Discussion Papers

No. 436: Digitisation and mail substitution: Experience in Europe and learning for Germany

Autorin: Petra Junk

(full version only available in German)


Since beginning of the millennium, letter volumes have been falling all over the world. Compared to other European countries, Germany shows a very modest drop in letter mail volumes, while mail volumes have come under massive pressure in Estonia and Denmark. The main reason for the continuing slump in the letter mail market is electron- ic substitution. Government institutions can act as "wave breakers" for the dissemina- tion of secure digital communication channels, and create trust in these channels. Digit- ization can be actively promoted, for example, through centralized citizen portals and other government measures (e.g. legal requirements on the precedence of electronic communication in contact with public authorities). This can speed up letter substitution.

Against this background, the study compares the implementation and the success of various initiatives to promote digital communication in five selected European countries. The study compares Denmark, Estonia, France, the Netherlands and Sweden.

The importance that a state attaches to digitization is often reflected by the relevant institutions. Several countries have set up central agencies for digitisation. In order to promote secure digital communication in Germany, a comprehensive eGovernment concept that combines the principles of One-Stop-Shop (all information and digital ser- vices on a single website), Once-Only (Centralized or linked databases so that infor- mation needs to be provided by citizens only once) and Digital-by-Default (priority of digital communication) should be implemented consistently.

The communication system should be easy to access, easy to use and have many ap- plications. The user groups addressed by the system should be as open as possible. To promote the digital communication system, a comprehensive media campaign would be helpful. In the countries included in this study, it was often the tax authorities that first promoted the use of electronic communications solutions. In order to accelerate the use of secure digital communications solutions very quickly, an obligation to use an (specif- ic) electronic mailbox for communication with government agencies has been intro- duced in some countries. However, this only makes sense if the secure digital commu- nication system is already broadly expanded within the state authorities.

Does this mean, that once you overcome the obstacles to eGovernment concepts, then the mail volume will also decline in Germany? On the one hand, it can be stated that even in European comparison, there is no one-to-one correlation between an increase in electronic communication and decrease of mail volumes. Further, there are funda- mental hurdles in Germany, such as the federal administrative structure and low digital acceptance among the population. There are further factors that could absorb mail vol- ume decreases, including booming small shipments from online retailers. Overall, at least in the short to medium term, no massive acceleration of the volume decline should be expected for the German mail market.

Discussion Paper is available for download.

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