Merkel Shows German Scientists the Money

German scientists breathed a sigh of relief today: They will get their promised €18 billion in funding increases after all. The funding boost, spread over the next 10 years, was negotiated in April at a meeting of federal and state science ministers. But a few days later, Peer Steinbrück, German federal finance minister, put a damper on the celebrations. Given the uncertainty of Germany's finances in the midst of a global financial crisis, he said, politicians should postpone such long-term funding promises until after federal elections in September. Science organizations countered that investment in research and education was more likely to pay off long-term than the billions already promised to failing banks and car companies.

Today, Chancellor Angela Merkel announced that she and the heads of the 16 German states had signed off on the funding. The chancellor, who has a Ph.D. in physical chemistry and is married to a chemistry professor, told journalists that the agreement gives German science a “signal of predictability” that they can use to make long-term plans. The German magazine Der Spiegel reported (article in German) that the chancellor was in a particularly jolly mood at the post-meeting press conference, beaming at reporters and taking over the microphone before her spokesperson had a chance to introduce her.

The new money will fund three programs: €2.7 billion will go to continuing the Excellence Initiative, a program that aims to create a German Ivy League, beyond 2011; the Pact for Research and Innovation promises the country’s research agencies yearly budget increases of 5% through 2015; and the Higher Education Pact promises an additional €7.9 billion to the country’s universities and technical schools to help them accommodate more than 200,000 additional students by 2020.