Germany's New Science Minister Steps Out of Shadow

BONN--The newly elected ruling coalition of Social Democrats and Greens yesterday announced that Edelgard Bulmahn will become research and education minister when the new government assumes control on 27 October. Bulmahn says she will support bigger budgets for the nation's scientists and universities, but observers are waiting to see how her ministry will approach the controversial issues of biotechnology regulation and nuclear science.

Although Bulmahn, 47, is a political scientist by training, she is no stranger to science policy. She recently served as "shadow minister" for science while the Social Democrats were in the opposition, and since 1995 has served on the Bundestag's science and education committee. Bulmahn has a good grasp of the issues facing German science, says biochemist Ernst-Ludwig Winnacker, who heads the Deutsche Forschungsgemeinschaft, Germany's basic-research granting agency.

Bulmahn says that the new ruling partners, led by Chancellor-designate and longtime ally Gerhard Schröder, "agree on the importance of scientific research for Germany's future." In a new position paper, the coalition promises a "significant strengthening" of science budgets next year and moves to bolster German universities.

Bulmahn told ScienceNOW that she opposes "major changes" in biotechnology policies, despite a push by some Greens for stricter controls on research involving genetically engineered plants. However, she expressed support for studies into the potential risks of certain biotechnology methods. It is not yet clear, however, how her ministry will respond to the research implications of the coalition's plans to phase out Germany's nuclear energy industry. The move could pinch fusion research and possibly delay the FRM-II neutron source now under construction in Garching.