Brussels, 01 Sep 2005
Scientific research has become a major issue in Germany's national elections with Federal Education and Research Minister Edelgard Bulmahn reversing her position on the country's stem cell law.
Ms Bulmahn, who had previously made it known that she thought existing regulations sufficient, announced her support for a revision of German human embryonic stem cell law. Germany's current legislation is among the most restrictive in the European Union.
Other voices from the Social Democrat Party (SPD), currently in power, have also expressed their disagreement with the selection of Annette Schavan as the next Education and Research Minister if the conservative coalition CDU/CSU wins the election. The selection was made by the main opposition candidate for chancellor, Angela Merkel.
Until now, social democrats were satisfied with the current highly controversial human embryonic stem cell law, passed in 2002, allowing German researchers, under certain conditions, to import human embryonic stem cells, in harmony with the conservatives' views. Before the law took effect, use of human embryos in Germany had been banned for all purposes except reproduction.
German scientists often criticised the fact that, under the current law, only stem cells obtained before 1 January 2002 can be imported into Germany, arguing that whilst older stem cell lines are adequate for basic research, new stem cell lines are needed for clinical research. Also, banning the import of new stem cell lines effectively makes it impossible for Germany to participate in a proposed European stem cell bank.
In a recent interview with the daily 'Die Welt', Ms Bulmahn reversed previous declarations by stating that as medical treatments derived from human stem cell research are likely in the foreseeable future, a revision of the current law, with a particular focus on allowing the import of newer stem cell lines, should be debated in the Bundestag during the next legislative period.
Concerning the eventual appointment of Annette Schavan as the next Education and Research Minister, the Social Democrats object to the candidate, a theologian, currently Culture and Education Minister from Baden-Württemberg, lacking research expertise, ideas for a modern innovation policy and insight into international competition in top technologies.
According to declarations made to 'The Scientist' by Ms Bulmahn's spokesperson, this would be 'a problem for scientific research in Germany'. Ms Schavan has however defended her qualifications and experience, and declared to the same publication that her ten-year experience as Culture and Education Minister in her State has made her competent for the post.
Ms Schavan indicated that, should her party win the election, the embryonic stem cell law would remain as it is for the time being.