Europe seeks return to form

September 29, 2000

Germany and France both want to revitalise their research sectors by injecting cash and giving youth more scope. Jennie Brookman reports from Frankfurt.

Germany has lost its leading position in international research and development over the past decade despite spending more on research. Between 1989 and 1997, the German government increased its per capita research spending by just e (Pounds 16) to e602. In the same period, the United States increased its spending by e251 to e936 per head, and Japan raised its by e262 to e842.

Yet Germany's gross domestic spending on research rose from e42.9 billion in 1997 to e47 billion in 1999. Research spending as a percentage of gross domestic product rose from 2.29 per cent in 1997 to 2.37 per cent last year.

"Germany lost its place in the top group of leading industrial nations in the 1990s," said Edelgard Bulmahn, Germany's education and research minister, as she presented the government's Research Report 2000. She blamed the previous conservative-liberal government for cutting spending on R&D by e409 million between 1991 and 1998. "We have now halted and reversed this trend," Bulmahn said. Next year's research and development budget will exceed e7.6 billion for the first time, she said.

This is the first research report presented by the Social Democrat-Green coalition government since it took office in autumn 1998. It used the opportunity to underline its research policies. Bulmahn said funding will target key technologies.

Funds for biotechnology will be increased by 14.5 per cent in the coming year. Germany now spends more on genome research than any other country apart from the US.

Allocations for information and communication technology will rise by 6.2 per cent next year, and funds for health research will increase by 6 per cent.

The government is working with research organisations to solve one of the biggest problems that has faced German research in the past decade: the brain drain of its best young scientists and its inability to attract top scientists from abroad.

Salaries will be increased and more flexible working conditions will be created for young researchers. Bulmahn said the government also wants to improve cooperation between the country's main research organisations: the Max Planck Society, which is responsible for basic research; the Fraunhofer Institute, which is devoted to applied research; and the German Research Foundation (DFG), which deals with research in universities.

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