Germany calls for more innovation

April 20, 2005

Brussels, 19 Apr 2005

German businesses must be more courageous when turning inventions into marketable products, German Chancellor Gerhard Schröder has said in a bid to increase German competitiveness.

Speaking at the opening of a nationwide campaign to promote talented young scientists, the Chancellor drew attention to a new government package of measures, worth 1.9 billion euro, aimed at supporting universities and top research centres in their efforts to create innovative technologies and products.

'Nobody says we should ignore risks,' said Mr Schröder. 'But it would be equally misplaced to become engrossed in constant analysis of what could go wrong and how could we minimise the effects. We need a culture that focuses first and foremost on the opportunities without, of course, letting the risks totally slip from view.'

Mr Schröder also promised 140 million euro in state support for innovative start-up businesses, and called for more funding from Germany's federal states for improvements in education.

Technological advances such as the fax machine or the mobile phone have become symbols of German research ingenuity - but also of the country's inability to turn them into lucrative commercial products. While the basic technology is said to have been invented in Germany, it is companies elsewhere that ended-up benefiting from selling them.

The need to promote innovation, research and development (R&D) has therefore become a key issue in German politics, with both government and opposition drawing-up plans to improve what seems to have become a weak point in the country's economy.

On 18 April, the opposition organised a conference on innovation in Germany and leader of the Christian Democrat party Angela Merkel criticised the government for what she called its heavy-handed interference in the freedom of science and research.

'We must make sure that research projects are only evaluated by researchers,' Ms Merkel said. 'If politics becomes involved in science, innovation is bound to suffer. Politicians tend to support only those projects which have already garnered much publicity and some public prominence.'

Ms Merkel also accused Germany's Green Party of partiality towards genetic engineering. According to the opposition party leader, a recent genetic engineering law passed by the red-green government coalition was unmistakably aimed at preventing innovation in agriculture rather than fostering this technology.

Observers now believe party strategies towards an innovative economy could become a vote winner in Germany.

'A party that neglects this issue will cause major problems for Germany as a whole,' Heinrich Oberreuther, a political scientist, was quoted as saying in the German newspaper Deutsche Welle. 'Promoting innovation has become a matter of do or die for all political organisations,' he added.

CORDIS RTD-NEWS / © European Communities
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