, she is not a proven digital expert. Until 1991, she studied biology, chemistry, education, and German studies in Münster and Kassel and worked as a research assistant at the Center for Interdisciplinary Technology Research at Darmstadt Technical University. In the late nineties, she founded and managed an agency for science communication. Since 2011, she has held a professorship for political communication at Quadriga Hochschule Berlin.

At the German federal level, she misses clearer structures and processes. “We definitely need a coordinating body, ideally a digital ministry at the federal level.” There’s no way around that. In addition, “Interdepartmental budget coordination must be joined by operations for the entire infrastructure sector. Mobile service, broadband, and its regulation, which has proven itself in Hesse.”

At the moment, however, Sinemus has to take a break. The passionate volleyball player has torn her Achilles tendon. Now she has no choice but to exercise patience for once. “Everything is good for something,” she says. Andreas Schulte


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